Wednesday, June 16, 1999
Why I Weblog
A rumination on where the hell I’m going with this website
About a year ago, I took the plunge and set up my own domain name. It was a practical decision, the result of having been buffeted from ISP to ISP by poor customer service, busy signals and escalating service fees. I felt the need to have a static e-mail address that I could feel safe printing on stationery and carry with me in my nomadic quest for the perfect provider.
After electing to register "bradlands.com," the urge to publish on the net returned in spades. I’ve had a personal site called "The BradLands" off and on for six or seven years, since I first dipped my toe in the waters of HTML using America Online‘s clunky FTP space to serve a few vanity pages.
The BradLands have (has?) been, by turns:
a fairly typical and boring home page, outlining my interest, with obligatory links to some "cool sites" and with pictures of my friends;
a somewhat more ambitious attempt to collect all of my writings, online and off, in one linked space;
a poorly realized city guide to my fair city, St. Louis, back when there were few others;
and, finally, the personal home page again, showing severe signs of infrequent updating and terminal link rot.
But here I was with a brand-new domain name and a need to show it off. I’ve always been prone to publishing in one form or another. An early indicator of my predisposition for journalism can be found among my parents’ scrapbooks: it’s a two page "family newsletter" I wrote longhand on legal paper when I was four or five years old, photocopied on my mom’s mammoth IBM copier and distributed to interested readers.
Total circulation: two. Mom. Dad. Well, color me a magnate.
A few months before I threw up my hands and uttered a few colorful curses when my then-provider’s local POP pooped out for the umpteenth time, I had started reading Steve Bogart’s personal website, News, Pointers and Commentary (now NowThis).
Steve used to perform in an a capella group called MACH 1. I saw them perform one night at Washington University, then checked out their site when I got home. His personal site was linked from there, and I discovered we had some common interests. His main page was updated frequently, in a fashion called "news page" or "web log," so I checked back from time to time and enjoyed his pointers to other web reading and his personal "scribbles" about computing issues and other topics. (A side note: For those of you keeping score at home, I’ve been reading Steve’s page for more than a year. He works right down the street from me. We’ve never met, and have only just started a little e-mail correspondence. It’s a small world sometimes. And sometimes, it’s a wide one too.
From Steve’s page, I followed a link to Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom Weblog, and Jorn’s page led me to Raphael Carter’s Honeyguide and...well, from there the trail gets a little murky. Suffice it to say, I started reading these weblogs regularly and, eventually, decided to start one of my own.
The BradLands, version 3.0 (or so) was born, June 1998.
The early style of my weblog was wholly aped (OK, stolen) from Steve’s page: a quote du jour, a few links, now and then a rant. As I continued to write for myself and audience of two or three readers a day, I also explored other sites that were maintaining similar pages.
Even though I was not, like Steve and Jorn, using Frontier to maintain my site, I became a regular reader of Dave Winer’s Scripting News. I discovered Cameron Barrett’s CamWorld, Peter Merholz’s PeterMe, Lawrence Lee’s Tomalak’s Realm and Bill Humphries’ More Like This.
And, in the recent revamp of The BradLands, I borrowed (OK, stole) extensively from each of them to create the format I use today.
The BradLands still has a weblog; it’s the page you’re greeted with when you visit bradlands.com. I’ve added sections for my old published writing (incomplete, but growing), my new web-based essays, my current and all-time favorite books, and a few other bits I’ve yet to develop. Laurel Krahn, proprietor of the "Homicide: Life on the Street"-centric Minneapolis-based Windowseat called what I do a "web home" when she noted its appearance in her own weblog. I suppose that’s as apt a description of The BradLands as any.
But at the heart of it--posted right on the front door--is my weblog, infrequent though it may be, updating readers (now numbering about 60 per day) about projects I’m working on, links I find interesting, topics for discussion.
As The BradLands grew over the last year, more and more folks have started weblogs of their own, some with specific topics around which they focus, others more general in nature. There’s a whole category for the breed in NewHoo and other web directories are taking note the "weblog phenomenon."
At the same time, there’s been some navel-gazing among those of us who maintain these sorts of pages, pondering why we do what we do the way we do it. Some folks have tried to define just what comprises a weblog; the definitions range narrow to wide. Cam had one of the better, I thought.
Rather than add my voice to the fray and debate what is and is not a proper weblog, or to contemplate what purpose such a thing might serve for the web community at large, I’ve been thinking about why I do it. Whether I’ll continue. What shape The BradLands will take if I do.
Call it "The BradLand Manifesto," or, if you like, "Why I Weblog":
The aforementioned need to publish: I get off on seeing my words in print. My first byline in a daily newspaper almost made me wet myself with glee. More than that, I like the notion of leaving my words behind--even given the relatively ephemeral nature of the web--for others to find and enjoy.
