Evolution of a Proto-Blogger

Andy Carvin published an essay called Learning to Embrace My Inner Blogger. It’s part of a week-long NPR series on the evolution of blogging. The series covers ground already familiar to bloggers, but it’s a good introduction to the social impact of blogging for those who are new to the medium. And it’s worth remembering that, even though the word blog has been around for ten years, blogging is still very much a nascent medium, and most potential blog readers have to learn the hard way how it works.

Carvin’s essay recalls a time when he, too, was new to the medium. He traces his evolution as a blogger to a long germination period before blog software was developed. He taught himself how to use HTML and launched a personal web site where he could publish his own essays on classroom computer access. His became an early and influential voice in a subject now known as the Digital Divide. He devoted one page of his web site to personal “What’s New” content and called it Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth. He added new content at the top of the page and jettisoned old content at the bottom.

Thus Andy Carvin began to blog before blog architecture was invented. I think of this kind of formative, gestational work as proto-blogging. I followed a similar path as a web developer, although mine was studded with a few blind accessibility barriers along the way. A lot of people back then were probing proto-blogging impulses as they learned how tedious it was to update sprawling yet static web sites. No matter how proud you felt about creating a web page, you couldn’t get back to it often enough, or easily enough, to keep it current. It became one more walled garden with weeds.

As Carvin worked on coding his own web site, he also began to connect with like-minded web publishers through electronic bulletin boards and forums. I believe these early experiments in online communities were proto-blogging, too. Carvin first learned about blogs from an online travel forum. In his essay he describes a complicated reaction to the newest new thing:

As time passed, I started noticing how some of my fellow travel diarists had switched to Web publishing tools that made it easier for them to get their content online. Some of these tools would even allow people to publish their thoughts in a journal-like format. At some point in 1999 I remember reading the word “blog” on one of these sites and thinking what an ugly, ugly word it was. Perhaps a better word or phrase would come around. Digital pamphleteering. Homespun media. Journalistas. Something. Anything would be better than “blog,” which reminded me of General Zod in Superman II and his famous line, “Kneel before Zod!”

“Kneel before blog!” No thank you.

In fact, I got really snooty about the whole thing. This new generation of Web publishers had it too easy. They didn’t have to toil and stress over the laborious process of editing Web pages by hand. They didn’t have to learn the underlying mechanics of Web sites. They didn’t appreciate the history of early Web publishing. They just wanted to write. And talk. And write some more. Who did these kids think they were?

He may have resisted the word, but eventually Carvin was convinced by the process of blogging. In 2003, a watershed year in the development of the new medium, he converted his personal “What’s New” web page to a blog of the same name, Andy Carvin’s Waste of Bandwidth. It’s still going strong, and today he works for NPR as a senior strategist for online communities. Sounds like nice work if you can get it!

This essay fits a genre my friend Nancy Mack calls literacy memoir. She uses the genre with teachers to explore the possibilities of context-rich personal stories about reading and writing. Ms. Modigliani is taking the genre into the realm of new media in her online memoir courses. As the media environment evolves rapidly into new forms and cultural practices, there is much to learn from this kind of personal reflection on the media we create and consume. Andy Carvin’s example makes me think of my own proto-blogging experiences, which I hope to recall in a future post.

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