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Purely Coincidental

Last Thursday’s entry reminded me of an essay I wrote a year ago. When Google recruited me, I was asked to write an essay on a revoluationary technology of recent years. I wrote about Blogger.

My father told me that was stupid and nobody cared about weblogs, and instead I should write about something important, like Tivo.

I don’t know why I didn’t publish this essay the day Google announced they were buying Pyra, that would’ve made more sense.

I’m not saying anything else because I signed an NDA but here’s the essay.

Adam Bryan Mathes

8/21/2002

Google Revolutionary Technology Essay

Blogger - Push Button Publishing

Blogger (www.blogger.com) is a web-based service from Pyra that facilitates the creation and updating of a class of websites referred to as “weblogs.” Weblogs are frequently updated web pages that contain short bits of text in reverse chronological order. The term originally referred specifically to pages that focused on linking to other web sites and providing commentary on them, a “log” of web findings, although now the term is more often used to refer to the format rather than specifying the content.

Blogger is a tool to automatically update a web page at the level of paragraphs, or “posts” in the language of Blogger. To add new content to a weblog using Blogger, the user types into a text area on a specific web page (see figure a) and then with the press of one button, their text is processed and web pages are transferred to their web site. The new post then appears at the top of the weblog. As more posts are entered, content moves down the page, and older entries are automatically moved to archive pages.

Before Blogger, the procedure most people used to update their weblogs or “what’s new” pages was much more complicated. First they would write the new content, then cut and paste the content into an HTML file, adding formatting, then add things like the date, or titles, then possibly add a relevant entry in an archive page, then open up an FTP client, and finally transfer the changed files. Although not an insurmountable task, adding a single paragraph could take many steps and often require many different applications. With Blogger, it only took two steps - write the content, then press a single button.

This ease had a profound effect on those who began to use Blogger to update their weblogs when the product was released in 2000. Many began to update more often, as posting a new entry became just as easy as sending an email or an instant message.

Self Publishing Revolution

As the service became more popular through word of mouth and web links, a series of mainstream publications wrote articles about weblogging as a trend and often focused on Blogger in particular, which I think greatly swelled the user base. Whatever the reason, there are now hundreds of thousands of web sites that use Blogger, and the service is barely two years old. Eventually, they integrated an advertiser-supported web hosting service, so it was no longer necessary to have your own web space, or understand what FTP meant to use the service. This created another huge influx of users. Many of these users would never have even considered starting, let alone updating regularly, a web page a few years ago. Blogger is a revolutionary tool that has made frequent web publishing accessible to a much larger audience.

In making it easier for web users, normally passive readers, to become participants and writers, Blogger is having revolutionary effects on web publishing. Unlike the stereotypical “pictures of my cat” web pages from 1995, these pages are part of the “living web,” as opposed to static pages. Their authors update the pages regularly and use them to communicate to friends, family, and sometimes an extended readership.

Although I am the first to admit that a very, very large portion of this new writing is complete garbage, the content is in some sense secondary. The important thing is that those who view the web as not just a place to read magazines and buy books, but as a place where they have a voice, may have very different behavior online. This will have important ramifications for how web sites view and treat their users. For example, the Amazon Affiliates program is poised to take advantage of any content creators who review books, and makes no distinction as to who is doing the reviewing. Although a weblog may have a very small audience, often a recommendation from a friend or family member can be very powerful.

Key Design Elements

In contrast to many web-based applications, Blogger adopted much of the look and feel of traditional desktop applications. Rather than having a series of text or graphical links, Blogger implemented a “button bar” across the top of their application. While many of the early, tech-savvy users of the application simply thought this looked good, I believe it made the application seem familiar and approachable to people, and especially made the application more accessible to less technically savvy users.

Also important in the design was the relative immediacy of feedback. Although the user has to create and edit posts from the Blogger application, then wait for the pages to be generated and transferred to see the actual result, it all happens very quickly, requiring only a few seconds. In comparison to the way most people edited their sites before, this feedback loop is much tighter, making it less of a hassle to correct mistakes and edit posted material.

One possible way to improve the technology could be an attempt at more direct manipulation, or possibly a faster “preview” option that did not transfer files, but merely displayed them. The editing component could also be improved; right now it is a standard HTML form text area. Adding WYSIWYG browser-based text entry, or spell checking, or search and replace features could also improve the user experience.

Future Directions

I see Blogger technology’s biggest untapped market being corporate intranets - using weblogs to help people get more information up on the intranet and communicate faster and more effectively.

Integration with existing web-based publishing systems, like those on Geocities and Tripod also seemed like a reasonable direction. Trellix, which licenses products like that to large sites, recently announced they were going to integrate weblogging capabilities.

Market Effects

Currently the Blogger service is free, although Pyra now offers a Blogger Pro service with some additional capabilities for a fee. Blogger has created a standard of minimum functionality and ease of use that competitors must surpass to gain market share. Whether or not people are willing to pay for small content management systems is not entirely clear, and many of the products that compete with Blogger in this new sphere are free, such as DiaryLand.com. Notable exceptions include the suite of products sold by Userland: Frontier, Manila, and Radio Userland. Movable Type, which is free only for personal use, is a new product that seems to be gaining popularity.

A recent Newsweek article indicated that there are an estimated 500,000 weblogs. [1] This deluge of new web content is inextricably tied to the tools that are being used to create it. Blogger has shown that with the right tool, even people with little technical ability will regularly write and produce web content.

Figures

Figure A - The Blogger application (whatever, you all know what it looks like and I’m too lazy to upload the picture)

References

  1. Levy, Steven. “Living in the Blogosphere.” Newsweek. April 26, 2002. href=“http://www.msnbc.com/news/795156.asp

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