According to Rebecca Blood, in early 1999, Jesse James Garrett posted a list of 23 web sites that posted links and brief commentary. The Wayback machine’s archive of Garrett’s site returns this list from early 2000.
It might be interesting to see what happened to each of these sites. When I started blogging later in 1999, I hadn’t heard of a single one of these, though I was very familiar with the genre of what was then called the “list of links.” In February of 1998, while working at the University of Toronto’ s Engineering Writing Centre, I urged web authors to “Annotate Your Lists of Links.” Later that same year, one of the e-school staff members e-mailed me a link to Arts & Letters Daily, which was precisely that — an annotated list of links, carefully selected and always worth visiting.
When I first started blogging in the spring of 1999, I closely copied the format of A&L Daily, which used multiple columns, did not date its entries, and used “[more]” as the link. (I first dated an entry on July 20, 1999, because I was writing about the 1969 moon landing, and I wanted to emphasize that the event took place exactly 30 years earlier, and I’ve dated every entry since then — about 5500 separate entries.)
Arts & Letters Daily, which did not focus on technology issues, was not on the early 1999 list of 23 sites that have become accepted as the canonical list of early blogs. There must have been many, many other sites that were not part of this particular subnetwork.
Before the weblog genre had a name (the term “weblog” was coined by Jorn Barger, 10 years ago next month… his site, “robotwisdom,” is one of the canonical 23), home pages had guest books, web-based discussion boards had postings and threads, and in the pre-Google days when new content was hard to find on the web, a “What’s New?” page (with a collection of short links) was an important part of large, active websites. Many sites featured a “link of the day” or a “link of the week,” though you often had to click the link to find out what was on the other end. Dating from about 1995 was the concept of the “Web Ring,” which was a standard interface that webmasters put on their home pages, with “next” and “previous” links that went offsite, to other pages in the “ring” (populated by a centrally-hosted database).
After Googling for a bit, I just learned that the Web Ring concept was invented by Sage Weil, apparently in May 1994. In 1995, he started a company that was eventually bought out by GeoCities, which was in turn bought by Yahoo! I remember now that the Yahoo! Webrings was a bit controversial, since Yahoo! didn’t implement all the features of the original WebRing concept, though recently a Webring 2.0 concept was spun off from Yahoo!
One final note… an undergraduate student of mine, Kirsten Schubert, wrote a term paper on weblogs in 2002, which was well before there was any published scholarship on the subject. It’s a good time capsule of what was available at the time — general articles on hypertext rhetoric and digital authorship. (When teaching that class, I hadn’t yet come across Mortensen and Walker’s 2002 article, Blogging Thoughts — the first academic essay focusing on blogs.)