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The State of the Blogophere, 1997

Raise your hand if you remember what the World Wide Web was like in 1997.

Here’s what I remember, and what I can dig up with a little research. Certainly my memories may be faulty, but this is my best stab at it.

The Web itself – in the form we know it today – was only about 5 years old. (I created a Web page in graduate school, circa 1993 or early 1994. It no longer exists. My current home page dates from 1996.) Amazon.com had been launched only two years earlier! And went public in May of 1997! eBay wouldn’t go public for another year! Netscape had just released Netscape Communicator, and the “browser wars” with Internet Explorer were in full swing.

But in the large I think the Web was much as it is today, only smaller, and with people still figuring out how best to use it. HTML was basically the same, JavaScript was around but a little more primitive, people still wrote Java applets embedded in their Web pages, but pages felt less “live” than they do today with stuff like Ajax in them.

Online diaries had been around since at least 1995. By 1997 there were hundreds of diaries – but only hundreds (my guess is about three hundred), compared to the thousands – maybe millions – around today. There was a webring, Open Pages, which would list any diary that wanted to be included. The community had grown large enough for there to be space for specialized webrings, such as Often or Archipelago, but still small enough to have a community-wide mailing list.

People differed over whether they kept “diaries” or “journals”, but it wasn’t a big deal. The term “weblog” had been coined but not yet popularized, and the term “blog” was still in the future. (To my mind, although “weblog” was originally applied to sites which focused mainly on linking to other sites and commenting on them, the terms “diary”, “journal” and “blog” are interchangeable today. Trying to draw a distinction between them is splitting hairs.)

There was no blogging software. People mostly hand-coded their HTML, and often used server side includes to automate some tasks. Assuming their ISP allowed them to write such things – many did not, due to paranoia about security breaches (mostly couched in terms of protecting the users from themselves). RSS was far in the future; people notified readers of new entries via mailing lists.

(There were surely exceptions to all this, but for most journallers, this was how it was.)

Individuals mostly didn’t worry about who would read their journal, or what they might be revealing to current or future employers or family or friends, or whether what they wrote would be archived forever by someone, somewhere. Indeed, people tended to assume the web was ephemeral: A site would be up today, gone tomorrow (possibly because someone freaked out about something and decided to withdraw from everyone). You learned not to rely on the existence of a web page. This is exactly the opposite of what we know to be true today!

So this was the state of affairs in the summer of 1997 when I discovered Ceej’s journal and soon thereafter started reading a half-dozen other journals, and soon considered publishing my own.

More next time.

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