My Favourite film of 1930.

Film Back in the day, back in 2005, when blogs were still in L'Age d'Or, before Twitter, Facebook and YouTube stole their thunder, a more successful friend put a publisher in touch with me about writing a book for one of their primer series. Like a scene from Gilmore Girls, the pre-interview happened during a lunch hour when I was at Liverpool Direct, sat at a table in the now closed Nat West Branch on Dale Street.

I was asked to produce a chapter list containing possible areas of interest which I duly presented.  The  project didn't go forward in the end, I think partially because they were expecting something more in mode of the "... for Dummies" series whereas I understood it to be something closer to history of blogging with a side order of Steven Johnson style socio-philosophy.  Oh to be young and have the aspiration and energy.  And motivation.

Now this blog's past it's fifteenth birthday, and the blogosphere and constricted to the size of a village, I thought it would be interesting to post the contents of that proposal.  As you'll see I had big plans for the book which would have involved international travel, interviews, primary sources and an attempt to capture the zeitgeist.  Now it primarily captures a moment in time.  There are personalities and events in here I'd entirely forgotten about.  It didn't have a title but let's call it ...


Chapter One:
What's a Weblog?: Trying to define the indefinable

Increasingly people are finding themselves on the one side of the following conversation:
"I read it on a weblog."
"What's a weblog?"
The "Erm." happens because it's a near impossible question. A good shorthand is 'online diary' but that suggests that if the person asking goes online they'll find the intimate heartfelt details of the person explaining, and although there are certainly websites online which are exactly that, there are millions of others in thousands of other formats. Like finding a single equation which explains all the universe, this chapter will try to put together a single, good explanation. How did the term get shortened to 'blog'? What a weblog isn't will be discussed, then definitions will be brought together from such diverse places as the webloggers themselves, online encyclopedias, journalists and the 'man-in-the-street' (or email) to see what the general consensus is and whether it's something which actually can written down in a few words or if the sheer diversity of weblogs out there mitigates against it.

Chapter Two:
Life is a constant challenge : The Weblog Pioneers

That was the some contents first post by pioneer Cameron Barrett on his site 'Camworld', which even in mid-1997, when the term hadn't been coined, was something completely recognizable as a weblog (interestingly it wasn't until 1999 that he heard the phrase himself, which he admits in one of the great essay about the subject). This chapter will try to capture what it was like in those early days for the twenty or so early webloggers and what compelled them to start presenting their site in that format. At what moment did they begin to capture the imagination of the internet and become a global pastime. Who were the first British webloggers, and was their perspective and approach naturally different to everyone else?

Chapter Three:
That makes no sense to me : The Diarists

In January, Joe Gordon was fired from his eleven year job at the booksellers 'Waterstones' in Edinburgh. The company had taken exception to some of his writing online; he became the first British weblogger to be fired for something he wrote on his weblog. The chapter title from the post at his weblog, 'The Woolamaloo Gazette', when he revealed to the world what happened and tried to understand what he'd done wrong. The media outcry was swift and loud, with authors, whose books appeared on the shelves of the same shop he no longer worked in, sending group letters of protest about how Gordon's freedom of speech and expression had been compromised. So what compels people to be writing their most private thoughts online, is it confessional, therapy or something else? We'll talk to bloggers who've found themselves in trouble privately and professionally because of something they've written online, if they've regretted the choice they made to let the world know everything there is to know about them. We'll also delve into the murky waters of those who choose to write anonymously about their lives, such as Belle Du Jour (sacrificing their online identity for chance to present greater intimacy) and the already famous using the weblog to communicate to their fans and show that they're just like them (see Neil Gaiman).

Chapter Four:
feeling: upbeat : The Blogger Cultures

Like some giant, transglobal teen film, bloggers are drawn together because of common interests or beliefs, into clicks. Just like in 'The Breakfast Club', there are brains, beauties, jocks, rebels and recluses. Why and how did these subcultures develop and are they something which truly crosses borders or do cultural differences and language barriers prevail? We'll take trip through these cultures, meeting coders, camgirls, A-Listers, political bloggers and those with their unique interests. The concept of different blogging software will be introduced via a discussion of how this software creates barriers of its own. For example, LiveJournal which has its own peculiar format (for example, mood stamps on posts just like one which is the title of this chapter), offers the same diversity of interests as the rest of the community, but remains a mystery to vast numbers of people. Do users of one piece of software (Moveable Type) look down on other users (Blogger) as inferior just because of what they use to post?

Chapter Five:
It looks like we've been Slashdotted! : Weblog as community

Community weblogs are a place were thousands of users, usually webloggers can gather and share the items they've found online. They generally look like any other weblog, except there are usually dozen or even hundreds more items posted per day on a much wider range of subject. 'Slashdot' is a community weblog which has the tagline 'News for nerds, stuff that matters.' It's main interest is computers and technology and has the capacity to bring to a halt any websites or pages it links to because of the sheer number of visits which can be generated - or in other words, the site is 'Slashdotted'. Community weblogs are like small online villages, with their own idiots, in-jokes and volunteer policing. People meet and develop a crushing love or hatred for one another through their keyboard over such dispirit subjects as the American election, favourite wines or web browser.

