Musings for the Millions
It has long been a favorite online parlor game: Who should wear the virtual crown as the first blogger?
Our interest was piqued recently when the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn poked fun at Richard Roeper of the rival Sun-Times for claiming he originated the blog concept with his long-running newspaper column, in which he muses on everything from clueless baseball fans to Rush Limbaugh's Viagra. (Zorn cheerfully noted that Roeper wasn't the first to write the journalistic grab bag known as a "three-dot column.")
To simplify, we'll take Roeper and other print scribes, diarists, and experts out of the running. Even Grandma knows that blog is short for weblog, an updated log disseminated on the Web. There were many progenitors (including Usenet groups), but the personal blogger emerged with the availability of the World Wide Web free on the Internet in the early 1990s.
Underground. Which brings us to one Justin Hall. In January 1994, as a Swarthmore College media major, Hall began a frequently updated online diary in which he shared personal information and recommended websites from the presearch engine days. If not the first, "Justin's Links From the Underground" was among the earliest blogs as we now know them. "When I started, there weren't many personal voices," says Hall, who, true to his Net roots, insisted on a Google chat interview and would take no credit for being a pioneer. "Blogging is a democratic form," he says, "so it's appropriate that [it] be celebrated with many origin myths."
He describes the emergence of blogs in the 1990s as "'morphic resonance'--a somewhat whimsical theory that says that people and animals can spontaneously come up with something when the time is right." We can't crown Hall or any first blogger here, but he and his ilk have had a heck of a resonance: The Technorati website tracks 50 million blogs. It doesn't include Hall's diary: He shut it down last year and has moved on to a post-blog world, developing an online system he calls Passively Multiplayer. You'll have to wait to read about it. Online, of course.
This story appears in the August 14, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.