Chapter OneThe story of blogging
Do you remember your first time? It might have been years ago, or
it might have been just a few minutes before you sat down in a
chair with this book. Your first time might have been at a friend's
house, in a bookstore, at the office, or in the privacy of your own
home. For some, the story is a little embarrassing, while others
caught on right away.
What did you think when you first heard the word blog?
When Terry received a call from a reporter in 2003 with a question about
church blogs, he put her on hold and shouted from his office, "Brian, what's a
blog?" Another friend heard about blogging and thought it was something you do
after having too much to drink. A fellow pastor assumed it was a disease requiring
Most people agree it's something odd that's of interest only to the MTV crowd,
like hip-hop, IM, or ring tones. They couldn't be more wrong.
Before we can start a conversation about blogging, before we can make the case
for blogging in the church, we need to understand what it is. We need to begin with
a shared understanding of how blogging became a pivotal part of our culture and
our communication. How did blogging go from punch line to household word?
Like most cultural phenomena, blogs spent their early years being ridiculed
and dismissed. For many, personal blogs on the World Wide Web seemed like nothing
more than online diaries written by people with way too much time on their
hands. This was a perfectly reasonable impression. Blogs put the power of publishing
in the hands of anyone within reach of a computer and made it as easy as
sending an email. Anytime you place a creative tool in the hands of millions of
people, the result is likely to be chaotic, or at the very least a bit messy. Let's face it:
cat photos and conspiracy theories will always be with us.
Before blogs, if you wanted to write something and publish it online you
needed a website. To have a website, you needed a computer, the ability to write
code, and a company to host your website. In other words, you needed money and
With blogs, you need an Internet connection, a web browser, and something
to say. Nothing more, nothing less. Imagine a world where everyone has a voice,
access to the marketplace of ideas, and the freedom to say whatever he or she
wants. With blogs, that world is here.
What is a blog? A blog is a very simple thing: A regularly updated website with
content organized by date and the most recent post on top. The typical blog contains
short paragraphs or posts on various topics, with links to other blogs and
online conversations. Readers are usually able to add comments. Most blogs make
it easy to stay up-to-date by allowing you to subscribe, receiving updates and
changes as they're made.
The blogging revolution was led by the people who developed the tools and
technology that made blogs possible. The initial online conversations focused on
code and protocols and other things programmers find interesting. People who
previously had few outlets to share their knowledge and creativity were suddenly
able to offer both to an audience of hundreds or even thousands.
Then a strange thing happened. People began sharing more than the latest coding
techniques. Writing and publishing a post was so quick and easy that personal
stories started showing up as well: vacation tales, book reviews, political opinions,
and the news of a growing family were now intermingled with professional life.
Whereas you might expect mixing the personal and professional to cause confusion
or distraction, instead it strengthened the connection between people in a
new way. These comments, details, and asides gave people who had never met the
sense that they knew one another.
As blogging began to spread, new people were attracted by the incredible range
of topics and the ease of participation. No matter your interest, whether politics
or travel or food or marketing or jazz or Java, someone else was writing about it
online with passion. Conversations started. People who shared a common interest
began posting comments and linking to other blogs, leading to the ad hoc
development of new online communities.
These communities were built on top of a new technology called RSS, or Really
Simple Syndication. Essentially, RSS is the content of a website converted into a
format that software can easily interpret, often called an RSS feed. What's so cool
about that? Glad you asked!
As people read more blogs, it became a chore to click through an ever-expanding
list of favorite sites to see if any had been updated. So tools were built
to allow blogs to come to you, by subscribing to a blog's RSS feed. Now you could
get the latest posts from dozens or even hundreds of bloggers delivered to you simply,
each day in one place. What would have been impossible months earlier was
now commonplace. Avid bloggers were soon spending more time using one of
these tools than their web browser, while avoiding a steady stream of browser-related
security vulnerabilities, pop-ups, and adware.
As this change was taking place, email was drowning in tidal waves of spam
and viruses. The inbox became a war zone as suspect marketers competed for
attention and hackers attacked unprotected computers. Email communication,
particularly for mass emails such as newsletters, was becoming largely ineffective
as people were as likely to see it as they were to open it.
