PALEO-NAVEL GAZING

Susanna unearthed an October 1999 Atlantic Monthly article on the then-nascent blogging phenemoneon. Some excerpts:

Enter the Weblog. Better than a static links list (because it’s a living resource) and more useful than a What’s Cool page (because coolness stopped meaning much when everyone became a Photoshop pro), the Weblog is in Net terms a relatively recent development (“Weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger on his Robot Wisdom site in late 1997). With the notable exception of Slashdot, Weblogs are almost always the work of one person. And though it may not appear to be much more than a regularly updated, annotated list of links, the blog (a contraction coined by information-design Weblogger Peter Merholz) has become a new kind of Internet filter: what really makes one valuable is the combination of frequency, timeliness, and editorializing that coalesces around the blogger’s voice. I visit several sites almost daily because I’ve come to trust the insight and value the persistence of the blogger in finding the most interesting things out there.

It’s amazing both how new this all is and, simultaneously, that it’s been around almost six years. Think of all the recent mass media coverage that still has to define what a blog is and how many people still have never heard of them, let alone read them.

The closer is a hoot, given how wrong it is:

Jason Kottke, general-interest blogger, explains the natural Epinions-Weblog attraction this way: “Many Weblogs revolve around commenting on items that the authors come into contact with as a part of their day. Moving that content off of the Weblog and getting paid for it — look Ma, I’m a professional writer! — is almost a no-brainer.”

That’s right: getting paid. Epinions’s success will depend in no small part on its members’ frequent and consistent contributions. Working on the assumption that the adoration of one’s peers isn’t enough of a motivating factor for most of us, Epinions pays each member a very small amount of money, equaling pennies per pageview, every time his “epinion” is read by another member.

Webloggers learned some time ago that opinions are currency — that’s half of their success. And yet it’s strange to think of these independent watchdogs of the Net community, which has traditionally been so hostile to the Net’s commercialization, diving into Epinions with such gusto. Could it be, contradicting the old Net slogan, that information (or at least opinion) doesn’t want to be free after all? Or maybe bloggers just know a good idea when one finally comes around.

With the exception of Andrew Sullivan and maybe Glenn Reynolds, blogging hasn’t exactly caught on as a ticket to riches. Indeed, witness den Beste’s lament that he’s paying $200 a month or Andrea Harris’ and Markos Zúniga’s concerns about the bandwidth dilemmas they’re having. This is still a hobby for virtually all of us.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CGHill says:

    On the other hand, I actually have made some money at Epinions – not a lot, around $100 or so. Still, that’s revenue with little expense, while the blog produces expense with (so far) no revenue.

  2. joy says:

    I’m going to be snarky for a sec and suggest the following…for those who are great writers but know nothing about the Web, it might be worth your time to hook up with a person (or better yet a hosting service) that knows what to look out for in terms of web site maintenance.

    For Andrea’s problem, yeah, she should switch hosts, but she should also look for a provider who’ll help her identify what’s going on in her logs. I mean, any good provider will WANT to cut down on unnecessary traffic. I hate to say this, but it’s a case of she not knowing what questions to ask and then getting burned.

    Also, I just wanted to point out that her commenters, although well meaning, aren’t really helping her and some are giving her totally erroneous information. (i.e. the quepasa bot is a bot for quepasa.com, a spanish language search engine).

  3. James Joyner says:

    Joy: I agree. Unfortunately, getting started isn’t that hard but one runs into tech problems once getting into the more sophisticated blogging packages and/or adding plug-ins and the like. And most of the blogosphere are poli-sci, history, econ types.

  4. Hey, man, thanks for the mention. And to Joy: I didn’t notice your comments on my site telling me just what was wrong with my other commenters’ advice. You know, I am a real person, you can talk to me. I have already found out what Quepasa is; I looked it up all my own self — but it would be nice to know what all the other things I should watch out for. Or do I have to be accepted into the club first?

    To address the rest of my supposed ignorance, Cornerhost is a reputable hosting service; I didn’t just pick it randomly, I had noticed some other blogs with heavy traffic (sgtstryker.com, janegalt.net — and one of the writers on janegalt.net used to have his own webspace on the service and recommended it to me). At that time the bandwidth allowed by my plan was more than adequate for my needs. I thought it was also more than adequate for Tim Blair’s needs; he’s been getting hit heavily by search spiders, spambots, and the like, and I haven’t ruled out some sort of denial-of-service attempt as well. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a dummkopf. I don’t feel like I’ve been burned, I had the feeling I’d have to make a move soon. I just wasn’t expecting this soon, but there you are, these things happen.

    True, I don’t have any certification in any of that arcane Intarwebbe stuff, and you won’t see me blathering on about RSS feeds and Echo and gtarzippidydoodah all that much on my blog, but I am not a confused little girl sitting in the wreckage of her html either.

    Now if you’ll all excuse me, I have to move my site.