Blogging like it’s 2003

I never used to read USS Clueless, a blog that was big back in the days of the medium’s infancy in the early ’00s, but I knew about it and saw it referenced a lot.  I also used to see the blog owner’s name, Stephen DenBeste, appearing quite often among the blogs I did read.  I read yesterday over at Samizdata that Stephen had died, which is causing a lot of sadness among the bloggers of that era who used to interact with him.

The first blog I ever encountered was Peter Briffa’s long gone and much missed Public Interest.  I read a Thunderer column he’d written in The Times in spring 2003 about the Stephen Lawrence murder and followed the address at the bottom.  Having not seen a blog before and expecting a regular website it took me a day or two to figure out what I was looking at.  I remember the blogroll causing me a lot of confusion: most websites back then had very few outgoing links, almost all were internal.  Or maybe I was just dense.

Anyway, once I’d gotten my head around the concept I launched my own blog in March or April 2003.  This was when British blogging was in its early days with most of us using Blogger software with awful, buggy templates, before Moveable Type and WordPress came along and things improved a lot.  The big American blogs were well established by then, particularly Instapundit and Little Green Footballs.  Probably the largest in the UK I knew about would have been Samizdata.  That spring/summer/autumn of 2003 was a wonderful time to be blogging in the UK because the number of bloggers was tiny: everyone knew one another and it felt like we were at the start of something big.  Very few of those who were around at that time are still blogging, but a few are.  Last night somebody asked me how long I’d been running a blog for and I said over thirteen years.  That’s quite a long time, particularly given I’ve been doing it while in Middle Eastern theocracies and Putin’s Russia.  It’s why I laughed once when somebody, who hadn’t even known what a blog was before reading mine, saw fit to give me stern advice on how I should conduct myself online.  Yes, thanks for that.

Perry de Havilland refers in his post about Stephen DenBeste to “the early days when we were all known as “warblogs””.  British blogging took off in 2003 as the Iraq War was being waged, and this is no coincidence: ordinary people were getting so fed up with the poor and/or obviously biased coverage of the war in the mainstream media that they got online and started adding their own voices to the noise.  As the sadly departed Norman Geras said in July 2003: I’m joining the conversation.  And oh boy, he did.

Blogging then became the next Big Thing and by 2005 seemingly everyone had a blog and companies were touting them as a vital way of sharing information.  People then discovered blogging required some talent either by way of style, ideas, or merely having something to say, and the numbers levelled off and then started to fall.  Facebook came along, and then Twitter, and now my guess would be we’re left with the hardcore bloggers who probably number around 10% of what there were at the format’s peak.  That’s just a guess, mind.  LiveJournal got huge in Russia, and I have no idea if they sustained their numbers.

Anyway, my point is that it was the dissatisfaction of a large number of people with the mainstream media’s coverage of a major global event that drove the growth of blogging, both in the US and Britain.  We are now in a period where people’s dissatisfaction with the mainstream media is plumbing new depths as it behaves abominably over issues such as the US election, immigration, and a whole load of others which people care deeply about.  Twitter and Facebook have already shown they are prepared to censor unwelcome opinions, which has left more than a few people voiceless (at least until Gab picks up and develops a smartphone app.).  Indeed, I’ve always been surprised how many bloggers – who had full control of their own hosting platform and content – switched to Twitter, where they had none of the former and now, we discover, not so much of the latter either.  The beauty of blogging for me was always that I run the site and its content is wholly mine and subject to nobody’s approval.  There is no “report inappropriate content” on this blog.

This period in the runup to the US Presidential Election is starting to feel a lot like the spring of 2003: plenty of angry voices and a feeling nobody is listening.  If Trump loses, the opposite side will try to silence them.  One way of making themselves heard is via a blog, leading me to believe that we might see a renaissance of blogging in 2017.

Either way, I’ll still be here.  Hopefully.


19 thoughts on “Blogging like it’s 2003

  1. Pingback: Samizdata quote of the day « Samizdata

  2. Boy, do I feel old. And yes, what you said – except for that I was reading SDB regularly. Over the years and after he stopped blogging (except for the anime thing), I disagreed with him more and more in retrospect, but that is beside the point of him having made a huge difference in the world, along with several others.

    Resurgence of blogs, or something similar but improved, in 2017? That would be a welcome development. And yes, may you blog long and prosper 🙂

  3. There were a number of good lads around ten or so years ago when Guido Fawkes was in his infancy. Real life – career and family commitments – eventually did for them. Shame.

