Everybody has their story of how they discovered the Blogosphere; for lots of people, it was via Instapundit.com, which turned ten years old this week. Here’s my take, a visit to the Jurassic days of the early Blogosphere.
Ten years ago, when I was making my living as a freelance writer, and writing four to six articles a month to magazines in various fields — back then mostly “on dead tree,” I had only just started to write for political Websites. I had submitted an article on the Mies van der Rohe exhibition then ongoing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to National Review Online, and then followed up with an article on the Computer History Museum, then at Moffett Field in northern California. I was always doing Google vanity searches on my name, to see who was linking to my articles online.
Shortly after the piece on the Computer History Museum went up at NRO, I found it had been linked to by something or someone called “Instapundit.” I had seen Weblogs before, but they were always of the “I went to the mall and bought a great pair of Nikes” or “I had a really great date at Applebee’s last night” variety of daily diaries.
And I had seen self-published e-zines, in the form of Virginia Postrel’s Dynamist.com, KausFiles, and maybe Andrew Sullivan in whatever incarnation he was then currently in, plus of course the self-published Drudge Report, and had thought about launching a Website of my own, but these looked like they were beyond my then-meager Web skills. Designing a page template? FTP’ing up new pages every day? I didn’t know of any programs that automated that sort of thing.
But what set Instapundit apart, at the time, was that it was on Blogger. In fact, as Glenn Reynolds mentions in his new video at PJTV celebrating the tenth anniversary of his pioneering blog, his original URL was indeed instapundit.blogspot.com.That little Blogger Button in the corner of Glenn’s Weblog made all the difference. It suddenly became obvious that the platform of Blogger.com and the content it held were two very different things. While the vast majority of blogs on Blogger.com’s Blogspot hosting site were daily diaries, in reality, a blog could be anything.
And it helped that Glenn picked a catchy name for his nascent enterprise. As marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout once wrote, there’s reason why we remember Apple as the first personal computer, and not the Altair 8800 or the IMSAI 8080. Because Apple had the name that made computing sound simple, easy to learn, and reliable, and not something you needed Wehner von Braun and Stanley Kubrick to walk you through. Similarly, the name Instapundit instantly explained the purpose of this new Website. Want news? Want opinion? What it fast? Who doesn’t, in the age of the World Wide Web? Well, this is your Website.
Once I saw the short “hit and run” style of Instapundit, the light bulb went off for me, as it did for hundreds, possibly thousands of other would-be bloggers back then: you could point readers to a story, and interject a short comment, but you needn’t hold yourself out as an expert on a particular topic. You were essentially an Internet traffic cop, directing traffic to the hot story of the moment, and blowing the whistle on those stories were the journalist got it wrong. And unlike a magazine article, which typically is of a fixed word count to fit into an existing page space in-between advertisements, a blog post could be any length, as we’ve seen from Glenn’s short one sentence (occasionally even one word) posts, to 5,000 word essays that Steven Den Beste routinely used to post in the first half of the previous decade. Or a blog could be devoted primarily to photos or video.
In other words, it was immediately obvious there was a whole new freeform style that had opened up, when I clicked on Instapundit around September 3rd or 4th of 2001.
And then the next week, the world changed. As Bryan Preston writes at the Tatler:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Glenn Reynolds started InstaPundit.com. His blog was the first I ran across in the chaos of 9-11, and I was instantly hooked by his calm, reasonable, patriotic and liberty-focused take on the horrors of that day, and he way and speed with which he assembled opinion and reaction from all over the world. The way he dissected and destroyed media memes was a lifeline to sanity. InstaPundit was a revelation to me. Later I would start my own blog, JunkYardBlog, inspired and led by Glenn’s work. Thousands of other bloggers out there have been similarly impacted and inspired by Glenn Reynolds, and millions of readers have too. Glenn Reynolds is the blogfather to the blogosphere itself, among the right and libertarian blogs.
Right from the start, Glenn’s list of permalinked Weblogs were worth clicking on in and of themselves, just to see who was out there in this new world of journalism.
In early 2002, as I was planning to launch Ed Driscoll.com, originally simply to promote my magazine articles, I decided to use the Blogger.com interface to allow for easy access of the site, but with a different color scheme to differentiate myself from Glenn. (The hat design, based on a Trilby I had picked up in London in the summer of 2000, and swanky ’50s font came a couple of years later, when I commissioned Stacy Tabb to update my Weblog.)