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.)
Around that time, I wrote an article for a high tech libertarian-themed Website called Spintech on the birth of the Blogosphere, which was later republished by Catholic Exchange, whom I discovered when they republished my NRO articles as part of their reciprocal arrangement with National Review. Hopefully it gives you a sense of the early freewheelin’ days of the Blogosphere:
Ground Zero for all of these textual shenanigans is Blogger.com, the most well known of several providers of free software that allows even the technically and artistically incompetent to present their ideas in a pleasing and easy to follow format. It also provides instructions, encouragement and its own awards. It’s like a film school, a camera store and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science all rolled up in one place…for bloggers.
When the Web log concept first debuted, it was largely used for on-line personal diaries. Lots of “day in the life” stuff; lots of updates of family information; lots of photographs of nature and birthday parties; lots of nice pretty, stopping and smelling the flowers commentary by assorted emotional exhibitionists. And this is still a common use for Web logs.
Then September 11th happened.
One interesting byproduct of that awful day was that the servers on most major news sites (CNN, The New York Times, etc.) were blown out from over capacity. Since a big chunk of America either didn’t go into work, or left early that day, they went home, turned the TV on, fired up the computer, and wanted to know just…what…the…heck…was…going…on.
But with the Web sites of news biggies jammed to capacity, some people started going to alternative sites. Little funky one-man or one-woman sites. And some of those men and women, such as Virginia Postrel on her page, The Scene, and Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.com, spent the day keeping the nation, hell, the world, just as informed as the traditional news sites people couldn’t get into.
Then, as the dust settled, that hoary old standby — media bias — started rearing its ugly head again, especially in newspapers, where the reporters seemed to pull out style guides left over from the Tet Offensive. Quagmire! Failure! Evil imperialism! The brutal Afghan winter! Remember the Soviets!
Seeking opinions and news that didn’t seem to be outtakes from the Johnson years, many, many people stuck with the bloggers. And sometimes it seems that just as many people saw how much fun the bloggers were having and decided to get into the act themselves.
“Sgt. Stryker” (complete with a photo of John Wayne in full leatherneck regalia) is the nom de blog of a U.S. Air Force Mechanic (“to prevent being ‘called onto the carpet’ by anyone in my immediate chain of command.”). He says, “I stumbled across InstaPundit and thought to myself, “Hey, I can do this!” I followed the Blogger link on InstaPundit’s site and set up my own weblog, thus killing two birds with one stone. I had a website I could point my friends to, and I could “talk back” to the news in a more quiet manner which helped ensure domestic tranquility”, with his wife, who by then was sick of the Sarge taking back to the news on TV.”
One reason Sgt. Stryker may have been so eager to give his views about September 11th and our efforts at payback, is “the impression the press tends to give of the military is of a monolithic and impersonal force, but if somebody stumbles upon my site, perhaps they can see that there are real, normal human beings who are doing all this stuff. When you read my site, you get a good idea of what some of us think and say when there are no reporters or Public Affairs Officers around.”
In contrast, Joanne Jacobs is an ex-San Jose Mercury columnist who left the paper in late 2000 to write a book about a charter school in San Jose. She started her Web log after being inspired by Mickey Kaus, Andrew Sullivan and Virginia Postrel (all three of whom were part of the first generation of bloggers, dating back to the Jurassic blogging days of the late 1990s.) Most of her blogging was on the state of America’s education system, until September 11th. Then a good bit of her coverage, shifted, not surprisingly, to the terrorists and our response to them. “I never meant to do a warblog”, she says. “I simply had strong feelings that my country had been attacked and should be defended — militarily and in the field of ideas.”
The Blogosphere has become much more crowded since then, and much slicker. Old media, which at first routinely trashed blogs, (for self-described “progressives,” progress somehow always seems to throw them) now incorporates them into their Web sites, both to allow faster publishing of news, and as a place for opinion (read: liberal bias) beyond the homepage. And blogging now incorporates audio, video, photography, Twitter, and whatever new form of media comes along next week.
But first, somebody had to be the revolution — congrats to Ten Years of Instapundit: