25 Years of EdTech – 2003: Blogs


Whatever happened to blogs eh? What kind of poor, deluded, stuck in the past has-been would still keep a blog? In my 25 Years of EdTech series we’re now at 2003. Elearning is A Serious Thing, with standards, platforms, policies and strategies. Blogging developed alongside these more education specific developments, and was then co-opted into ed tech. In this it foreshadowed much of the web 2.0 developments, which it is often bundled in with.

Blogging was really just a very obvious extension of the web. Once anyone could publish, they would inevitably start to publish diaries. This speaks more to the immutability of human communication than new technology – give people a communication medium and they’ll start writing diaries. Blogging emerged from just a simple version “here’s my online diary” with the advent of feeds, and particularly the universal standard RSS. RSS meant you could subscribe to anyone’s blog and get regular updates. This was as revolutionary as the liberation that web publishing initially provided. If the web made everyone a publisher then RSS made everyone a distributor also. And if you ever picked up hand printed Socialist Worker leaflets outside a Billy Bragg concert on a rainy Wednesday in Hammersmith, then you understood that distribution was where the real power lay.

Once this was in place, then people swiftly moved beyond diaries. What area (from news about newts to racist conspiracy theories) isn’t impacted by the ability to create content freely whenever you want and have it immediately distributed to your audience? Blogs and RSS type distribution were akin to everyone being given superhero powers. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – they’re all the brattish, ungrateful children of blogs. It’s not really surprising that in 2018 we’re wrestling with the implications of this. Imagine if Superman had a zombie virus and passed on his powers – it’d cause a lot of shit to happen, good and bad.

In 2003 I think I tried my first abortive attempt at blogging – it would take another couple of attempts before it stuck in 2006. John Naughton was my blogging father – in 1999 he had shown me a homemade system he’d developed to do a daily online HTML journal, and it was through him that I became aware of the work of Dave Winer and the nascent Radio UserLand blogging platform.

If I had a desert island EdTech, it would be blogging, and that is not just in a nostalgic sense. No other educational technology has continued to develop, as the proliferation of WordPress sites attests, and also remain so full of potential. I’ve waxed lyrical about academic blogging many times before, but for almost every ed tech that comes along, I find myself thinking that a blog version would be better: e-portfolios, VLEs, MOOCs, OERs, social networks. Sometimes it’s like Jim Groom and Alan Levine have taken over my brain, and I don’t even mind. I still harbour dreams of making students effective bloggers will be a prime aspect of graduateness. Nothing develops and anchors your online identity quite like a blog.

6 Comments

  1. Really? All publishing leads to “diaries”- despite the kind shout out, I might have to kick up some dust.

    Maybe one of the first blogs might have been Justin Hall’s link log blog http://www.links.net/ and pretty early was kotke’s version too; more resource sharing than navel gazing.

    My early interests were not from the diary view but after maybe 6-7 years of trying to teach people to take on learning HTML to write to the web, that the type in a box and click publish was really a step up in the process for people who hate code and tags.

    Oh well maybe it was diaries after all…. http://cat-diaries.blogspot.com/

    1. Ok, maybe journal is a better word than diary. But the key thing was the desire to write regular, temporally determined outputs away from static displays of information. The diary is the most common form of these, and diaries don’t have to be “I have a crush on Suzie” type recordings – I remember John Naughton’s proto-blog was as you indicate, so he could keep track of things he had read, and comments on them. So I kind of agree with you that diary may be too specific a term, but they were called weblogs for a reason.

  2. The online diary was just one source of blogging. Another significant source was bookmarking – back then known as ‘linkblogs’. A third major source was the newsletter and/or the news feed, which began as individuals adopted RSS. See my article from 2004, Educational Blogging. https://www.downes.ca/post/40939

    FWIW, back then, before everything else, my claim to fame was that of being “the world’s first edublogger”. Nobody cares about that distinction now. Says something about the way blogs evolved. I keep that in mind every time I think about MOOCs.

    1. Hi Stephen – i maybe overplayed the diary bit. You are the Godfather of Edublogging! When I first got into it, you were the first link on every blog roll (remember blog rolls?)

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