5 Lessons from the Early Days of Blogging

Back in the early days of blogging, we didn’t have social media — not like we do today. Stories didn’t spread as quickly, and when they did, you knew someone had something important to say.

Early Blogging
Photo credit: Joe Rookery (Creative Commons)

You couldn’t tweet out links to your blog to thousands of followers or like your own post on Facebook in hopes that others would, too.

In those days, if I wanted people other than my immediate sphere of influence to read my blog, my best bet was to get another blogger to link to my post.

And that meant becoming friends with that person. Which required time and work.

There were some important lessons to learn in those early days of blogging:

  1. Blogging was about relationship — period.
  2. If you had a blog, you were rare and different, already remarkable.
  3. The goal wasn’t to “go viral.” It was to be consistent.
  4. A slow growth to success was the only way.
  5. People were less concerned with being polished and more concerned with being real. Transparency was a must.

I miss those days.

What do you remember from the early days of blogging? Share in the comments.

87 thoughts on “5 Lessons from the Early Days of Blogging

  1. I started blogging for fun in 2004 and yes, the whole thing came with less stress and more heartfelt smiles. Did I want others to come to my blog? Easy, I would seek other similar blogs via web search and link exchanges, I would leave comments and friendly emails, and a relationship was born.

    I used to keep personal paper journals (I still do) but I loved the fact that I could keep a public journal, too, for people to look into my heart. I loved the fact that people would talk to me based on the way I presented myself (my real, inner self) rather than on my looks (which regularly ended up having me teased or bullied). It felt like Heaven.

    I still blog for fun. I still keep online personal journals. But I blog for business, too. The two kinds of blogging really complete each other. But oh, they are much more time consuming than it used to be! Search engines got strict over indexed content, people got more selective of what they read online, so even a personal blogger must sometimes learn a bit of marketing in order to catch others’ attention. It is all a little sad— somehow.

    But I come to your blog because you get to deliver both the worlds (personal and business) in a unique voice. I love your transparency and honesty, Jeff. 🙂 Your blog has a hint of that nostalgic past.

    Keep it up. Please.

    All the best,
    ~ Luana S.

  2. I can’t really remember when I started to learn what a blog is, but I am pretty sure that I have read a lot of them even before I realized what they are. And the blogs I’ve encountered during those days were more unique, in the sense that not many blogs are similar in content. And they were not geared towards promoting any product or service. They’re simply written to inform and entertain.

  3. i have only been writing for several months. motivated  to finally put keystroke to screen by your 15 days of declaring i am a writer series.  at times when i feel hurried or pressed to get my message to more people, i remember the different things you’ve written about relationship. and when i do,  i genuinely enjoy the process of building a tribe even more.  getting to know instead of getting to. 

    1. I think the reality of numbers was always lurking in the back of a person’s mind (I use to check my Technorati score like an addict), but the real question for me is this: Is it all agenda-driven now? Do I care about spreading ideas for the sake of spreading ideas?

  4. Definitely miss the relationship part of it all. The interaction is what made writing fun. When it is missing, I feel like an entertainer trying to dance a little better than my previous performance.

  5. I joined the blogging world too late to remember those days, but I think building relationships and creating links is still one of the most important things we can do.  Honest content is still king, too.  My blog is more simple then many, but I like it that way for now.  I might add a little more as I gain more traffic, but it really is about being honest, sincere, and communicating effectively about the art and craft of writing.

  6. When I started blogging about my business, nobody knew what blogging was. Funny name. Then my boss figured it out and wanted everyone in the company to blog. We even paid a piece rate. Not many takers.

    Turns out that it’s hard to get people to write. To them it’s more like flogging, not blogging.

