Greetings, readers. Welcome to the HubSpot Marketing Blog.
We are very happy to have you here. You may not notice, but getting here wasn’t an easy task. Today, in 2016, I blog for a living, which is pretty great. But if it wasn’t for the long, winding journey that brought blogging up to date, I might not be here. You may not be reading this.
We found that blogs have a long history. According to the documentation we uncovered – and which we’ll share with you below – they’ve been around since 1994. They looked very different then and had many different names and meanings.
Merriam Webster currently defines a blog as “a website where someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences”. Remember – it will come in handy later. But first let’s talk about how we got here.
The blogging slang
The early vocabulary and semantics surrounding blogging are more than a little mushy. As the practice developed, some of the most popular monikers were “weblog”, “personal webpage”, and “online diary”. We’ll dig into these topics a bit as we explore the more primitive days of blogging.
Now let’s just say “blog” – it’s a pretty popular term in our vocabulary. But what it means continues to change. Bloggers have dozens of platforms and formats available (fun fact: HubSpot also has a blogging platform), and there is no longer a standard for what a blog should look like.
And their earlier appearance was determined by the language people used to describe the act of blogging. As you will see below, the word is mainly based on the idea of a protocol on the web. At one time, blogging was actually a bit restrictive and limited to pure web topics.
Fortunately, we’ve evolved and expanded on how and why we’ve blogged since then. One day someone found out that we don’t have to stick to purely technical topics when we put things on the internet. (And thank goodness – do you remember what I said about blogging for a living?)
Let’s see if we can better understand how this all happened. Grab some popcorn – you’ll see a 22 year history.
The history of blogging
1994-1997: First blogs
There is some debate about the early stages of blogging, much like the rest of its history – there weren’t many records online in the first half of the 1990s, for example, and most primitive blogs are now archived or nowhere to be found.
Many of these original bloggers, while not yet earning the title, were the same people who first understood the value of the World Wide Web in the 1980s. One of them was then-Swarthmore college student Justin Hall, who created a website called links.net in January 1994. It was essentially a review of HTML samples he’d received from various online links, but it was enough for New York Times Magazine to call him the “founding father of personal bloggers.”
In this article, Hall went into the semantics of blogging and how it was assigned many titles (some of which are hilariously documented here) during its early days online.
“When I started [blogging]They called it a personal home page, “he said,” then they said I was one of the first web diary writers and now one of the first web bloggers. “
In the same year Claudio Pinhanez (now Senior Manager for Social Data Analytics at IBM) began to make short entries in a so-called “Open Diary”.
However, the term “weblog” did not come into existence until December 1997. It was first used by Jorn Barger, creator of the Robot Wisdom website. He pioneered the term to describe a “log” of his Internet activity, much like Hall did in 1994, which largely matched a list of the links he visited.
This could have set the tone for the new era of blogging that would follow less than a year later, when the debut of blogging-specific platforms began.
1998-2001: More resources for bloggers
In the late 1990s, there was an uproar over resources made only for bloggers. One of them, Open Diary, was launched in October 1998 and has become one of the major blogging platforms. His name was a nod to his open community approach to blogging, as Open Diary was the first of its kind to have a membership model that allowed members of the community to comment on the work of others.
Open diary, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine
In 1999 – although nobody knows exactly when exactly – the then programmer Peter Merholz (who later headed design at Groupon, OpenTable and Jawbone, among others) shortened the term “weblog” to “blog”.
It was part of a time when there were many blogging opportunities, with each platform trying to provide its own unique features for a specific audience. In 1999 alone Blogger (which was later taken over by Google), LiveJournal and Xanga were launched.
Blogger, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine
LiveJournal, c. 1999. Source: Wayback Machine
Xanga, c. 2000. Source: Wayback Machine
Xanga (once creative director for Twitter co-founder Biz Stone) actually started out as a social networking site – sometimes compared to MySpace – and didn’t add blogging functionality until 2000.
During this time there were also some of the first rumored video blogs. In January 2000, a man named Adam Kontras accompanied a written blog post with a video informing friends and family about his activities. In November of that year, Professor Adrian Miles published what some have speculated as one of the first video blogs and called it a “Vog”.
“NO PETS ALLOWED. We smuggled him in. It was great. We all felt covered.” Source: Adam Kontras
When the sun went down in the 1990s, blogging began to affect many lives. People started figuring out how to monetize their blogs – which we’ll get into in a moment – and the stage was set for businesses and individuals alike to take bloggers seriously.
2002: a great year for blogging
There were some significant events in the field of blogging in the early 2000s. Technorati, one of the first blog search engines, was launched in February 2002.
This month, blogger Heather B. Armstrong was fired for writing about her colleagues on her personal blog, Dooce.com. While it’s not clear if she was the first blogger to be quit because of the content of her personal website, it sparked a conversation about privacy and freedom of expression for bloggers.