A desire to minimize "fram": About the 15th time I received forwarded e-mail about "Why the Internet is like a penis" or a plea for a terminally-ill child who wants to receive greeting cards to make a world’s record, I vowed never ever to forward a joke, petition or other long-winded e-mail to my entire address book. I get about 20 pieces of mail like this everyday, often the same thing from several different folks around the country. (A wry observer called this propagation of forwarded mail "fram," a coinage denoting "spam from friends.") Instead of blindly cc’ing everyone I know, if I think it’s worthy of passing on, I try to track down the original source on the web (’cause it’s there somewhere!) and either post the URL in my weblog or e-mail just one or two folks I know who’ll truly to be interested. As a result, I don’t clutter my friend’s in-boxes and folks who know me well also know they can check out my website to see if anything truly noteworthy as come my way.
A license to explore: I spend a lot of time on the Internet, probably 2-3 hours a day all told reading for pleasure, maybe another hour or so on strictly work-related matters. I’ve more or less transferred my real-world habit of reading three newspapers a day to the web, only now I skim more like 25-30 publications regularly. I’m reading more and enjoying it. Still, using my weblog to link to stuff I’ve discovered in my surfing ameliorates some of my guilt about spending so much time in front of the screen. Surfing the Internet is fun, learning new things and discovering new resources is cool, and sharing the wealth with my weblog readers is a joy.
A sense of community: The first time I had a sense of the Internet as a place to convene a community was as a lurker and occasional poster on Usenet. As malicious and merely injudicious cross-posting unacceptably raised the newsgroup signal-to-noise ratio, I rediscovered that same feeling on a few, well-chosen e-mail lists, to which I contributed more often. I’ve skimmed back the number of lists I subscribe to, but I still have a sense of community on the Internet, and it’s largely a community I’ve created and nurtured myself. People who read The BradLands write to me to share links they think I might enjoy. Sometimes, things I mention in my weblog show up in other folks’ weblogs too, with credit to me for pointing the way. Cameron Barrett has created the best of both worlds with his CamList, a mailing list for readers of his weblog. My weblog is linked from several others, and theirs from mine. We are a community, of sorts, a small town sharing gossip and news, recreation and sport, laughter and tears, all for the commonweal. And, for the most part, we’re friendly to strangers.
It’s that last part that’s distressing to some folks who’ve taken a step back and looked at the relatively young practice of weblogging. The tendency of identical or similar links to show up in several different logs, and the frequency of reciprocal links among webloggers is seen as perhaps unhealthy, a form of incest that---we’re told---can lead to a flattened sameness among our pages.
I haven’t seen anything approaching a day when all of the dozen or so weblogs I read daily have completely identical links. On the occasions when two or more of us point to the same stories, well, it’s because those are the big stories on the ‘net (or at least among geeks) that day. It’s no different than those occasions when channels 2, 4, 5, 8 and 11 all lead with the same feature on the evening news.
In fact, in the offline world, that sort of thing is much more common. Our weblogs, by contrast, are incredible in their manifold diversity.
Those who would dismiss weblogging as a pointless self-referrential exercise or, in vulgar parlance, a big ol’ Internet-based circle jerk, aren’t looking toward the future.
I am. Over the next few months, I’ll be narrowing the focus of The BradLands somewhat, limiting the topics that are regularly noted in the weblog to those that most interest me. (How limiting this is remains to be seen; I have quite catholic interests.) But, with time, The BradLands will evolve with an unique voice, a definite attitude, a clearer motivation.
Meanwhile, other folks will be starting weblogs of their own, defined by their own interests, published with their own voices. As more and more do so, the weblog movement will begin to realize its true power, a more widely distributed version of what the Open Directory and other collaborative web directories have promised but only minimally delivered.
Hundreds of individuals, sorting through the Internet, pointing to the links that they find interesting and that they believe would interest their friends and colleagues and a few bystanders besides.
Sure, two or four or more of us will point to the same "big story" from time to time, or even to the same "small story." That’s OK. I have a different set of readers than Laurel does, and she attracts a different crowd than Cam, and Jorn has yet another audience. There’s some overlap, but there’s a whole lot of difference too, because we’re different people.
An old maxim states that editors separate the wheat from the chaff and then publish the chaff.
As the weblog movement matures, our sites will wrest editorial authority the few editors of today and divide it among the many. "They" can continue to publish the chaff; we’ll be there to point our hungry readers toward the wheat. Hopefully, we’ll have fun doing it and learn a lot along the way.
And that, my friends, is why I weblog.
"The BradLand Manifesto, or, Why I Weblog" is the personal narrative and desiderata of an early weblogger, Brad. It advocates for the use of blogging as a means of experimentation, self-publishing, and community building.
Brad L. Graham
All original content on The BradLands is copyright © 1995–2014 by Brad L. Graham,
June 16, 1999
Blogging, Digital Composition