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Conversation: Writer Scott Rosenberg

Blogging as a medium is approaching what would be a heady teenage transition, having appeared almost alongside the public Internet in the mid-1990s, when early proponents like Dave Winer and Justin Hall began posting to their personal sites. Jorn Barger gets the credit for coining the term WebLog (capitalized because he thought the syllable “blog” hideous) to describe his stream of links to useful sites. Evan Williams helped widen adoption when he launched Blogger in 1999, and the more feature-rich MovableType and WordPress followed a few years later.

In 2009, blogging is mainstream and arguably mature, widely considered one of the fundamental forms of expression on the Internet. Most news organizations host blogs, and starting a personal blog takes minutes and requires no more tech savvy than e-mail.

Salon.com co-founder Scott Rosenberg details blogging’s short history in his latest book, ‘Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming and Why It Matters.’

Part of what Rosenberg says defines a blog is a focus on reverse-chronological publishing — putting the newest entries at the top of a page with older posts below. There’s an innate focus on now, though he notes that most bloggers meticulously maintain their archives. It wasn’t so obvious, in the early days of online publishing, that putting the new stuff up top was the most natural way to organize content, something Rosenberg knows firsthand.

In 1995, he left a job at the San Francisco Examiner to help found Salon.com. Early on, editors at Salon and similar Web sites mirrored the organization of the printed outlets they’d left, starting with tables of content and linking to pages. But when there’s no fixed publishing schedule, the most critical question becomes, as Rosenberg argues, What’s new?

The story of blogging, as Rosenberg tells it, is less about technology than about the literary subcultures that emerged as technological barriers fell over the last two decades. He traces a path from the alpha geeks in academia and Silicon Valley, coding pages by hand or posting on home-built publishing systems, to “mommy-bloggers” and citizen journalists on thousands of free WordPress and BlogSpot sites.

In many ways, blogging remains a niche medium, and more accurately, a medium full of niches within niches. While critics often refer to “the blogosphere,” Rosenberg rightly points out that there are myriad blogospheres. Some, like for politics and tech, draw millions of visitors, while quieter corners of the Web are home to obscure communities that resemble more like a close-knit group of friends.

And just who was the first blogger? Rosenberg answers the question:

Editor’s note: You can read more about “Say Everything” and Scott Rosenberg on his blog, Wordyard. Also, check back later this week to learn how blogging has changed how people write about art.

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