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The Past, Present and Future of Weblogs. Susan C. Herring School of Library and Information Science Indiana University, Bloomington. Definition. Weblog — a frequently modified web page in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence. Related phenomena.

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the past present and future of weblogs

The Past, Present and Future of Weblogs

Susan C. Herring

School of Library and Information Science

Indiana University, Bloomington

  • Weblog — a frequently modified web page in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence
related phenomena
Related phenomena
  • Online journal host sites (e.g.,,
  • “Community weblogs” (e.g.,,
  • 1,454,524 weblogs indexed by the NITLE Weblog Census as of 10/31/03
  • 959,985 (66%) estimated active
  • Including online journal sites brings the estimated total to 4.12 million (Perseus, October 2003), of which 34% are active
the standard view
The “Standard View”
  • Weblogs are value-added filters of external (typically, Web) content; radically new; intellectually and socially transformative
    • Mass media (e.g., Glaser 2002; Lasica 2001)
    • Blog authors (e.g., D. Winer, R. Blood)
    • Reproduced in assumptions of scholarly studies (e.g., Krishnamurty 2002; Park 2003)
standard history
Standard history
  • Earliest precursor - “what’s new” pages by Tim Berners-Lee (1993)
  • 1st modern weblog - Dave Winer’s Scripting News (1996)
  • Jorn Barger coins the term ‘weblog’ (1997)
  • Peter Merholz re-analyzes it as ‘we-blog’ (1998); later shortened to ‘blog’
  • Blogger software (1999) makes blogging accessible
  • Blogs attract media attention after 9/11
present day situation
Present-day situation
  • Pre-filtered Web content
    • E.g., Robot Wisdom
  • Political commentary
    • E.g., InstaPundit
  • Knowledge management
    • E.g., Dave Winer at Harvard’s Berkman Center
  • Engaging “voices”
    • E.g., Megnut
  • Interlinked community (the “Blogosphere”)
future projections
Future projections
  • Democratizing/socially transformative (Gillmore - “every employee should have a public weblog”)
  • Politically influential (Rosen - “information flows from the public to the press”)
  • Knowledge creating (Burg – “emergent intelligence”)
problems with the standard view
Problems with the Standard View
  • Ahistorical: Shallow time depth
  • Partial: Excludes many contemporary blog phenomena
  • Misleading: Misrepresents the nature of weblogs, with implications for future trajectory
  • Limits consideration of historical antecedents to the Web
  • Overlooks personal journal blogs; privileges blogs created by an educated, adult, male elite
  • Uncritically represents blogging as intellectual, influential in the public sphere
research study
Research study
  • Blog Research on Genre project (BROG)
    • Sabrina Bonus, Susan Herring, Lois Scheidt, Elijah Wright
  • Goal: to characterize empirically the “average blog”
  • A snapshot of the present as a benchmark for future comparison
data sample
Data sample
  • “Core” blogs (excl. LiveJournal, DiaryLand)
    • Minimum 2 entries
  • Random sampling from site
    • Tracking 866,394 blogs as of 10/31/03
    • Sources:,,,
    • Excluded non-English blogs; blogs with no text in first entry; blog software used for non-blog purpose; blog not updated within two weeks
    • 203 blogs collected and coded March-May 2003
  • Web content analysis (Bates & Lu, 1997; cf. Bauer, 2000)
  • Genre characteristics (Chandler, 1998; Dillon & Gushrowski, 2000; cf. Yates & Orlikowsky, 1992)
    • Producer
    • Purpose
    • Structure
  • Coded 44 features in each blog; quantified results
  • Blog content tends to be external to the author (news; strange-but-true phenomena; technical/scholarly information, etc.)
  • Blog authors are typically well-educated adult males
  • Blogs are interactive, attracting multiple comments from readers
  • Blogs are heavily interlinked
blog entry lazy gnome
Blog entry (Lazy Gnome)

Friday, 13th June 2003

3.08pm - trigger happy hippy with a Canon AE-1

If I go away, I take my camera. Standard practice.

So, for your viewing displeasure, there are 4 new gallerys to view:

watery times

my 1st b+w shoot

Swanage area + 1

sea and air

First two are from my latest trip to Edinburgh to see my little sweetie. The second

two were taken from my 4 day trip to the south coast with my parents in their

campervan (I had a 4 man tent all to myself!).

Seeing as the last 'family holiday' I can remember was about 8 years ago, it was

a real treat for me.

