The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog", was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used "blog" as both a noun and verb ("to blog", meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog") and devised the term "blogger" in connection with Pyra Labs' Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms.
Before blogging became popular, digital communities took many forms including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, Byte Information Exchange (BIX) and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists, and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software created running conversations with "threads". Threads are topical connections between messages on a virtual "corkboard". From 14 June 1993, Mosaic Communications Corporation maintained their "What’s New" list of new websites, updated daily and archived monthly. The page was accessible by a special "What's New" button in the Mosaic web browser.
The earliest instance of a commercial blog was on the first business to consumer Web site created in 1995 by Ty, Inc., which featured a blog in a section called "Online Diary". The entries were maintained by featured Beanie Babies that were voted for monthly by Web site visitors.
The modern blog evolved from the online diary where people would keep a running account of the events in their personal lives. Most such writers called themselves diarists, journalists, or journalers. Justin Hall, who began personal blogging in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College, is generally recognized as one of the earlier bloggers, as is Jerry Pournelle. Dave Winer's Scripting News is also credited with being one of the older and longer running weblogs. The Australian Netguide magazine maintained the Daily Net News on their web site from 1996. Daily Net News ran links and daily reviews of new websites, mostly in Australia.
Another early blog was Wearable Wireless Webcam, an online shared diary of a person's personal life combining text, digital video, and digital pictures transmitted live from a wearable computer and EyeTap device to a web site in 1994. This practice of semi-automated blogging with live video together with text was referred to as sousveillance, and such journals were also used as evidence in legal matters. Some early bloggers, such as The Misanthropic Bitch, who began in 1997, actually referred to their online presence as a zine, before the term blog entered common usage.
Early blogs were simply manually updated components of common Websites. In 1995, the "Online Diary" on the Ty, Inc. Web site was produced and updated manually before any blogging programs were available. Posts were made to appear in reverse chronological order by manually updating text based HTML code using FTP software in real time several times a day. To users, this offered the appearance of a live diary that contained multiple new entries per day. At the beginning of each new day, new diary entries were manually coded into a new HTML file, and the start of each month, diary entries were archived into its own folder which contained a separate HTML page for every day of the month. Then menus that contained links to the most recent diary entry were updated manually throughout the site. This text-based method of organizing thousands of files served as a springboard to define future blogging styles that were captured by blogging software developed years later.
The evolution of electronic and software tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of Web articles posted in reverse chronological order made the publishing process feasible to a much larger and less technically-inclined population. Ultimately, this resulted in the distinct class of online publishing that produces blogs we recognize today. For instance, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of "blogging". Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, on regular web hosting services, or run using blog software.
Rise in popularity
After a slow start, blogging rapidly gained in popularity. Blog usage spread during 1999 and the years following, being further popularized by the near-simultaneous arrival of the first hosted blog tools:
- Bruce Ableson launched Open Diary in October 1998, which soon grew to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary innovated the reader comment, becoming the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers' blog entries.
- Brad Fitzpatrick started LiveJournal in March 1999.
- Andrew Smales created Pitas.com in July 1999 as an easier alternative to maintaining a "news page" on a Web site, followed by DiaryLand in September 1999, focusing more on a personal diary community.
- Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan (Pyra Labs) launched Blogger.com in August 1999 (purchased by Google in February 2003)
On 6 December 2002, Josh Marshall's talkingpointsmemo.com blog called attention to U.S. Senator Lott's
comments regarding Senator Thurmond. Senator Lott was eventually to resign his Senate leadership position over the matter.
An early milestone in the rise in importance of blogs came in 2002, when many bloggers focused on comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Senator Lott, at a party honoring U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, praised Senator Thurmond by suggesting that the United States would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president. Lott's critics saw these comments as a tacit approval of racial segregation, a policy advocated by Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign. This view was reinforced by documents and recorded interviews dug up by bloggers. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.) Though Lott's comments were made at a public event attended by the media, no major media organizations reported on his controversial comments until after blogs broke the story. Blogging helped to create a political crisis that forced Lott to step down as majority leader.
Similarly, blogs were among the driving forces behind the "Rathergate" scandal. To wit: (television journalist) Dan Rather presented documents (on the CBS show 60 Minutes) that conflicted with accepted accounts of President Bush's military service record. Bloggers declared the documents to be forgeries and presented evidence and arguments in support of that view. Consequently, CBS apologized for what it said were inadequate reporting techniques (see ). Many bloggers view this scandal as the advent of blogs' acceptance by the mass media, both as a news source and opinion and as means of applying political pressure. The impact of these stories gave greater credibility to blogs as a medium of news dissemination. Though often seen as partisan gossips, bloggers sometimes lead the way in bringing key information to public light, with mainstream media having to follow their lead. More often, however, news blogs tend to react to material already published by the mainstream media. Meanwhile, an increasing number of experts blogged, making blogs a source of in-depth analysis.
In Russia, some political bloggers have started to challenge the dominance of official, overwhelmingly pro-government media. Bloggers such as Rustem Adagamov and Alexei Navalny have many followers and the latter's nickname for the ruling United Russia party as the "party of crooks and thieves" has been adopted by anti-regime protesters. This led to the Wall Street Journal calling Navalny "the man Vladimir Putin fears most" in March 2012.
By 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services, and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Blogging was established by politicians and political candidates to express opinions on war and other issues and cemented blogs' role as a news source. (See Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.) Even politicians not actively campaigning, such as the UK's Labour Party's MP Tom Watson, began to blog to bond with constituents. In January 2005, Fortune magazine listed eight bloggers whom business people "could not ignore": Peter Rojas, Xeni Jardin, Ben Trott, Mena Trott, Jonathan Schwartz, Jason Goldman, Robert Scoble, and Jason Calacanis.
Israel was among the first national governments to set up an official blog. Under David Saranga, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs became active in adopting Web 2.0 initiatives, including an official video blog and a political blog. The Foreign Ministry also held a microblogging press conference via about its war with Hamas, with Saranga answering questions from the public in common text-messaging abbreviations during a live worldwide press conference. The questions and answers were later posted on IsraelPolitik, the country's official political blog.
The impact of blogging upon the mainstream media has also been acknowledged by governments. In 2009, the presence of the American journalism industry had declined to the point that several newspaper corporations were filing for bankruptcy, resulting in less direct competition between newspapers within the same circulation area. Discussion emerged as to whether the newspaper industry would benefit from a stimulus package by the federal government. U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the emerging influence of blogging upon society by saying "if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, then what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding”. Between 2009 and 2012, an Orwell Prize for blogging was awarded.