It happened one day in Chennai in October 2002. I normally ate lunch at my office workstation. And simultaneously read articles on the Web, checked personal email and, ever so often, wrote up one of my mega-long email newsletters to a list of friends from college.
And when I say “newsletter” I mean unsolicited, 2,500-word- long email rants on airlines, food, movies, office gossip and so on. (As with most bloggers, going back to one’s earliest works entails much embarrassment and non-stop cringing. Mine are no exception.)
So I’d been shipping out these emails sporadically for about a year when, that October, during one of my lunch-browse sessions, I happened upon this service called Blogger.com run by a company called Pyra Labs. (Sadly I remember nothing of the details: did someone recommend Blogger.com, or did I stumble upon it by accident? Alas, this was before Gmail.com and its limitless memory.)
Blogger.com had a nice catchy tag line, “Push button publishing for the people” and the sites on it seemed clean and uncluttered. (As against the prevalent Bappi Lahiri design aesthetic of most free website services of the day.) Best of all it was free to do the bare essentials: type and post. No code knowledge necessary at all.
This meant no more spamming inboxes with my occasional missives.
I signed up and on 30 October 2002, I wrote my very first post titled “Of Rains And Vaastu” on http://sidin.blogspot.com. There were still a year or two to go before the terms “blog” and later “blogger” really became part of the Indian social zeitgeist. So I just called it “my website”. People were suitably impressed. When I went for family functions, my father proudly said “He has his own website you know?”
“Oh, whatay smart boy!”
Of course those were innocent times.
Innocent and thankless times. Traffic peaked at 30 visits a week, most of which was me showing it off to other people. I didn’t have a commenting system for one and a half years. I didn’t even know what a commenting system was for one and a half years.
Oh and there wasn’t a blogroll either. In fact, I remember there were start-ups, such as Blogrolling.com and Sitemeter, that purely focused on trivial things such as blogrolls, link lists and hit counters. Hundreds and thousands of hit counters in all shapes and sizes. (Most of them would get obliterated as blogging platforms got sophisticated, and Google Analytics became the standard for analytics.)
Innocent, thankless but polite times. Bloggers would actually ask you for your permission to add your URL to their blogroll or to quote you. And readers actually sent detailed feedback on your posts via email and you replied politely in return.
The only agenda, really, was to write and publish. Blogs truly were the cheapest, easiest way to get people to access and read your writing. And I doubt if, in 2002 or 2003, anyone had an agenda for their blogs, besides that.
And then something happened in 2004. I can’t pinpoint when it happened. But I’d say somewhere around the summer of 2004. Blogging lost its geeky, polite virginity. Suddenly bloggers began to take themselves more seriously and blogs began to have a purpose: social causes, authors desperate for book deals, antisocial psychopaths seeking like-minded companions and so on. Comments and blogrolls were now serious business. As some bloggers became stars and the others not so much, factions and feuds developed. And finally mainstream media picked up the blogging phenomenon. Cue undue hysteria.
(And in an interesting role reversal of sorts, while things such as blogrolls and meters became a default element of blogging platforms, today we have start-ups that focus purely on commenting systems, forums and so on. You can rest assured this won’t be the last turn of the blog start-up dice.)
Then, with platforms such as Blogger.com, Wordpress.com, LiveJournal.com and others becoming ever more easier to learn and use, thousands of people signed up, wrote a post or two and then gave up blogging forever. (For instance, the mysterious http://chang.blogspot.com that has only one entry dated 28 January 2001. Which is complete gibberish. Spooky.) And there were others who couldn’t handle the negative commenting and bitching and simply made access to their posts password enabled. Or gave up on blogging altogether. (Many of the leading lights of blogging from 2002-2005 disappeared without trace.)
A far cry from the innocent days of yore.
Personally speaking, May 2004 was an inflexion point for my blog. After posting an oft-emailed blog post, traffic jumped around 200-300 times the usual. Thankfully, much of that fresh traffic kept coming back and another three years later, in May 2007, I moved my blog from Blogger.com to a much more professional Wordpress platform. (The exact antithesis of why I went to Blogger in the first place.)
By then the blog had already helped me move to a full-time writing job. When the time came to send out resumes to potential recruiters the blog served me valiantly. Nowadays no one calls it a “website” anymore. Websites are for losers.
“My boy has a blog you know?”
“Oh, whatay smart boy!”