Twenty-five years ago, blogging didn’t exist. Today, while it’s hard to get a definitive figure for the number of blogs in the world, there are certainly hundreds of millions. The meteoric rise of blogging has transformed the way many people read, and write, in a single generation. For comparison, there have been around 130 million books published in all of modern history, according to Google’s calculations. WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging platform, offers some remarkable statistics. Each month, across WordPress, over 409 million people view more than 22.2 billion pages. Users post about 69.8 million new posts and 42 million new comments.
What exactly is a blog? According to Wikipedia, it’s a website consisting of discrete entries (‘posts’), typically displayed in reverse chronological order. Initially, they tended to be the work of a single author, or occasionally a small group, but since around 2009 ‘multi-author blogs’ (MABs) have also developed. With evolution at both ends of the scale — from professionally edited MABs written by newspapers, universities, and other institutions, to microblogging platforms such as Twitter — the definition of a blog can overlap with other types of website.
Dave Winer, the man behind Scripting News, one of the web’s oldest and most influential blogs, argues that it’s a question of individual voice, rather than form or content. In a blog post entitled ‘The Unedited Voice of a Person’, he writes: “If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not.” Winer quotes American journalist Stephen Levy, who spent over a decade as chief technology writer at Newsweek, as saying that in his whole career he had never written a word that wasn’t approved by someone else, until he started a blog.
The first ever blog is often said to be links.net, created by Justin Hall while he was a college student in 1994. He referred to it as his ‘personal homepage’, and it wasn’t until 1997 that the term ‘weblog’ was coined. This has been attributed to John Barger, who created the influential early blog Robot Wisdom. ‘Weblog’ was shortened to ‘blog’ in 1999 by programmer Peter Merholz. Five years later, Merriam-Webster declared ‘blog’ their Word of the Year. Commenting on seeing a new word become so influential so quickly, they say it’s “a reminder of how quickly our world changes, and how our language changes with it.”
Another key milestone is reached this year. Automattic, which runs WordPress, has secured the rights to operate and sell .blog as a domain extension, with an early batch of founder sites going live from today. For the first time, bloggers will be able to register ‘yourname.blog’ or ‘youridea.blog’, opening up a huge number of fresh address options uniquely relevant to what they’re doing. From November 21st, the opportunity will be open to all through accredited registrars.
The benefits of having your own dedicated space online can be huge. Blogs allow people to share hobbies, interests and causes with a like-minded community. Scott Schuman turned the simple concept of photographing stylish people on the street into a blog, The Sartorialist, which attracts more than 70,000 readers a day. Twenty-six year old biology major Elise Andrew created I F—ing Love Science, first a Facebook page and now a fully staffed blog with an audience of 24 million. Talking to TIME, she advocated “the importance of a ‘staunchly pro-science’ news outlet at a time when some presidential candidates deny that climate change exists.”
They also offer professionals the ability share their expertise, build credibility and reputation, and reach out to people. Graphic designer Joy Cho built an online empire centred around her popular lifestyle blog, gaining partnerships with brands like Toyota and Target and even being asked to design the souvenir eggs for the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll. Timothy Sykes is a stock trader and entrepreneur whose blog teaches his followers about penny-stock trading. The site earns millions of dollars a year.
Like the web more generally, much of the appeal of blogging, and the reason for its success, lies in its openness. Anyone can start a blog, regardless of who they are or what their skills and interests are. The popularity of blogging means that, as a reader, all you need is an internet connection to access a vast repository of information, insight, and opinion. If the above examples are anything to go by, the blogosphere is set to continue to be a varied and vibrant space. And it’s never been easier to participate.