Sam Smith, 2007 – The Wall Street Journal’s claim that this is the tenth anniversary of the blog – as well as some of the critical reaction to the story – led us to our archives to find what we could about our role in this tale.
We’ve tried to avoid the word blog – preferring to call ourselves an online journal – but the phrase has a ubiquity one can’t duck.
The Wall Street Journal claimed, “We are approaching a decade since the first blogger — regarded by many to be Jorn Barger — began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: ‘I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis,’ and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word ‘weblog.’
“The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were “proto-blogs,” embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form.”
While we refer to Barger as the sainted Jorn Barger – he has been repeatedly kind to this journal over the years – the WSJ has got things somewhat mixed up. It is certainly true that Barger blessed or cursed us with the word blog, but whatever you called it, something was already underway, including at the Progressive Review. As evidence, we would quote from the very issue cited by the WSJ: Barger’s December 23, 1997 Robot Wisdom WebLog in which he writes:
“There’s a new issue of the Progressive Review, one of the few leftwing sources that’s vigorously anti-Clinton. . . The lead story this week is Judge Lamberth’s condemnation of White House lies about the healthcare taskforce in 1993. Its editor Sam Smith also offers a nice fantasy of what a real newspaper should be, USA Tomorrow . . .”
Barger’s contribution was not just one of nomenclature, but of gracing the Web with an eclectic spirit and curiosity, tapping its holistic wonders and happily mixing technology, politics, literature, philosophy and rants. In musical terms, Barger showed us how to swing.
A few examples from that last week of December 1997 illustrates the point (the copious links are not included)
– This Day in Joyce History. . . On this date in 1891, Dante Riordan left the Joyce household after the Xmas fight depicted in Portrait. In ?1893 the fictional Rudy Bloom was born. In 1916, Portrait was published by Huebsch. In 1931, John S. Joyce died. In ?1953 John Kidd was born.
– Two of the most readable computer journalists– John Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle– are about to launch a Siskel/Ebert-style weekly debate site, using ‘wallet’ technology to charge a dime a week. . .
– Gorillas make gorgeous representational art. . .
– Email from Frankie? TV.Com claims Frank Sinatra will sometimes answer friendly email. The Sinatra Family site is endearingly naif. . .
– A couple of x-rated essays at Salon: Susie Bright’s very sweet appreciation of the Pam Anderson/ Tommy Lee bootleg sex video
– Sixties icon Kerry Thornley, intimate of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jim Garrison and Robert Anton Wilson, and author of the Principia Discordia is in poor health, and fans are encouraged to order a copy of PD straight from the source, autographed on request.
– The mass media’s undeclared war against the Net is nowhere clearer than in their assaults against Ian Goddard’s TWA800 website. CNN has baldly falsified a report that Goddard recanted his site as a hoax. . .
– How has the Newt Right so successfully blindsided the progressive Left? A dryish analysis in The Nation argues that we don’t lack the funds, but we’re spending them with self-defeating unfocus. . .
– I am having a fear of modern business practices: A fine culture critic named Tom Frank (not to be confused with Troll Mennie) explores Fast Company, the bastard spawn of Wired and Forbes. . .
– Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria (age 20) has been elected Swede of the Year by the evening paper Expressen. Last month it was announced that she’s suffering from an eating disorder. . .
– Garrison Keillor, quoted on newsgroup misc.activism.progressive: “We’re in the clutches of a bunch of folks trying to turn the U.S. into a third world country. Two hundred billionaires, and 260 million poor people. And they haven’t done enough damage yet to be beaten.”
Duncan Riley offers this critique of the WSJ article:
According to my history of blogging (still No. 3 on Google BTW, and heavily researched at the time) blogging turned 11 on January 10, the date in which the first credited blogger (according to Wikipedia as well) Justin Hall commences writing an online journal with dated daily entries, although each daily post is linked through an index page. On the journal he writes “Some days, before I go to bed, I think about my day, and how it meshed with my life, and I write a little about what learned me.” In February Dave Winer follows up with a weblog that chronicles the 24 Hours of Democracy Project. Winer has often claimed that he was the first blogger, I’ve long disagreed but whether it was Hall or Winer is a moot point: both were blogging in 1996. . .
According to Wikipedia, “A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and displayed in reverse chronological order. ‘Blog’ can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.
At least as early as 1993, the Progressive Review was sending a faxed blog-like substance to our media list as a supplement to the print edition. The earliest mention of an online edition that we could find comes from the August 1994 edition: “If you have an Internet address, send it to us on a postcard or to email@example.com and we will add you to our Peacenet hotline mailing list. You can also find us at alt.activism and alt.politics.clinton. Sorry, offer not good for networks that carry e-mail charges”
There then followed a series of blog-like entries.
But none of that really counts because it wasn’t on the Worldwide Web. But by June 1995, the Progressive Review was on the web, where only about 20,000 other websites existed worldwide. We announced it like this:
“The Review now has a site on the World Wide Web. Pay us a visit at: http://prorev.com/ Here is some of what you’ll find: The Crash of America: How this country’s elite ruined the economy, fouled the environment and left Newt Gingrich in charge. From the March 1995 issue. The fully informed jury movement: The right of juries to judge both the law and the fact dates back to the trials of William Penn and Peter Zenger. . .”
Still not bloggish, as we initially only posted longer articles. But within a few months – we were promising that “The Progressive Review On-Line Report is found on the Web” and our quasi-blogging had begun.
While we weren’t the earliest we were certainly in same ‘hood and we may hold some sort of record for consistency. We are still brought to you by Turnpike and we are still using Adobe Page Mill to post our non-blog pages. A year or two ago we ran into an Adobe sales rep at Best Buy and mentioned our loyalty, saying that “we still love it.” She looked quite cross and said, “That’s what a lot of people say.”
The Web would come to value style over substance in design and conventional loyalty over free thinking in politics. But, inspired by a few like Jorn Borger, we have tried to keep our layout simple and our thoughts complex. In the game of Internet high-low poker, we went low and it doesn’t seem to have a hurt a bit.
Thanks for sticking around.