  7. I still employ most of what you mentioned although consistency is a little harder these days (consistency in this case meaning posting on a regular basis) since I manage 2 personal blogs and one for an organization I belong to. I do however employ consistency with regards to quality, especially with my literary/historical blog devoted to Louisa May Alcott. I am proud to say that I have earned the respect of scholars, teachers and the academic community with my blog because of my devotion to citing sources for my opinions. This is a hard group to win over since blogs are considered quite suspect in the academic community, especially when done by an unknown. Nothing makes me happier than to receive an email from a teacher, author or scholar who writes favorably about my blog and wants to use information from it. I’ve been doing it 2-1/2 years and love the process more than ever. It (and you, Jeff) made me declare to my surprise, “I am a writer!” 🙂

  8. I started an online magazine before social media, in a way it was like several blogs on one site – I wrote the main front copy and had some contibutors on specific topics who were on other pages. It was a website I updated and archived each week on sitebuilder. I created graphics for the articles and sold ads that I created the way you would have in a newspaper, and those ad graphics linked to a website or sometimes just an email address because some of my advertisers didn’t even have a website then. It was a crazy amount of work and I couldn’t keep it going – I had about 600 subscribers when I called it quits. Facebook started about three months before I stopped. I often wonder what I may have been able to grow to had I had twitter, a facebook fanpage, Pinterest, ……

  9. There are a lot  more blogs out there today, but the five lessons you listed seem to apply now as much as back then. Even the one about being remarkable … that only happens when we learn the other four lessons. Thanks for focusing on good blogging.   

  10. I started an online magazine before social media, in a way it was like several blogs on one site – I wrote the main front copy and had some contibutors on specific topics who were on other pages. It was a website I updated and archived each week on sitebuilder. I created graphics for the articles and sold ads that I created the way you would have in a newspaper, and those ad graphics linked to a website or sometimes just an email address because some of my advertisers didn’t even have a website then. It was a crazy amount of work and I couldn’t keep it going – I had about 600 subscribers when I called it quits. Facebook started about three months before I stopped. I often wonder what I may have been able to grow to had I had twitter, a facebook fanpage, Pinterest, ……

  11. You said it all. I didn’t blog in the “early days”. But, I read a few on a regular basis, and what I miss from a readers perspective is the way people used to write. Blog posts weren’t laced with as much marketing tricks back then. Writers were doing their own thing instead of doing what they think “works” because of what they read on copyblogger or some other problogging advice site.

  12. I remember writing online when things were called “online journals” (instead of blogs) and Webrings connected communities of thinkers and you had a Geocities or AOL.com page. Ah, the days.

    1. I had a Geocities page AND an AOL website. It was a Star Wars static page with a lightsaber GIF image that illuminated every few seconds; I also had a scrolling marquee that said “May the Force be with you.” In other words, I was WAY cool. 😉

  13. I remember life before WordPress. I remember going through multiple blogging platforms until I found WP, and I became an absolute fan. I also remember trying to “blog” on an HTML site; that was about as fun as a sharp stick in the eye. 🙂

    I can appreciate what Denise is saying about marketing “tricks”. I see it a lot in other areas of online media that I follow, and it gets old fast. Mostly however, I think this comes from people who are trying to use blogging for mass control instead of for making a personal connection. It’s readily apparent that audiences are getting a lot smarter, and that presently this approach is losing its effectiveness as readers become savvier.

  14. I agree completely that blogging is about the relationships.  So much of what goes on with blogs– all the fests and hops– are lacking content and authenticity. I don’t feel a connection with the writer. I love the dialogue and exchange of ideas.  Thanks for reminding us what a blog can still be.

  15. I haven’t blogged earlier in those days but what I like is “Blogging was about  relationship” is truly a remarkable point 🙂

  16. Funny.  I had the exact same thought this morning when I posted. I also think a lot more people used Google Reader, and the Blogger Dashboard of “followed blogs.” 

  17. In the early days, we weren’t lost among all the chatter. And you’re right, if something took off, you knew it was because something important was said. Sometimes now, I’m not sure if it’s truly because of great content or just popularity. In the beginning it was about sharing real life. 

  18. I read Pioneer Woman,  when she would get maybe 20 comments per post.  I am so glad for bloggers to gain success and all that stuff.  But I do miss the small feeling of community.  Thinking about this helps me appreciate my tiny blog.  

  19. I think they are still important lessons. Let’s bring them back! Let’s write from the heart, build relationships and lead by example. Thanks for posting a reminder!

  20. Way, way back in 2002 or so I discussed a new form of writing called “web-blogging” with a good friend who had set up a business forum we both moderated.  This guy was a genius – he called everything happening now in permission-based marketing way back in 2000, but didn’t have the patience to wait for the communication modes to catch up with him. 

