Practically everyone reads blogs now, whether they're "official" news blogs associated with traditional news media, topic-based blogs related to one's work or hobbies, or blogs purely for entertainment, just about anyone you ask has at least one favorite blog.
But it wasn't always so. Blogs have a relatively short history, even when compared with the history of the Internet itself.
And it's only in the past five to ten years that they've really taken off and become an important part of the online landscape.
The Early Years
It's generally recognized that the first blog was Links.net, created by Justin Hall, while he was a Swarthmore College student in 1994. Of course, at that time they weren't called blogs, and he just referred to it as his personal homepage.
It wasn't until 1997 that the term "weblog" was coined. The word's creation has been attributed to Jorn Barger, of the influential early blog Robot Wisdom. The term was created to reflect the process of "logging the web" as he browsed.
1998 marks the first known instance of a blog on a traditional news site, when Jonathan Dube blogged Hurricane Bonnie for The Charlotte Observer.
"Weblog" was shortened to "blog" in 1999 by programmer Peter Merholz. It's not until five years later that Merriam-Webster declares the word their word of the year.
The original blogs were updated manually, often linked from a central home page or archive. This wasn't very efficient, but unless you were a programmer who could create your own custom blogging platform, there weren't any other options to begin with.
During these early years, a few different "blogging" platforms cropped up. LiveJournal is probably the most recognizable of the early sites.
And then, in 1999, the platform that would later become Blogger was started by Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan at Pyra Labs. Blogger is largely responsible for bringing blogging to the mainstream.
The Growth Period
The early 2000s were a period of growth for blogs. In 1999, according to a list compiled by Jesse James Garrett, there were 23 blogs on the internet. By the middle of 2006, there were 50 million blogs according to Technorati's State of the Blogosphere report. To say that blogs experienced exponential growth is a bit of an understatement.
Political blogs were some of the most popular early blogs. Some political candidates started using blogs during this time period, including Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.
One important event in the rise of blogging was when bloggers focused on the comments U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said regarding U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 2002. Lott, while praising Thurmond, stated that the U.S. would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected President in 1948. During that race, Thurmond was a strong supporter of racial segregation (though his position changed later in his political career). The mainstream media didn't pick up on the comments and their potential implications until after bloggers broke the story.
In-depth topic blogs were also becoming more popular during this time. They often delved much deeper into current news and pop culture than mainstream media sources, in addition to commenting directly on what traditional media was reporting.
By 2001, there was enough interest in blogging that some how-to articles and guides started cropping up. Now, "meta blogs" (blogs about blogging) make up a sizable portion of the most popular and successful blogs out there.
A number of popular blogs got their start in the early 2000s, including Boing Boing, Dooce, Gizmodo, Gawker (the first major gossip blog to launch), Wonkette, and the Huffington Post. Weblogs, Inc. was started by Jason Calacanis in 2003, and was then sold to AOL for $25 million. It was that sale that helped to cement blogs as a force to be reckoned with rather than just a passing fad.
A couple of major blogging platforms got their start in the early 2000s. Version 1.0 of Movable Type was released in September of 2001.
WordPress was started in 2003, though parts of its development date back to 2001. TypePad was also released in 2003, based on Movable Type.
Some peripheral services to the blogosphere also started in the early 2000s. Technorati, the first major blog search engine, was launched in 2002. Audioblogger, the first major podcasting service, was founded in 2003. The first video blogs started in 2004, more than a year before YouTube was founded.
Also launched in 2003 was the AdSense advertising platform, which was the first ad network to match ads to the content on a blog. AdSense also made it possible for bloggers without huge platforms to start making money from when they first started blogging (though payments to low-traffic blogs weren't very large).
Once bloggers started making money from their blogs, the number of meta blogs skyrocketed. Bloggers like Darren Rowse (of Problogger.net and Digital-Photography-School.net) and John Chow made sizable amounts of money telling other bloggers how they could turn blogging into a full-time career.
One early event that highlighted the rising importance of blogs was the firing of Heather Armstrong, the blogger behind Dooce, for comments posted on her blog regarding her employer. This event happened in 2002, and sparked a debate over privacy issues, that still hasn't been sufficiently put to rest by 2011.
"Dooced" became a slang term to describe being fired from one's job for something you've written on your blog, and has made appearances in Urban Dictionary, and even on Jeopardy!
Blogs Reach the Mainstream
By the mid-2000s, blogs were reaching the mainstream. In January of 2005, a study was released saying that 32 million Americans read blogs. At the time, it's more than ten percent of the entire population. The same year, Garrett M. Graff was granted White House press credentials, the first blogger ever to do so.
A number of mainstream media sites started their own blogs during the mid to late 2000s, or teamed up with existing blogs to provide additional coverage and commentary. By 2004, political consultants, candidates, and mainstream news organizations all began using blogs more prominently. They provided the perfect vehicle for broadcasting editorial opinion and reaching out to readers and viewers.
Mainstream media sources are also teaming up with existing blogs and bloggers, rather than just setting out on their own. Take, for example, the regular posts on CNN.com from Mashable editors and writers. Another good example is the purchase of TechCrunch and associated blogs by AOL, which, while not a traditional media source, is one of the oldest internet companies still in existence.
During this time, the number of blogs grew even more, with more than 152 million blogs active by the end of 2010. Virtually every mainstream news source now has at least one blog, as do many corporations and individuals.
The Rise of Microblogs and Tumblogs
A lot of people only think of Twitter when they think of microblogging, but there are other microblog (also called tumblog) platforms that allow for a more traditional type of blogging experience, while also allowing for the social networking features of Twitter (like following other bloggers).
Tumblr was the first major site to offer this kind of service, starting in 2007. They allow for a variety of different post types, unlike traditional blogging services, which have a one-size-fits-all post format (that allows users to format their posts however they want, including adding multimedia objects).
It also makes it easier for users to reblog the content of others, or to like individual posts (sort of like Facebook's "like" feature).
Posterous is another, similar service. Launched in 2008, Posterous allows bloggers to set up a simple blog via email, and then submit content either via their online editor or by email.
Posterous is sometimes considered more of a lifestreaming app than a blogging platform, thought it's technically both.
The Future of Blogging
Eight to ten years ago, blogs were becoming the primary point of communication for individuals online. But with the advent of social media and social networking in the past five years, blogs have become only one portion of an individual's online persona.
Vlogs and podcasts have also taken on a bigger role in the blogosphere, with a lot of bloggers opting to use primarily multimedia content. Services that cater to these kinds of posts (like Tumblr and Posterous) are likely to keep growing in popularity.
With new services like Quora coming onto the market, there's the possibility that the blogosphere will shrink, and more people will turn to sites like these to get information. But services like Quora also provide valuable tools for bloggers, as they give insight into what people really want to know about a topic.
Blogs are unlikely to go anywhere in the foreseeable future. But there's a lot of room for growth and innovation in method in which their content is found, delivered, and accessed.
Written exclusively for WDD by Cameron Chapman
How did you experience the evolution of blogs in your personal life? Share your comments below...