Saturday, February 05, 2011

What's in a word?

The New York Observer's Dan Duray on The End of Blogging:

Whatever blogs have become, there seems to be universal agreement that the format that made them ubiquitous -- the reverse-chronological aggregation accompanied by commentary -- is not long for this world, and Mr. Denton's scoop-friendly redesign would seem to be the best evidence of that. In fact, the decline of the blog has come so quickly, one has to wonder whether we ever really liked the medium at all.

Which misses the point entirely. It's like asserting that the key to the printing press's ubiquity was some particular characteristic of the D-K typeface that Peter Schoffer designed for Johannes Gutenberg, rather than the fact that Gutenberg's invention meant manuscripts no longer had to be copied out by monks in longhand. "Reverse chronological aggregation" was really just an incidental, if noticeable, feature of blogging. As Robert Stacy McCain points out, the real key to blog ubiquity was:

that software companies had created free (or cheap) online publishing tools which didn’t require advanced technological skill to use.

Blog software (and the content management systems it evolved into) made it easy and inexpensive for virtually anyone to pop up a web site -- not just a home page with some links and cheesy graphics and maybe some other pages nested beneath it (if you could keep track of them and remember to link them and so on), but a site automatically organized and indexed in a way that made intuitive sense.

Remember what a revolution that was?

If you were on the net 15 years ago, you likely "marked up" your web pages by hand in a text editor (or at best using a fussy "WYSIWYG" web editor which usually didn't give you "what you saw" if it was any more complicated than "this is me and here are some pictures of my cat"), then logged into a Unix shell account and uploaded them via FTP. You had to keep your site organized manually and God help you if you lost track of what you were doing.

If you worked for a commercial outfit, they might have a primitive CMS -- custom-programmed for their site by programmers who charged hefty hourly fees for design, improvement, maintenance, etc. But if it was personal or if you were trying to start something up on a shoestring, you spent a lot of time futzing around with the technical side of things.

Now you log into Blogger or Wordpress or Drupal or Joomla or whatever and go to town. If you do any manual HTML markup, it's because you're just used to that (I resemble that remark). On the design end, pre-fab "themes" get the job done with little or no customization unless you're getting bizarre (I recently had to learn and implement some PHP because I am bizarre -- and whined incessantly about it the whole time).

I suppose it's possible that the word "blog" will fade into history, but the revolution that word represents is permanent, barring worldwide technological catastrophe.

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