Anatomy of a Weblog


A few months back, I heard the term weblog for the first time. I’m not sure who coined it or where it came from, so I can’t properly credit it. Typically, a weblog is a small web site, usually maintained by one person that is updated on a regular basis and has a high concentration of repeat visitors. Weblogs often are highly focused around a singular subject, an underlying theme or unifying concept.

I asked on my own personal web site, “Is Camworld a weblog?” A guy named Michal (Sabren) answered. “Yep.”

I stood back a few steps and realized that yeah, Camworld is a weblog or a microportal. It’s got all of the aspects commonly associated with weblogs. It’s updated regularly [daily]. It’s got a nice, clean easy-to-use design and user interface. It doesn’t patronize to the end user, dumbing things down too much. It has a theme [Random Thoughts + Web Design + New Media]. It has a way for the users to interact with each other [a mailing list]. It even has somewhat of a community, maintained by repeat visitors and list members who contribute many of the links often found in Camworld.

Most weblog owners are aware of each other and make it a point to credit the source of a particularly amusing or useful link. I often find it’s not even necessary to credit a popular link, especially if I see it turn up on other weblogs and web sites. It’s also not necessary to credit a link to a news article from a major news source, as most weblog owners use many of the same news sources for their usual links.

One of the largest and most useful weblogs I’ve ever seen is Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom Log. How he has the time to find all of these daily links, I do not know. I often find it quite hard to keep Camworld updated every day, as I’m fully employed and treat Camworld as a hobby site, mostly updated between 10:00 P.M. and midnight the night before, where publishing typically occurs around midnight of a new day (EST).

A different kind of weblog (one that has multiple contributors) is Joshua Schachter’s Memepool, a site that is updated by approved contributors. Each contributed entry is approved by the editor before being posted. The biggest potential problem with a site like this is that if the pool of contributors gets too large, the number of daily postings can become too large for the editor to handle. Regardless, this may be the only good way for a weblog to exist, as it effectively distributes the workload among numerous people.

Some weblogs are updated only on weekdays and often feature only one or two high-quality links a day. A good example of this is Jesse James Garrett’s Jesse spends his days as the content editor for the Ingram Micro web site. Another example is Dan Lyke’s Flutterby. Dan works as a software engineer for Pixar.

Which leads me into an interesting corollary. Most weblog editors/owners work full-time in the Internet industry. Most have many years of proven Internet research skills that they utilize every day. Michael Sippey of Stating the Obvious calls this process filtering, and his now-defunct Filter was another early weblog.

It can be argued that Dave Winer’s Scripting News was the first successful weblog on the Internet, fuelled by his popular newsletter DaveNet, published regularly since 1994. A site that I’ve followed for many years, Scripting News offers daily links to industry news, technology news, funny pictures, opinions and other completely fascinating tidbits. Camworld is openly modeled after Scripting News, just as Wesley Felter’s Hacking the Planet is modeled after Camworld.

Another interesting observation about weblogs is the percentage of them being maintained by a software package called Userland Frontier. Not coincidentally, Dave Winer of Scripting News is the creator and developer behind Frontier. Other technologies behind weblogs are various scripting languages like php3, Perl and Python.

Lastly, one of the best weblogs currently in production is Jim Romanesko’s Obscure Store. Jim, a seasoned journalist, has a very firm grasp on the world of online journalism. Not a day goes by that I can’t find at least two articles from his site that are worthy of reading.

In some sense, weblogs sum up what’s so great about the Internet. Like fanzine editors before them, weblog editors embrace a topic or theme and run with it. Weblogs are a great indicator of what’s happening on the Internet and within the web community. As our weblogs grow and mature, let’s offer up some hope for those that follow in our footsteps. Pass along your tips for finding the best tidbits and links. Archive your site and make it searchable. Run a link-checking program against it to combat link-rot, and occasionally dig through your archives to find the truly great links, and feature them again.

But most important of all, don’t forget to have fun.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at January 26, 1999 11:59 PM