History and Identity in the Blogosphere
Blogs have become a part of our culture in the 21st century, and they are indispensable for people belonging to different walks of life. Blogs can be used for a variety of purposes, like advertising, sharing news, views and opinions, running election campaigns, marketing products etc. The success of blogs can be ascertained from the fact that it is almost impossible to find out the actual number of blogs present on the internet, although it is assumed to be at least 200 million.
Social scientists, internet researchers and cultural historians have given different views about the formation of personal identity in the realm of blogosphere. In the early 90s, some researchers have concluded that the blogosphere can contribute to the formation of cultural, regional, ethnic and national identity. Howard Rheingold opined that people’s identity in the virtual world is different than their identity in the real world, while Katherine Hayles even studied issues related to sexual identity in the virtual world.
The researchers in the late 90s could not give us a clear idea about the identity of the whole blogosphere as most of their researches were based on minute samples (individual chat rooms, MUD etc.). In the last decade, researchers did not make that mistake and they used acceptable formats to analyze the identity of the blogosphere.
Understanding the history of blogs will help us in understanding the identity of bloggers. We cannot assume that everyone blogs for the same purpose of ‘passing time’, instead there are a variety of motivation for people to blog and these reasons include self expression, socialization, sharing information etc. Also, studies have also shown that majority of the bloggers do not belong to any particular age group (teenagers), contrary to popular belief. Hence, bloggers can belong to any age group, country, and gender and even speak different languages.
Anyone can be a blogger and so there are many people who belong to the worldwide community of bloggers. The success of a blog mostly depends on the comments a blog receive and often, many blogs become inactive due to not receiving comments. Community activities and a sense of belonging that originates out of receiving comments often determine the spirit of the blogosphere.
In order to be a blogger, an individual does not need to have any knowledge of technology or programming (like HTML) needed to create a website. Anyone with basic computer skills can use the blogging software can easily start a blog and be a part of the blogosphere community. According to researcher Julie Meloni, new bloggers can do whatever they feel like as long as they actively participate in the greater blogging community as blogging is all about community building. The format of blogosphere is community oriented and the blogging community does not refer to any particular community with distinct features, rather it is the community which encompasses all the bloggers belonging to the blogosphere.
The history of blogging does not originate with the first blog but with the beginning of the internet itself. There are many landmarks and milestones in the development of the internet, which has also helped in shaping the way, blogs function in today’s world. The Advanced Research Projects Agency or ARPA, which is the scientific arm of the US Dept. of Defense, first developed the technology, which later became ARPANET, one of the first technologies which lead to the development of the internet.
There are many different developments in the evolution of the internet, which are integral to the development of blogs as well. It was during the cold war that the US military tried to develop new technologies which will give them an edge over the Soviet Union. In their efforts, they developed the ARPA network, which was purely aimed at data transfer from a military perspective. However, many academic scientists were also involved in the development of these technologies and these scientists were successful in incorporating their personal values related to authority decentralization, collegiality and open information exchange.
In the early 1960s, many researchers wanted to expand the role of computers from being only arithmetic machines. They wanted to develop networks of information exchange and transfer, based on computers and it was this thought that motivated different developers to not only develop computer networks but also find ways through which they can connect one computer network to another. They developed different protocols which could be used for the transformation of data between different computer networks. They introduced TCP / IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol), which is still used as the protocol for internet data transfer.
After that, the development of TCP/IP resulted in the introduction of two different research networks which enabled data transfer; they were PRNET (San Francisco Bay Packet Radio Network) & SATNET (Atlantic Packet Satellite Network). In the year 1972, the ARPANET network spread across 23 servers and the first network application (dedicated), the electronic mail (email) was developed with success. With this development there was an in depth search for different network applications which could be useful to people.
In the year 1974, the first data service of commercial service was created by BBN, called Telenet. It was in the year 1990, that the internet formally came into existence after the success of ARPANET, based on the new developed TCP/IP protocols. The ARPANET was fundamental in creating proliferation of various networks and the internet was created based on the protocols of ARPANET, which was eventually abandoned once the internet became popular globally. It was able to successfully take on the challenge of inter connecting networks.
Eventually there were many more developments which led to the invention of the internet. These developments include the HTML language, which supports various functions of a webpage. With this develo0pment, only people who were well versed with this programming language were able to develop and create new websites. People without HTML skills could not create websites with ease, or even upload any data to a particular website.