The topic reappeared in 2004 when congressional assistant and controversial blogger Jessica Cutler shared the same fate as Armstrong. Cutler, however, blogged anonymously until her identity was revealed by the Wonkette website.
Also in 2002, “Mommy Bloggers,” which consisted mostly of mothers blogging about parenting to give their readers a sense of support and learning, also broke out. Melinda Roberts founded TheMommyBlog.com – “one of the original mother blogs,” she writes – in April of that year, creating a category that would rush on for over a decade.
The following month, Newsweek predicted that blogs would replace traditional media, and it was partially realized by December of that year when Talking Points Memo broke the written record of Trent Lott’s infamous call on “Larry King Live” – when Lott sang illustriously Praise from Strom Thurmond. Blog posts like this would serve as a precursor to live blogging that took shape the following year.
Pressflex LLC launched Blog Ads in August. Less than a year later, Google introduced AdSense, which paired blogs with relevant ads (at the blogger’s discretion). The ability to advertise on blogs was a major milestone for bloggers as it created the opportunity to monetize their work. The foundation was laid for blogs to be sponsored by major brands that match their respective credos, or to receive free products in exchange for comments or ratings. Blogging became a business – and soon a small number of bloggers would be turning what was once a hobby into their main source of income.
The tumultuous Gawker, which New York Magazine described as the initiation of gossip blogs, also started in December 2002 to cease operations after a high-profile legal battle in August 2016.
2003: The dynamic continues
TypePad and WordPress were introduced in 2003 and continue the trend of offering platform options to a growing number of bloggers. This is the same year that live blogging is expected to start. The Guardian was one of the first registered outlets to use live blogging during Prime Minister’s Question Time in 2003. The BBC refers to this blogging activity as “live text” and has often used it for sporting events.
WordPress, c. 2005. Source: Wayback Machine
TypePad, c. 2003. Source: Wayback Machine
In February 2003, Google also acquired Pyra Labs – the makers of bloggers. This was a sign of the growing blogging business, particularly in the wake of the monetization programs that started last year.
The early 2000s showed the first signs of a surge in political blogs. For example, in 2003, several traditional media encouraged writers and columnists to act as “cyber journalists,” as Matt Welch called them in an article for the Columbia Journalism Review. It reflected a growing number of political bloggers, and many seasoned reporters wanted to blog for opinions and hit outlets.
This climate prepared the blogosphere for what would follow in the second half of the decade, when the perspectives and analysis of political bloggers became the preferred sources of information on current events. The line between traditional media and the blogosphere would gradually bend as bloggers were fated to become members of the press.
2004 – 2005: video and press
Despite the earliest video blogs recorded in 2000, it wasn’t until the middle of the decade that visual content had a chance to take root. In February 2004, the videographer Steve Garfield, who later became one of the first video bloggers on the Internet, declared the “year of the video blog”.
As fate would have it, YouTube launched just a year later in February 2005 and shortly thereafter invited the public to upload their own videos. But it wasn’t always what people now associate it with – it actually started out as a short-lived dating site where singles could use videos to introduce themselves and indicate their romantic criteria.
YouTube, c. 2005. Source: Wayback Machine
However, after YouTube focused on general video uploads (which, according to Wayback Machine, appeared to be in effect by June 2005), it was part of a series of developments that demonstrated the online user’s growing credibility. With author resources already extensive, the developers began targeting other content creators.
And it’s not just developers who have given these online users credibility. In March 2005, blogger Garrett Graff was the first to receive White House press cards.
This may have been when the line between reporting and blogging began to narrow, thanks in part to the launch of the Huffington Post in May. It started out as a case study dubbed a “political forum” – and the Washington Post called it a “group blog” in a 2007 profile – but is now one of the most famous content aggregators.
The Huffington Post is largely a mix of syndicated material and original content from staff, columnists, and unpaid bloggers. However, if you visit the site, you will land on a page with global headlines and the visual impression that it is a news agency.
It’s no surprise that one of the Huffington Post’s co-founders, Jonah Peretti, co-founded BuzzFeed. While BuzzFeed would not call itself a content aggregator – it is instead referred to as a “cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment” – it contains a similar range of content and despite the editorial staff, anyone can post on the site.
These newer platforms raised the question, “Is it a newspaper or a blog?” And in the course of the 21st century the answer to that question would not become clearer.
2006-2007: The Rise of Microblogging and Rules
The beginning of life with 140 characters (or fewer) began in March 2006 when Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey sent out the world’s first tweet.
just setting up my twttr
– 🚶🏽jack (@jack) March 21, 2006
It was the introduction of microblogging – the sharing of stories, news, and other types of content in the smallest possible format.