Blogs offer an alternative. When you subscribe to a blog, you remain in complete
control. If you choose to unsubscribe, you can be sure you will never receive
information from that source again. Have you ever clicked Unsubscribe in an email,
only to receive message after message after message? We all have. With blogs, you
are finally in control of what you do and do not receive.
Any one of these things would not have been enough to cause blogging to grow
rapidly in popularity, but all of them together produced a powerful and volatile
mixture that took blogging to the next level. The recipe of quick-and-simple publishing,
free and low-cost tools, new technology, rapidly expanding communities,
and the email crisis helped blogging become a cultural phenomenon.
BLOGS GO PUBLIC
In just three years, blogging was transformed from an obscure tool of the technologically
savvy to a fixture of mainstream life. The transformation was driven by
five critical, and sometimes tragic, events.
When airplanes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September
11, 2001, the airwaves were full of horrific images. The websites of major news
organizations such as CNN and the New York Times were flooded with traffic to
such a degree that many were unreachable. People across the country began blogging
the attacks immediately, posting stunning amateur photos, emotional first-hand
accounts, and names of the missing, as well as relaying information that was
often unavailable elsewhere.
At a critical moment in our history, as major websites became unusable and
cell phone networks collapsed under the load, a large number of people began
turning to blogs for real-time information, real-life experiences, raw emotion, and
moving tributes to fallen loved ones. Robert Scoble, then a prominent Microsoft
blogger, wrote on the fourth anniversary of September 11: "That day was an inflection
point for the blogosphere. It was the day that I realized our disaster experience
had changed because now we could all share information-no matter where
we were in the world-and have a global conversation."
People hungered for the same passionate, emotional, and opinionated writing
that had previously been widely criticized in the media. For the first time, unedited
bloggers with digital cameras were on the same footing as professional journalists.
For the first time, a widely decentralized communication network made up of average
citizens feeding a rapidly forming online community was shown to be effective
and empowering. On September 11, 2001, many people began to see the true
power of blogs.
In December 2002, Trent Lott had the opportunity to speak at the one-hundredth
birthday celebration for Strom Thurmond, who was retiring from the U.S. Senate.
In a room full of politicians and reporters, Lott, the incoming majority leader, spoke
a few troublesome words about the former segregationist and candidate for president:"
I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for President,
we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our
lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
The comment quieted the room but was mentioned only briefly in the nominal
coverage of the event. Over the next few days, few people were aware of it, and
those who were assumed Lott's brief and written apology had sufficiently addressed
the racially insensitive remarks.
Without blogs, that would have been the end of the story. Three months after
September 11, however, blogging was becoming an increasing part of the national
conversation. A number of blogs began pushing the issue, particularly Talking
Points Memo and InstaPundit, emphasizing both the offensive remarks and
the media's limited coverage of them. Blogs also began researching Lott's political
past, previous remarks, and voting record. As the din of conversation grew,
editorial boards, political groups, and President Bush offered increasing criticism
Fifteen days after the initial comments, Lott was forced to resign his position
as Republican Leader, the first Senate leader ever to do so. For the first time,
blogging had moved from commenting on the latest news to influencing and
shaping the day's events. Once the door was opened, there would be no turning
On April 15, 2003, Robert Scoble, who was then a well-known independent blogger,
announced on his blog that he had been hired by Microsoft. A month later, he
began his position as a technical evangelist for the next version of the Windows
operating system. At the time, Microsoft was seen as a highly profitable and hugely
successful company with a very competitive, insular corporate culture. Few people
used the terms open, friendly, or accessible to describe Microsoft or the people
who worked there. In fact, few successful, dominant companies were viewed more
Prior to coming to Microsoft, Scoble had developed an influential blog of his
own, and he continued to blog openly about his life and work after starting
his new position. For the first time, customers had a largely unedited window into
life at Microsoft. Previously, the inside of the corporation was exposed only during
high-profile court cases when internal emails were subpoenaed.