  4. @ Bernie G.,

    Real life – career and family commitments – eventually did for them.

    Oh, those things I’ve managed to avoid, then? That might explain a lot.

  5. Tim,

    V interesting. Primary issue that drove me to set up my (now long defunct) blog was the shambles that was the EU Constitution (remember that?) back in 2005.

    Once you get into commenting regularly, there comes a point where you think “Hang on, I have something to say!” but I did find that after a few years, whilst there were a few lightbulb moments (the faked photos that Hezbollah claimed was an Israeli strike on an ambulance during the Lebanon nonsense, the first climategate leak, one epic rant on taking vs giving offence), you find yourself in a bit of rut, material-wise. There is only so much complaining about the wrong-headedness of the Guardian and ineptitude of Scottish politics that one can produce before, well, it begins to be a bit samey.

    The desire to remain pseudonymous/anonymous (plus the desire to avoid becoming a mummy blog) also restricts the link into some of the entertainment that is your personal life.

    Put together, most blogs have a lifespan of two years +/- a bit. It’s only the rare exceptions that survive beyond that. You should be rightly proud to count yourself amongst them.

  6. Great minds etc. I was just thinking whether to run a post on it in the light of your comment quoted over there. But you’ve done it. 🙂

  7. keep at it Tim , I am a fairly recent comer to your blog but it is a daily read

    Thank you.

  8. P-G,

    The desire to remain pseudonymous/anonymous (plus the desire to avoid becoming a mummy blog) also restricts the link into some of the entertainment that is your personal life.

    Looking back, it would have been far more sensible to have written this blog under a pseudonym. It’s way too late for that, though. And even then, there have been enough anonymous bloggers outed over the past 10 years: remember Night Jack? I like to think that anything I write on here I could defend and hence anonymity isn’t required, but the way employers behave these days – often in total breach of both their own internal policies and prevailing laws – it’s a risk.

  9. Peter,

    Inspiring you to get blogging, if I ever even did that, is probably my proudest bloggng achievement, Tim!

    Thanks, Peter! That is praise indeed, coming from you: I loved your blog back in the day.

  10. ” but the way employers behave these days”

    Actually, my reasons for being pseudonymous were less worries about employers but more – and this is worth a post on its own – because I don’t subscribe to the standard BBC worldview and it’s just too hard socially having to justify yourself at every turn. For example, very very few people – none at work and perhaps only one or two outside my immediate family – know that I voted Leave.

    To a large degree, I suspect that this is why the polls have been so badly off in a number of recent elections/referenda and why the cozy lefty-liberal elite have been so stunned by the recalcitrance of the electorate – they simply are not exposed to what-a-lot-of-people-really-think because they have spent so long making what-a-lot-of-people-really-think outside the bounds of tolerance of polite society.

    This is self-fulfilling too. By suppressing discussion of non-BBC-worldview opinions, those opinions are rarely properly or eloquently expressed or supported with underlying principles, so can more easily be written off as simple bigotry and/or simplistic/wrongheaded.

    We are now really hard pressed against probably only two remaining backstops against the descent into tyranny: the secrecy of the ballot box on the one hand and trail by jury on the other. The latter is being steadily whittled away. The former may yet be sidestepped by the simple expedient of not-having-referenda as they have a habit of giving the electorate the chance to give the “wrong” answers.

    To quote your current refrain, Tim, this will not end well.

  11. Always check your blog everyday but rarely comment because you’ve usually said everything I want to say on the subject at hand. I tried a blog years ago but it’s bloody hard work once you’ve written for the 100th time on the sheer c**tishness of the BBC. Anyway please keep going – you’re an example to us all

  12. Umbongo!

    I’m glad you’re still reading: I always enjoyed your comments, no matter how infrequent, here and elsewhere. Thanks very much!

  13. Actually, my reasons for being pseudonymous were less worries about employers but more – and this is worth a post on its own – because I don’t subscribe to the standard BBC worldview and it’s just too hard socially having to justify yourself at every turn.

    That’s interesting, because that’s never concerned me one jot. 🙂 But I live a rather odd existence, with all my friends being quite spread out and largely independent of one another. I don’t really belong to any community, or circle of friends, as such.

  14. because that’s never concerned me one jot.

    Which is why we are all still here, 13 years later, avidly reading your blog.

    And talking of blogging like it’s 2003, +1 for Umbongo!

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