is the first of five
articles in a series that will be published intermittently this month.
This article summarizes what I believe were the most important ideas of
2003 in the world of blogs and blogging.  The other articles in the
series will propose the most
important ideas of the year in:

  • business,
  • politics & economics,
  • arts
    & science, and
  • the environment.


During the year, the blogosphere
doubled in size, and began to mature into a true alternative medium
for information and connection. My nominations for the most important
ideas of the year* in blogs & blogging are:

  1. The Internet is a World of Ends
    – Doc Searls and David Weinberger finally explained to bloggers and to
    e-business what the Internet is and how it works. As a result, bloggers
    (and blogging tool developers) now realize that there will never be
    'standards' for blogs, blog censorship, clear rules on what is and
    isn't appropriate in citing others' work on your blog, standard blog
    taxonomy and categories, an official definition or list of blogs,
    unarguable or untamperable rankings of blog popularity, or controls of
    any kind. It's a jungle out here. There are no rules.
    The blogosphere, like the Internet, is owned by no one, open to
    everyone, and made better by each of us. A cornucopia of unrestricted
    and open innovation. Its value flowers at the ends, and, fellow
    bloggers, we are the ends.
  2. Blog popularity is subject to Shirky's Power Law
    – “In systems where many people are free to choose between many
    options, a small subset of the whole will always get a disproportionate
    amount of traffic (or attention, or income), by the very act of
    choosing”. It's the old 80/20 rule. The later you are starting to blog,
    the harder it becomes to find an audience. Not impossible, just harder.
    There are anomalies: new blogging communities and new 'hot topics' can
    allow savvy bloggers to quickly galvanize a readership. But if you want
    to be popular in the blogosphere, it's more important to be first than
  3. Blogs have Tipping Points and manifest the Strength of Weak Ties
    – Ever noticed how hard it is to get your family and close friends
    ('strong ties') to read your blog? That's because they see no
    incremental value in doing so. But friends of friends, people two or
    three degrees removed from your network, do. Weak ties probably got you
    your job, found your life partner, provoked your most innovative ideas,
    and sourced most of your blog's readership. And you can exploit these
    weak ties to push a new idea, find new readers, perhaps even save the
    world. It's easy: Just Test the credibility
    of and degree of interest in what you're saying by sending messages to
    selected mavens (bloggers who incubate new ideas and stick with them
    until they catch), A-listers (bloggers who already have a huge audience),
    and connectors (bloggers, like me, who have an audience that crosses
    diverse communities of interest); focus on a few subjects and
    address them profoundly and creatively, instead of talking a bit about
    everything under the sun; and believe: persevere until your message finds its audience.
  4. Blog functionality is a critical component of Social
    , and Social Networking will transform blogging

    (and also transform the
    Internet, the media, the way we communicate, and even the evolution of
    business) – Social Networking Applications (recently voted Technology
    of the Year by Business 2.0 magazine) will go beyond just allowing you
    to publish what's on your mind and browse what's on other people's.
    They will allow you to map and manage your networks, the communities to
    which you belong, your strong and weak ties. They will evolve blogging
    from clumsy, mostly one-way communication to a rich, two-way seamless
    multi-media communications medium that will allow you to identify and connect simply and powerfully with people you want to know better
    (for personal, practical or business reasons). Build deep
    relationships. Collaborate on awesome projects. Find the next president.
  5. Blogs could be the platform for a proxy for each of us as individuals,
    our electronic filing cabinet and electronic identity
    – A blog consists of information about you, and knowledge you've accumulated. What if you expanded it to be a repository for all the information about you and all the knowledge you've accumulated, your 'locked' filing cabinet.
    You control it, you decide what does and doesn't go into it, and who
    can have a temporary key to what parts of it. Then at work, it could be
    your proxy, the repository of knowledge that shows your value to your
    employer and the value you've added to the company. And it could be
    your resume. At home it could be your medical patient record. Your
    bookshelf catalogue and refrigerator/pantry inventory and recipe book.
    Your bio for the dating service. Imagine the applications that could be
    built on this knowledge. Your intellectual property, under your
    control. Amazing. Scary.
  6. The abandonment of 80-90% of blogs is a positive phenomenon
    – Media who just don't 'get it' have pointed to the abandonment of most
    blogs as an indication they're too technologically complex, or have no
    broad appeal, no staying power. What this abandonment really represents
    is a large number of people deciding that writing really isn't that
    important to them. The focus should instead be on the 10-20% who are
    still blogging. That's millions, potentially hundreds of millions of
    people regularly honing their writing skills, getting valuable
    commentary from readers on their writing and their ideas. Instead of a
    wasteland of abandoned effort, the blogosphere (along with perhaps IM)
    could actually be the most important development in written language since the printing press.
    As newspaper readership plummets and the next generation opts for oral
    communications over written, the timing of this phenomenon could not be
    more significant.
  7. Blogging is increasingly a platform for achieving mainstream recognition
    – Just as the main readers of most business websites are competitors,
    not customers, the mainstream media are perusing blogs for new ideas
    and trends. So far they haven't really caught on to how the blogosphere
    works, so the process is serendipitous, creating brief fame mainly for
    A-listers who provide alternative viewpoints to stories of the day
    where no mainstream media pundits are at hand. But the mainstream media
    and bloggers are both learning how to use each other. Some bloggers
    have launched books based on their blogs, and some blogging
    self-promoters now have columns or spots in regular media. Those who
    think there's no money and fame in blogging are too quick to judge
    blogs' importance in the information society.
  8. The culture of blogging is evolving faster than
    the technology

    – The frustration of bloggers with the tools available to them is
    palpable. That's not the tool designers' fault: They operate on a
    shoestring and their 'customers' all want something different. They'll
    eventually build tools that are both simple and flexible, as both the
    technology, and the understanding of its use, mature. In the meantime,
    impatient bloggers are working around the impediments, learning about
    HTML and CSS themselves. This is World of Ends innovation at work,
    producing a proliferation of new blog 'products' and hybrids. Group
    blogs are one example of a blog phenomenon that will only last until
    more dynamic mechanisms for cross-posting and guest privileging are
    developed in next generation blogs. The key is to go with the flow. Be
    part of the evolution or be left behind.
  9. Blogs, like diaries, are a substitute for intimacy
    – Bloggers (and perhaps all writers) are a million voices howling in
    the dark. There is an inherent loneliness in writing, and the
    blogosphere provides an opportunity to make new connections with little
    risk. You don't need to reveal your identity. You can throw ideas out
    there that you might not dare voice face-to-face, for fear of being
    laughed at, or carted away. You can reveal things to 'strangers' that
    you might not be willing to tell those close to you. You can think out
    loud. You can test the waters, safely. The only consequence is that
    when you meet a fellow blogger or reader face-to-face, or even
    voice-to-voice, it can be psychologically jarring. It's almost as if
    you've broken the rules.
  10. RSS is blurring the distinction between blogs and other

    – RSS, the ability to syndicate your posts and let people subscribe to
    them, transforms the metaphor of a blog from a diary to a publication.
    That crosses the main divide that separates it from mainstream media.
    Although the future of any medium is impossible to predict, I believe
    RSS has played a pivotal role in forestalling, and perhaps completely
    subverting, the plan of many of the major print media to start charging
    money for their on-line editions. I know for a fact that was in the
    cards as recently as a year ago.

What do you think? Have I missed some important ideas?

* Yes, I know some of these
ideas are themselves not new this year. There is nothing new under the
sun. But I would argue that the application and implications of these
ideas were first manifest some time in 2003

[How to Save the World]