Before blogging became popular, digital communities took many forms, including Usenet, commercial online services such as GEnie, BIX and the early CompuServe, e-mail lists, and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In the 1990s, Internet forum software, created running conversations with “threads”. Threads are topical connections between messages on a virtual “corkboard”.
Early blogs were simply manually updated components of common Web sites. However, the evolution of tools to facilitate the production and maintenance of Web articles posted in reverse chronological order made the publishing process feasible to a much larger, less technical, population. Ultimately, this resulted in the distinct class of online publishing that produces blogs we recognize today. For instance, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of “blogging”. Blogs can be hosted by dedicated blog hosting services, or they can be run using blog software, or on regular web hosting services.
Some early bloggers, such as The Misanthropic Bitch, who began in 1997, actually referred to their online presence as a zine, before the term blog entered common usage.
On 6 December 2002, Josh Marshall’s talkingpointsmemo.com blog called attention to U.S. Senator Lott’s comments regarding Senator Thurmond. Senator Lott was eventually to resign his Senate leadership position over the matter.
An early milestone in the rise in importance of blogs came in 2002, when many bloggers focused on comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Senator Lott, at a party honoring U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, praised Senator Thurmond by suggesting that the United States would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president. Lott’s critics saw these comments as a tacit approval of racial segregation, a policy advocated by Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. This view was reinforced by documents and recorded interviews dug up by bloggers. (See Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.) Though Lott’s comments were made at a public event attended by the media, no major media organizations reported on his controversial comments until after blogs broke the story. Blogging helped to create a political crisis that forced Lott to step down as majority leader.
In Russia, some political bloggers have started to challenge the dominance of official, overwhelmingly pro-government media. Bloggers such as Rustem Adagamov and Alexei Navalny have many followers and the latter’s nickname for the ruling United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves” has been adopted by anti-regime protesters. This led to the Wall Street Journal calling Navalny “the man Vladimir Putin fears most” in March 2012.
By 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services, and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Blogging was established by politicians and political candidates to express opinions on war and other issues and cemented blogs’ role as a news source. (See Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.) Even politicians not actively campaigning, such as the UK’s Labour Party’s MP Tom Watson, began to blog to bond with constituents.
The impact of blogging upon the mainstream media has also been acknowledged by governments. In 2009, the presence of the American journalism industry had declined to the point that several newspaper corporations were filing for bankruptcy, resulting in less direct competition between newspapers within the same circulation area. Discussion emerged as to whether the newspaper industry would benefit from a stimulus package by the federal government. U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the emerging influence of blogging upon society by saying “if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, then what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding”.
Between 2009 and 2012, an Orwell Prize for blogging was awarded.