Who Invented Weblogs?

Published April 28, 2007 by Dr. Tammy Powley

While there is some controversy over who wrote the first weblog, many sources give credit to Jon Barger, who in 1997 began posting comments and links to various areas throughout the Internet on his web site. He is believed to have come up with the term “weblog” to describe his logging of the Internet.

From Wikipedia.com:

On December 17, 1997, Barger began posting short comments and links on his own Robot Wisdom website, thus pioneering the “weblog” as it is known today. His site soon included interlinked weblog sections titled “Fun,” “Art,” “Issues,” “Net,” “Tech,” “Science,” “History,” “Search,” and “Shop.”

By 2000 he felt he had exhausted the formal possibilities of weblogs, and began instead to explore the timeline format, annotating each timeline entry with a link to a relevant resource. Meanwhile Robot Wisdom was evolving to include information and essays on James Joyce, AI, history, Internet culture, hypertext design, and technology trends, among the topics Barger covered. Announcements of plans for a future “hardcopy edition” of Robot Wisdom for purchase began appearing at the foot of some of the site’s pages.

He occasionally posted comments about trying to find types of employment that did not conflict with his philosophical ideals. The maxim “You can’t serve God and Mammon” appeared at the top of his “issues.literate” weblog section. By December 2001, he was experiencing financial difficulties that he announced would cause an interruption in keeping Robot Wisdom online. Before taking the weblog offline a couple of months, he posted comments mentioning an interest in employment by telecommute but noting his philosophical concerns: “I have a gigantic psychological block against Mammon-in-general, and no longterm ideas how to overcome it. Alternative currency? Retreat to a cave?” Barger has, however, experimented with Robot Wisdom as a revenue-generator, soliciting advertisements in 2000, and, in 2005, donations via PayPal.

Previously a longtime resident of the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, Barger was living in Socorro, New Mexico as of late 2003. Several bloggers initiated an outpouring of concern and speculation in December 2003 when Barger had not been seen online for some months. However, Barger had been known to take unexplained absences from the Internet before, and his departure turned out again to be temporary; Robot Wisdom returned in February 2005.In a July 2005 Wired magazine item, writer Paul Boutin reported encountering a “homeless and broke” Barger walking with a mutual friend in San Francisco, California. The article said that Barger, “living on less than a dollar a day,” had allowed his weblog’s domain registration to lapse, but that Boutin found Robot Wisdom back online a few weeks later. Boutin claimed in the story that upon subsequently meeting him at a pub, Barger told him that the previous time they had met he had been carrying a panhandling sign he had not shown him. Barger reportedly told him the sign had read, “Coined the term ‘weblog’, never made a dime.” Barger has since said that the Boutin article was mostly “fiction.” For his part, Boutin published a clarification in his own weblog, saying the headline Wired had chosen might have misled readers into thinking Barger was “living on the street,” rather than staying with friends.

Robot Wisdom went offline again in late January 2007. On 10th February, Barger placed a note on his “auxiliary” weblog soliciting $10 (US) donations, payable to his web host, to help “save robotwisdom.com”. By 12th February, robotwisdom.com was online again.


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