Some time this year bRight & Early will turn nine. The earliest post I still have is “Making book on filibuster detente” from May 24, 2005. That story talks about the “Gang of 14″ (the first of many misguided congressional gangs) and the compromise on judicial nominations. I guess that means that, politically, not much has changed.
The same can’t be said for blogs and blogging. Here’s a look back through my imperfect memory. (Feel free to correct and remind me in the comments.)
Predating this humble effort, many of the earliest blogs were hand written, hard-coded, html web pages. In some ways it was like the early days of the automobile – you couldn’t just drive the car, you had to be a mechanic as well. WordPress came along in 2003, and competed with several other blogging platforms. When I switched from blogger (a free blog hosting site) to my own domain (and finally to this domain) there was a bit of friendly bantering regarding which platform was best. Today, ten of the top 20 blogs use WordPress. I have been using WordPress from version 1.5, through 18 versions and an unknown number of sub-versions, to version 3.8 and counting.
In those early days you read a blog in one way – on your desktop computer. Laptops were rare, while tablets and smart phones didn’t even exist. The software, in many cases, had to catch up with the hardware available to read the blogs. Today most blogs are optimized for reading on any platform.
In the late 90’s and early 00’s blogs were new and quite novel. Our competition was one another. Traditional media – newspapers, television, and magazines – were still discovering the power of an online presence. It’s quite different today. I can’t imagine there are many of those traditional outlets that don’t have an internet compliment to their original content.
Today the big boys blog. They have to. Much maligned bloggers (sitting in their parent’s basement in pajamas, so they’d like you to believe) scooped their professional counterparts too often to be ignored. I truly believe it has been a case of, “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Or perhaps more accurately, if you can’t beat them outspend, absorb, or co-opt them. Note: I don’t mean to imply that anyone abandoned their principles by joining or switching to these larger, more traditional outlets, only that they moved away from being lone, non-commercial, individual bloggers to being part of “something else” with it’s pros and cons.
One of the byproducts of being a blogger in the “olden days” was a true sense of camaraderie. Early bloggers, particularly those with similar interests, ideologies and perspectives, all “knew” one another. There weren’t that many of us. I can’t imagine that I would have had the privilege to interact with people like Wyatt Earp, Ed Morrissey (I still miss Captain’s Quarters), John Hawkins, Michelle Malkin, David Limbaugh, Ace, Chris Muir, Sister Toldjah, Fausta, William Teach, and many others, outside of blogging. I’ve only met two of the people on this list – Wyatt Earp and David Limbaugh – Still, I do feel as if I know many of them.
We depended on each other back in the wild blogging west. We shared stories, ideas, credit, and the all important “link love”. Blogrolls, links to other like-minded sites, were at one time the main source of advertising your own efforts. To be included on the rolls of any of the “bigger” blogs was considered quite a coup.
To be linked by those more trafficked sites could make your day in way that pay could hardly match (while often straining your host’s ability to keep up). It even received it’s own term – Instalanche:
In the blogsphere, this is similar to being Slashdotted, it refers to an increase in traffic after a popular site has linked to your. The original reference was to InstaPundit.
Content and Quality
Content was, and still is, king. The novelty of some “common” person putting their thoughts and observations out there for anyone to read was quickly replaced by the demand that the composition be interesting, informative, entertaining, and well written. That hasn’t changed, but what has evolved, in many cases, the style, quality, and format of what is written.
Many bloggers started by using the sincerest form of flattery. In other words, we saw what others were doing and we tried to do it too. I’m sure my story is pretty typical of many early bloggers. I first heard about blogging from a local conservative morning talk radio announcer. After hearing him say several times to, “check out his blog” I did. My response was the same as many of the early bloggers – I can do that. Making that decision is fairly easy, setting up your own blog on one of the free sites isn’t much harder. The hard part comes when you have to decide what you are going to write about. I realized right away that nearly all writers focus on a single topic or area of interest. That’s not to say they can’t, or won’t, write about other things they are passionate about, but the bulk of what they write tends to cover a narrow beam. For me, conservative politics seemed that natural way to go, so that choice was made.
Writing wasn’t “my thing” back in high school (sorry Mrs. Smoot and Mrs. DellaPorta) or college, although I did better when I took some classes later on. There are no entrance requirements for blogging. In many ways it’s like what they say about golf and sex – you don’t have to be good to enjoy it. You do have to be good enough. Good enough for readers to stick around long enough to get to the end of a story. Good enough for people to come back, comment, and share what you’ve written. One side benefit to blogging, at least in my case, is that the simple act of trying to write better helps you to improve as a writer. I know in my work life that blogging has helped improve everything from simple emails to important reports.
There is a wide range of blogging styles, influenced by the topic, the writer’s goal (to inform, influence, or entertain) and their personal preferences. And while there are no hard and fast rules regarding blogging style, most writers do tend to fall into a few broad types.
- Link ‘em and leave ‘em – Or, the Instapundit style. Glenn Reynolds is the master of this, “often imitated, never duplicated” style. It’s just a word, a sentence, or a paragraph and a link. You would think that this style would be easy to duplicate, but two points stick out as to why that isn’t so – the volume of post (dozens a day) and the ability in those few brief words to compel you to read the linked story.
- Setup, Quote, Comment – This is probably the most common style for bloggers, especially political bloggers. A sentence or paragraph sets up the story to be quoted, a quote from another source, then commentary on that story. The majority of my posts here have been in this style.
- Long Form – These take a longer approach to a story. They can quote other sources, or consist entirely of original writing. This seems to be the rarest style, at least among the blogs that I read.
I set out at the beginning of this piece to describe the changing world of blogging, but at the core it has really been an exercise in looking at what I am doing and what I am going to do here in the future. My goal for this blog, in the beginning, was to post often with the latest breaking stories. At one time that was sort of possible, but job changes and other factors have made that difficult at best. I have also realized that I don’t have the sources, or resources, to find those stories that no one else has found. To be honest, a degree of political cynicism has set in as well. That’s not to say that my political view-point has changed, I am still as conservatively minded as ever. It’s more a matter of understanding that my self-assigned role is not that of story breaker.
The short version is that I am out of the breaking news business and will concentrate more on longer pieces, observations, and my personal take on things. I do still want to post more often and more consistently. We’ll have to see about that. I welcome your thoughts.