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.