Scoble wrote openly about his work, his coworkers, and the decisions of the
company. His site constituted an open forum for Microsoft critics, frustrated customers,
and angry developers. Functioning almost as a one-man public relations
team, Scoble listened to the critics, defending Microsoft and admitting mistakes
when appropriate. He connected users with employees who could help and passed
along ideas and problems to teams inside the company.
Blogs began exploding within Microsoft. High-profile teams, particularly those
working directly with developers, started blogs to connect with customers, share
information, and gather feedback. Two years after Scoble was hired, there were
more than a thousand Microsoft bloggers, more than at any other public company.
This new openness and honesty trumped the power of focus groups and allowed
people to influence the company's future.
Blogging is widely credited with improving the public's perception of Microsoft
and repairing the company's relationship with software developers. As
Microsoft's story spread through numerous magazine articles and blog posts, companies
large and small launched blogs, from IBM to the latest start-up, starting a
conversation instead of another one-way marketing campaign.
In early 2003, the suggestion that a liberal governor from Vermont would soon be
the front-runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination would draw
confused looks and uncomfortable laughter. Howard Dean began his campaign as
a relative unknown, even within his own party. Six months later, he was regularly
leading rallies of more than five thousand people, including nearly fifteen thousand
in New York City, before the first vote had been cast. How?
The Dean phenomenon was driven by blogs and bloggers. The campaign
was the first to adopt blogs as its primary means of communication. The Dean
for America blog became enormously popular for its candor and openness. The
blog was updated throughout the day and night, giving an incredible sense of
the campaign's speed and energy. The fact that the blog permitted public comments,
no matter how critical, only contributed to the sense of openness and
community. Supporters had such a sense of ownership that they defended the
candidate from attacks and critical comments before the campaign staff could
The Dean message was also spread by hundreds of individual bloggers who
wrote regularly about the candidate and organized "Meetups" in cities across the
country. This online word-of-mouth campaign was far more effective in building
support than traditional direct mail or online marketing. Would you trust an unsolicited
brochure that arrives in your mailbox or the words of someone you've
learned to respect over months of online conversation?
The blog drew an unparalleled number of people for a political site and helped
the campaign break fundraising records. The campaign willingly ceded a great deal
of control and responsibility to its volunteers, generating incredible enthusiasm
and a sense of ownership.
The Howard Dean campaign was built from the ground up to challenge conventional
wisdom. The campaign was the first to be driven by blogs and the web,
and despite its ultimate failure it is still seen as the model of how to empower people
to evangelize a cause, both online and off. If you give people the knowledge
and the tools, and they are passionate about the cause, they will accomplish more
than an expensive marketing push.
Dan Rather and the 2004 Presidential Election
During the 2004 presidential election campaign between George Bush and John
Kerry, blogging officially went mainstream. Following the rise and fall of Howard
Dean, blogs became an essential part of the major parties' national campaigns and
were prominently featured on campaign websites. For the first time, citizen bloggers
were invited to the presidential conventions, taking their place alongside journalists
and other members of the media. Mainstream media outlets began
incorporating blogs into their content; bloggers appeared on cable news programs
next to the traditional talking heads.
As the political race intensified and tightened, Dan Rather and CBS News
entered the fray on September 8, 2004, with a television report on President Bush's
National Guard service. The segment questioned whether the president had fulfilled
his service requirement and whether he received special treatment as the son
of a prominent family. The claims were supported by a number of official documents
from the president's file.
Coming less than two months before Election Day, the charges were taken very
seriously. A few hours after the report aired, however, bloggers began questioning
the authenticity of the documents. The criticism focused on the typeface seen
in the documents and other inconsistencies.
Two days later, the story was picked up by the mainstream press and grew
quickly into an avalanche of media coverage. Rather and CBS defended the story
and evidence repeatedly, but each day new questions were raised-many by
bloggers-that the news division could not answer.
Twelve days after the report aired, CBS News issued a statement that the documents
should not have been used in the story; the network could no longer
ensure the authenticity of the evidence. A number of employees were fired, an
investigation was launched, and Dan Rather himself announced his retirement
soon after the election.