Microblogging continued to gain momentum in February 2007 with the launch of Tumblr – another blogging platform that encouraged users to keep it short. It was built, wrote former CNET reporter Josh Lowensohn, for those “who feel they don’t have enough content or time to write a full blog but still want to write and share links and media”.
However, with the introduction of short-form information exchange in real time, there was also increasingly visceral communication. There would be tons of mean tweets as well as harmful comments on blogs. It came to a point when new media mogul Tim O’Reilly proposed a code of conduct for bloggers in March 2007 to respond to threatening comments a friend received on her blog. The rules were as follows:
- Not only do you take responsibility for your own words, but also for the comments you allow on your blog.
- Label your tolerance level for abusive comments.
- Remove anonymous comments.
- Ignore the trolls.
- Take the conversation offline and speak directly or find an operator who can do it.
- If you know someone who is misbehaving, tell them.
- Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person.
It turned out that the blogosphere had come a long way since the introduction of Open Diary in 1998. Commenting on blogs became less of a novelty than a point of contention. A few years later – in 2013 – the Huffington Post finally followed Rule 3 of the Code of Conduct, banned anonymous comments on its content and asked commentators to link their feedback to a Facebook profile.
2008-2011: Blogging Dark Ages
In that four-year period, there weren’t many major events leading up to how or why people blogged.
There have been some notable developments, however. In January 2009, the White House blog debuted.
The film Julie & Julia premiered later that year, following the success of a food blogger whose work online eventually turned into a book. It was one of the earliest pop-cultural clues to bloggers’ professional success, and it inspired others – by 2010, Technorati reported that 11% of bloggers said they blogged their main income.
Google also made some changes that would affect Blogger in 2011 as the change to the “Panda” algorithm was introduced. The aim was to lower the rank of websites with what Moz called “thin content”, which hurt bloggers who produced content that Google considered to be of poor quality. A lot had to do with bloggers not having an inbound link – a link to your website that came from someone else. (My colleague Lindsay Kolowich wrote more about it here.) Without many websites linking to these blogs, the Google algorithm would interpret them as less relevant.
2012: Medium is founded
In August 2012, a co-founder of Pyra Labs – the creators of Blogger – created Evan Williams Medium: One of the newest blogging platforms.
Medium is more than that today. Like most other blogging platforms, it allows users to write and publish original content. But Medium continues to blur the line between reporting and blogging. In fact, the company describes itself on its website as “news reinvented every day, straight from the people who make and live it”.
It was a remarkable introduction of decentralized content: a concept that allows users to share their work that was published elsewhere on a content creation platform. This is different from sharing links on social media, which shows limited content, for example. Instead, the full text and images of the work are shared with the original author and source on a website other than the origin.
It may sound confusing and pointless. But my colleague Sam Mallikarjunan explains the advantages of such an approach in his article “Why Medium Works”. In sum: Medium has around three million viewers who share and read all of the content. Does your blog have this reach? If not, you can reach Medium’s broad audience by syndicating your own content on their platform, thereby drawing more attention to your work.
The same year Medium launched, LinkedIn unveiled its Influencers program, which was used to recruit notable business figures for the guest blog on LinkedIn’s publishing platform. Finally, this platform was opened to all LinkedIn members in 2014.
While LinkedIn’s platform worked a little differently than Medium’s – users cannot republish all of their work in the same seamless fashion on the former – it offers another way to share original content with an audience much larger than them, possibly on their own Domains received.
2017 was the latest development in blogging – the WordPress developers announced they would introduce the .blog domain.
Here’s the cool thing about .blog: even though it was created by the developers of WordPress, you don’t have to use the WordPress platform to create a blog on this domain.
“Domain registrations are open to anyone,” wrote Mashable’s Adario Strange, “regardless of the publishing platform.”
I don’t know about you, but after delving into the history of blogging, I’m pretty excited to see what its future will be.
Of course, it probably helps that blogging is my job. But I’m definitely not alone. Here at HubSpot, our content team has at least three full-time bloggers, and there are more job titles that list or include blogging as a primary function.
It makes sense if you look at the state of blogging now. It’s an essential part of marketing and content strategy and has been shown to increase lead flow by up to 700% for some companies.
How blogging continues to change will determine what our careers are, and I encourage all marketers – companies or others – to blog on behalf of their respective brands. It may seem like a lot of work, but unless the evolution of blogging has indicated otherwise, the sphere will only expand further.
And that’s what marketers should continue to watch out for – not just the growth of blogging, but also the many different interpretations. Just look at Facebook Live, Facebook Instant Articles, and Snapchat Stories in the context of the dictionary definition of a blog from above: “A website where someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences.” Replace “writes about” with “shares” , and you could be the case that most content platforms today – including social media networks – are their own versions of blogs.
Want to learn more about the future of blogging and marketing as a whole? Read the latest edition of our State of Marketing report.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated for completeness.