Comment ?

blog authors cont
Blog authors (cont.)
  • Blog content varies according to gender of blog author
    • Personal journals & other: 60% Female, 40% Male
    • Filters, k-logs & mixed: 15% Female, 85% Male
  • Blog content varies according to age of blog author
    • Personal journals & other: 60% Teen, 40% Adult
    • Filters, k-logs & mixed: 5% Teen, 95% Adult
  • Many adult blog authors appear to be in their early 20’s
  • The second most frequent occupation is ‘unemployed’
findings comments
Findings: Comments
  • Percent of blogs allowing comments: 43%
    • Related to default settings in blogging software
  • Number of comments per newest entry:

mean .3

mode 0

range 0-6

  • Number of comments per oldest entry:

mean .3

mode 0

range 0-7

findings links
Findings: Links
  • Percent of blogs containing external links (excluding badges): 69.5
  • Number of links per newest entry:

mean .65

mode 0

range 0-11

  • Percent of newest entries that link to a news source: 8.2
  • Percent of newest entries that link to another blog: 6.7
summary of findings
Summary of findings
  • Blog content is mostly personal (and often intimate)
  • Blog authors are roughly equally split between male and female, adult and teen
    • Adult males create more filters and k-logs
    • Females and teens create more personal journals
  • Most blog entries receive no comments
  • Most blog entries contain no links
  • Possible sampling bias
    • Small sample size
    • English only
problem for historical account
Problem for historical account
  • The typical modern blog is unlikely to have evolved from lists of links on the Web
alternative historical account
Alternative historical account
  • Blogs developed out of previous Web genres (e.g., online journal, personal home page, hotlist)
  • Blog genres have antecedents in previous offline genres (e.g., diaries, newsletters, editorials)
  • The blog can be seen as part of a continuous evolution of the journal format since the 17th century
online journals
Online journals
  • Since 1995
  • Co-exist with blogs
  • Like personal journal blogs:
    • More females than males
    • Personal content
    • Updated daily or nearly daily
    • Reverse chronological sequence
    • Some links
    • Switch to blog software
hand written diaries
Hand-written diaries
  • Since 14th c. in England
  • ‘Diary’ > Latin dies ‘days’
  • Multiple uses

“We have our state diurnals, relating to national affairs. Tradesmen keep their shop books. Merchants their account books. Lawyers have their books of pre[c]edents. Physitians have their experiments. Some wary husbands have kept a diary of daily disbursements. Travellers a Journall of all that they have seen and hath befallen them in their way.”

(John Beadle)

  • Growth in popularity in 17th c.
    • Samuel Pepys’ diary (1659-1669)
subsequent evolution
Subsequent evolution
  • Blog uses expand
  • Journal type overtakes filter type
  • Shift from link to personal focus
    • Justin Hall, one of the pioneers of the online journal:

“When I first discovered the web I was very excited by the tremendous amounts of information. I surfed the web far and wide in them early days, and I kept a log, of sorts. … Then, I started posting stories about my life; context for the rest of the content. That part of my site grew to be the most involving and perhaps engaging.”

problem for future predictions
Problem for future predictions
  • The typical weblog is unlikely to be intellectually and socially transformative
alternative future perspective
Alternative future perspective
  • Increasing mundane use
    • AOL (35.6 million subscribers)
  • Increasing contentiousness
    • The “blogs of war” (Cavanaugh, 2002)
  • Increasing commercialization
    • Ads on free software
    • Fewer features on free sites
    • Paid blog hosting services
    • Business blogs
    • Astro-turfing and spamming
  • Increasing non-blog use of blog software
the blog as hybrid
The blog as hybrid
  • Multiple functional antecedents
  • Mixed content within a single blog
  • Shares features of online and offline genres
  • Intermediate between standard Web documents and interactive computer-mediated communication (CMC)
  • Blogs featured in contemporary public discourses about blogging are the exception, rather than the rule
  • Important to look at “average” blogs as well as interesting/unusual ones
    • Socio-political, social-psychological, and technical implications
  • Socio-historical analysis constitutes a useful antidote to the ahistoricity of discourse about blogs and the Internet in general
conclusion cont
Conclusion (cont.)
  • Blogs may ultimately prove transformative, but not in favoring a specific content, audience, or quality
  • Rather, they create new affordances that will be open to a variety of uses (cf. email)
the brog blog
The BROG blog