In less than 15 years, blogging has exploded. Once a raft of small projects started by a few pioneering individuals, it has grown into a massive communication tool used by casual hobbyists and media behemoths alike. Blogs have evolved so much that the word has all but lost its meaning, serving as a catchall for nearly any online communication.
Writing the history of blogs is therefore no easy task. But Scott Rosenberg, a co-founder of Salon.com an early online-media player and the author of the new book Say Everything, had the benefit of being around in blogging's earliest days. He talked to TIME about the history of blogs, the impact they've had on society and why they're not done reshaping the way we interact with one another.
TIME: How difficult was it to chart a history of a massive and diverse thing like blogging?
Rosenberg: This is a phenomenon that starts small, then diversifies, then explodes at a certain point. At the small phase, it's not that difficult to shape the story. The first part of the book is really a series of profiles of people Justin Hall, Dave Winer, Jorn Barger who were some of the key figures in pioneering blogging. In the middle of the book, my job became picking out the stories that had the most to teach us about what blogging was all about. At that point, the challenge became figuring out what to leave out.
You seem set on changing some of the popular notions of why people blog.
One thing I've become very conscious of is how careful you have to be making generalizations about bloggers. You have millions of people blogging. There are a multitude of answers to any question about what blogging is, who bloggers are or why they do it.
There are plenty of bloggers who are trying to do something akin to journalism some do it well, some poorly but there's a whole vast universe that picture leaves out. That universe is people who are blogging not to reach a large audience, necessarily [or] to supplement their income. They're doing it to express themselves, to find out what it's like to write in public and to tell something of their own lives and experiences.
One way you describe the effect of bloggers is to say that "blogging allows us to think out loud together." What sort of effect has this had on society?
People find that writing sharpens their thinking. On the Web, you also have the opportunity through links, blogging communities and other social environments to compare what you're saying with what others are saying and to read their responses. That's a big plus.
In your book, you detail several big online ventures started by smart mainstream-media titans that failed. What don't the mainstream media understand about blogging?
Today there are a huge number of really great blogs under the umbrella of traditional-media companies. In the earliest days, it took a while to figure out that this form made sense. But I think it's still hard for a lot of media companies to really hand a journalist the keys to a blog and say, Go do your thing. And it's hard for journalists, even if given that freedom, to be totally at ease with it.
How has Twitter changed blogging?
I see it as a good thing. It's redefining blogging as an outlet for things you can't say in 140 characters. And ironically, it's making blogging more substantial. In the early days, blogging was dismissed as trivial and mundane and full of these messages about what you were having for lunch. Those messages are now on Twitter among other things, of course while blogs can serve as a public sphere for ideas and a place where people exercise creativity and self-expression.
What's next for blogs?
Text blogs will not change that much. They are a mature and established form, and people who write on the Web will continue to find them useful. Video is in a state of huge growth; video blogging and podcasting are extensions of blogging in different directions. Personally, I find it much harder to consume a lot of video, but I'm middle-aged at this point. I'm sure there are people who are going to figure out how to do things with video online that I can't even imagine.