Chapter Six:
[This is good] : The Blogger Innovates

The term 'weblog' was originally coined in 1997 by Jorn Barger as a way of describing his own site 'Robot Wisdom' which logged interesting items he found surfing the web. That site, which is still going strong is actually an example of what is now called a linkblog, stripping away the paragraphs and simply shows weblinks to pages which the writer has visited and liked. This is the zen approach and is becoming increasingly popular because of its simplicity. The look of a weblog is constantly changing and the ways people are communicating through the format become greater and varied. From photoblogs to moblogs, audblogs to mp3 blogs, people are using multimedia to express themselves in new and exciting ways. Noticing the trend, websites and companies are being set up to aid the blogger, with 'del.ic.ious.' making linkblogs easy and 'flickr' letting users show the colour photos of the lives they could only previously describe in black and white text.

Chapter Seven:
the all clear siren just went on : The Blogger Journalists

What isn't generally realized is that the 'Bagdad Blogger' Salam Pax began posting in some time before the Iraq War began. The first post in his archive links to an article at the New York Times about television show describing Saddam Hussein's hygiene habits. But when the bombing began, Pax began to gain the web's attention because he was there in the thick of it, describing in brutal honesty what he was seeing. Then there was Jeff Gannon, White House reporter for Talon News who found himself unmasked as Jeff Guckert, a right wing blogger who seemed to have been invited to the press corps because of his ability to throw easily answerable questions at a press secretary whenever they were in a tense situation. Liberal bloggers had become suspicious after he asked George W Bush a question about working with Democrats which included misattributed quotes and ended with "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" Time and again recently, experienced journalists working for major news organizations have found their work undercut by the so-called amateurs, to the extent that weblog posts and scoops are increasingly being reprinted in newspapers. The blogosphere is regularly undercutting investigative journalists, often with just a keyboard, a search engine and instinct. There is also an increasing trend for journalists, such as Kevin Sites, to write about their work online in tandem with their job and in some cases include material they simply aren't able to include in as part of their 'official' work. The weblog format is also increasingly being used by online news organizations such as the BBC and The Guardian to cover the news, allowing journalists greater freedom to express their personalities.

Chapter Eight:
"Ah, you must be very beautiful then." : Blogs as Art?

An increasing number of blogs are experiencing a kind of backward evolution as they are taken off the web and published and sold in bookshops. The chapter title quote this time is from the first post of London Call Girl, Belle Du Jour, whose popularity online made a book deal inevitable with a tv series also in the offering. But just because it’s on paper, does it become literature? This chapter wonders if weblogs can or will ever be considered an art form, referencing those who choose to express themselves in poetry, painting and fictional prose. If we know the person who’s writing is fictional how does that effect the reader’s experience and how do we feel when a blogger such as Plain Layne, who we’d assumed to be real person is unmasked as nothing of the sort? There have certainly been enough rumours that Belle was in fact written by a very male author – if that was proven would it increase or decrease the value of the work? And what about the fans of tv series, actors and pop stars who are imitating their idols in the weblog format – is that just another form of fan fiction, wish fulfillment or both? How do the Bloggies and other weblog awards effect this overall impression?

Chapter Nine:
'Thank you, Ingrid Srinath' : Can Blogs Save Lives?

When the Tsunami hit parts of Asia on Boxing Day, a group of bloggers from throughout the world, who'd never met in real life, went to the free blog hosting service BlogSpot and set up a site, ‘The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog’, with the single aim of coordinating information about the disaster, everything from missing person reports to charity information to breaking news. Ingrid Srinath was a person who emailed the site with accurate material about Red Cross Donations, because she wanted to help. All of the different concepts and ideas from the previous chapters will be brought together to help tell the story of how the blogosphere was united in capturing a moment in history. Personal bloggers within the affected areas were using their websites to get the message out about what was happening in the area quicker than the mainstream media which was finding it difficult to react, and we weren’t just reading about what was happening to them we were seeing and hearing as well.

Chapter Ten:
Is this thing on? : The Corporate Co-operation

When Google, the most popular search engine it’s own weblog as a way of talking directly to its users it seemed like the most natural progression for the company. They’d recently acquired Pyra the company behind the equally popular free blog hosting service Blogger so this was also a way of demonstrating their commitment to the application. But they’re not alone. Thousands of businesses are beginning to understand the possibilities inherent in blogging bringing their message to the public. In addition it isn’t just news organizations using blogs to promote their wares. Film fans are enjoying unheard of access to the production director Peter Jackson’s remake of ‘King Kong’, including a daily video diary from the set, via weblog being created by his fans. Will this relationship continue to be co-operative or can the corporation overwhelm the amateur?

The future

Where are weblogs going? New trends are happening all the time, from corporations such as Google using the format to release information about new services and products, to companies sending new gadgets as well review copies of their music, books and dvds to the most popular bloggers in the hopes of producing work of mouth. The quite backlash is discussed, as some question whether blogs are strangling the ability of search engines to present the best information quickly. There is also the rise of the news aggregator, which allows users to check and even read updated weblogs without having to even visit the website itself. Are we going to reach a stage when the weblog as a single voice will phase out in favour of becoming a voice in a crowd?

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