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Again with the Blegging

Somewhere, not terribly long ago, I heard or read someone make the argument that blogging was the first genuinely internet-native mode of publishing. I’ve been searching around for such a statement, and am coming up a bit dry. My fear is that this was just said to me in casual conversation, just someone opining. But, in the event that it wasn’t, have you come across anyone arguing something such as that, in, say, a citeable forum? I’d like to be able to use that point in the argument I’m trying to make right now, but right now it’s sitting there in that “arguably, blogs are the first…” mode that raises more questions than it answers.

[UPDATE, 11.00 am, CET: Interestingly, I’ve now found several sources that make the point exactly as I do, saying that blogs are “arguably the first” blah blah blah. Is there some magical point at which enough people suggesting-without-proving a point like that becomes convincing enough a part of the conventional wisdom that we can stop qualifying it with “arguably”? Or are such bits of hearsay precisely those that most demand questioning?]

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  1. I’m not convinced, actually. Usenet certainly had an internet-native rhetorical mode (to go with its technical mode), particularly before the Great Renaming. The way out of that might be to A) redefine “publishing,” or B) add a “widespread.”

    Coincidentally, a conversation here at the NHC yesterday has me germinating a post on a related topic…

  2. Mmm… I sort of take your point, but I don’t think I agree. There was certainly a mode of “publishing” that evolved with Usenet, and there were certainly authors who made public substantive pieces of writing through it. But — perhaps this is my I-never-really-got-Usenet bias speaking — the Usenet groups were such a sea of voices that it seems to me to become hard to distinguish one piece of writing from another. Yes, it had a net-native rhetorical mode, but I’m not talking about the rhetoric of authorship. I’m talking about the production of a text that is in some sense “finished” — in the world of the codex, the printed-and-bound; in the world of the blog, the post. The machinery that transforms the author’s text into a product.

    This argument may be a bit beside the point, though. In fact, I think the way out of the bind that you point to is really neither A nor B, but C) change “net-native” to “web-native.”

  3. A meta-question: what’s the use in claiming something as “the first” (arguably or not)? The key question seems to be “is blogging an internet native & distinctive mode of communicating?”, not “did other net native modes precede it?” Is it an issue of origins (i.e. blogging = journals + Usenet) or ontological uniqueness? And how would it change your claims if someone argued with you to say that other earlier forms of communication were net-native first?

    Obviously I don’t know the full context of your argument, but I don’t think “firstness” matters as much as distinctiveness – “blogging is net-native & distinct because of A/B/C,” not “blogging did this first.” Make sense?

  4. That does make sense. The argument isn’t so much about the firstness in the sense of blogs having gotten there before, say, wikis, but rather about the firstness in the sense that blogs were the first web-publishing system that was really entirely web-oriented, making full use of the web’s network structures, rather than attempting to port print-based structures to web “pages,” for instance. The larger point that I’m trying to make is that further web publishing systems (a.k.a. MediaCommons, of course) should bear in mind what they can learn from blogs, why they were successful, etc. So I suppose a further qualifier to the statement, the one that really makes the difference, is that blogs are arguably the first successful web-native publishing system…?

  5. I’m semi-uncomfortable with my own suggestion here (as I shudder at many biological metaphors for technology), but might the best term be “organic”? That is, blogs are organic to the web, not just a port of old media online, and that subsequent web publishing systems need to be similarly organic not transplants?

  6. That’s part of the idea that I’m trying to get at, though like you, I resist the biological metaphor. In any case, this point is a tiny fragment of an argument that I hope is a good bit broader, so I don’t want to fixate on it too much. As I suspect most “arguably” lines are, it’s kind of a throwaway in the service of setting up the main point; I don’t want to be wrong about it, but at the same time, it’s not really necessary to be entirely right, I don’t think, as the thing can probably be excised, basically being a species of throat-clearing before really getting to the meat of things.

  7. This is certainly a different sense of the word ‘published’, but the Request for Comments (RFC) series of notes defined the original Internet, and was ‘published’ on-line as the Internet was first built. The on-line versions of the documents are always preferred to any printed copy. Membership in the working groups which produce these documents is defined as subscribing to the mailing lists, rather than coming to the triannual physical meetings.

    But I suppose y’all mean something else, and it is a little depressing to realize that all of the RFCs are formated for 80-column displays/printers, so it’s not like it’s freed up by the medium of publishing. OTOH, when they first started writing these things (1969), there weren’t a whole lot of bit-mapped displays available, and there were a bunch of grad students who were lucky to share an 80-column terminal.