Hence, there was a division between the people with sound technical knowledge and those who did not have any technical knowledge. The computer programmers with HTML knowledge had a monopoly over the creation of websites. Even the user friendly software for web designing, required people to have a good understanding of HTML for creating websites. The blogging software has been able to abolish this divide as it allows all and sundry to create blogs, without requiring an individual to possess knowledge of HTML. The blogging interface had made the user in to a ‘Producer’.
With producers as well as users looking for more functions of the internet, the blogosphere format is rapidly changing as well, allowing the bloggers access to a wide variety of activities and functions. Hence, the number of bloggers is rapidly increasing. The bloggers are in control of the situation as their demands lead to the development of new features in the blogging software, which aim at catering to the various needs of the blogger. For the above reasons, the blogosphere is expanding at an unpredictable rate.
It is an interesting fact that the search for more functions has been the underlying force behind the development of the internet and also the rise and development of blogosphere. Hence, we can see that the same people, who were exponential in the development of the internet, where also responsible for the emergence of the earliest blogs.
The first blogging community, which actually existed even before blogs came into existence, was known as Usenet. It was the people who worked outside the ARPANET network, who tried to limit the difference between the users and the producers and so, they came up with comments forum called RFC forum. It was used as a medium to share thoughts and opinions of the research teams. Eventually, the RFC lists consisted of the valuable thoughts and ideas of many researchers. The RFC was built on the ARPANET platform itself and when it was shut down, the RFC lists were handed over to the internet community, to preserve its content.
The Usenet platform was developed by the users of UNIX OS (operating systems) at Duke University, as they were excluded from using ARPANET, since UNIX was not modified to follow TCP/IP protocols. It was at Duke University that Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis developed Usenet, which was used to simultaneously share news posts perform other sharing functions. It was supported by the UNIX OS. It was modeled after the work of various researchers who had worked at ARPA. Usenet was a network that could be accessed by the public at large and it was controlled by the government. The users were allowed to post in any of the available news group, and all the information of the users was available in the public domain as well.
Usenet is the first example of a global community of users and in the year 1980, Usenet was integrated with ARPA and in 1983, UNIX OS was adapted to follow TCP/IP. Thus, ARPANET could be connected to UNIX system and vice-versa. Usenet is still a very popular newsgroup with dedicated users from around the world. There are more 110,000 newsgroups in the Usenet network and it remains a popular newsreader interface due to ease of use and lack of ads. In the month of December in 1997, Jorn Barger created the first blog, when he developed a web page solely to comment on different sites, which he was linked to. He used the term weblog for his website and this term became popular with the internet users.
In the years 1998 and 1999, many new weblogs came into existence and in a span of a year, a blogging community emerged. It was in 1999, that Peter Merholz provided the definitions of blog and blogger, blog being the weblog and blogger being the person who writes on the weblog. This is how the blogging community came into existence. It was only in the month of July in 1999 that the first blogging software with self-help features was launched, it was called Pitas. In a span of few years, the nature of blogs was completely transformed due to the development of these new blogging tools (software).
These new tools allowed the bloggers with no HTML knowledge, outnumber those who did possess knowledge of HTML. The blogging platform is such that it creates an aura of community among the users as they are allowed to posts comments on each other’s blogs. The platform for blog creation, which emerged in the 2000s not only provided many unique features to the bloggers, but also created a mechanism in which the users would automatically be encouraged to post comments on each other blogs. This is how, the global and greater community of bloggers or blogging community came into existence.
Even though the blogs spread from the Usenet interface, the blogosphere is very different than the Usenet and it is not the domain of any particular group of people using the same operating system. The current blogging community is not limited to UNIX users unlike the Usenet instead, it consists f people who use a variety of operating systems and platforms, connected by the common agenda of blogging.
It could be concluded that people do not use blogging to create an identity rather they blog because they can identify themselves with what the blog stands for. The blogger is in fact, in many ways a researcher who likes to test the boundaries of the internet to see what more can be achieved out of it.
In a essay written in 2006, Michelle Young has claimed that there is nothing to be worried about, when it comes to the hyper growth of the blogosphere as blogging has always been, and still is, a pastime of writing diaries or keeping journals, which has only been updated to meet the requirements of the people in this era of technology. It is the search for more functions out of the internet, which eventually lead to the creation of blogs and the blogosphere.