    Anyway, we both thought blogging was stupid and would never make a dent in on-line forums simply because it seemed early on to only be for narcissistic people.  Who would want to read someone’s take on life every day? Kind of whiffed on that one.

  21. Jeff,

    I hate the term “Go Viral”. It’s connotation is easy success.  If I write just one awesome post that gets tweeted by Chris Brogan all my dreams will come true…

    How about you write for a year without opening Google Analytics?  Take that challenge…

    When you’re not worried about counting numbers you focus on what truly matters… The quality of your product.

    Great stuff dude,


    1. Wow, what a question… “How about you write for a year without opening Google Analytics.” Man that is straight up awesome. 

      I’ve fought with being a slave to numbers and ultimately stepped pretty far away from being so vanity and stat driven focused. It’s a losing proposition. I really have no interest in being remembered or spending all my time chasing numbers on a screen. Not to mention that most of those numbers still really don’t tell us a lot about meaningful things. Those intangible things just can’t be measured on a pie chart or bar graph. 

      Awesome feedback Ryan. 

      1. You know how I measure the impact of an article?

        emails and new subscriptions…  When I write something powerful people find a way to email me their thoughts and sign up for my newsletter…

        Traffic?  Important but not a true indicator.

  22. i miss calling my blog a “weblog”, i miss having a website that included a blog and other stuff, i miss those early days predating weblog sites like xanga, when people signed guestbooks on websites rather than comments specific to a blogpost. i miss those days when there weren’t any rules, before jargon like “content” and “platform” existed. 

    i miss those days, too.

  23. I made some of my very best friends through blogging.  Finally I wasn’t the only weirdo!  I came across people like me from all over the world.  Back then we were working out our faith in the only “safe” forum we could find.  Many (like me) started anonymously. Felt like we had to.  

    While I haven’t kept track of everyone from those early days, there are a handful have had a huge impact on my life.  I suppose if there’s one thing that makes me sad about folks who start blogging now, it’s the fact that it comes with the pressure to monetize, to influence, to become some kind of celebrity.  Often, just have a space of your own is enough.

  24. I have JUST STARTED blogging-so I hope to keep it simple and not feel like I have to compete. In the future, it would be nice to be recognized that my writing has “touched” some people. If I do make some $$$ at it-that will be an even better perk-but I just enjoy writing my haiku poems.

  25. I miss the earlier days of blogging, because it was a new expression that everyone was trying to figure out. I have to admit that I like that blogging has come full circle. In the past bloggers tried mimicking what big publishers were doing,but now they are trying to mimic us.

    It’s interesting to watch it change, but the heart of the early bloggers keeps this process stronger and better than before.

    Thanks for sharing Jeff!

  26. This really tugged at my heart. It was a different world then for sure. The relationships and being real — I still try to keep that — but remembering back those are some found memories. No niche, just carefree words to inspire and challenge or give a laugh. Thanks – I miss those days too.

  27. I came to the world of blogging right at the “turn” of social  media. Facebook was still a fairly new thing, and Twitter was unheard of. I love those days!

    When I would meet someone I didn’t know except through the blog, the comment that I remember getting more than any other was simply that they were thankful I kept writing. As you said, Jeff, consistency was (and I think is) the key. If the content is good and you keep at it, people will show up. Social media has simply accelerated that, but it has always been true.

  28. I feel I’m in the early days of blogging. I really only got serious about it a year ago. But in 2009, I started a blog (very infrequent I must say). And my purpose was to offer hope and encouragement. That’s it. I wanted to be a voice who brought hope to people.
    Thanks for this great post, Jeff.

  29. We blogged our way through adopting our child.  It allowed us the ability to share with lots of our friends and family what was taking place in the process.  It also served as a support group to others along the way.

    There was no pressure to “up our game.”

  30. OK . . . you almost made me cry, Jeff.  

    And you got me to leave a blog comment.  Huge.   Because I am a lurker.

    I miss the transparency . . .the realness . . . the big group of people who blogged to blog.  Nothing about being an affiliate or the constant drive to earn money off of your blog.  

    Don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty.  And it is a constant battle for me to only write for the Lord.  And sometimes to put the computer aside even when I WANT to write . . . but knowing the little eyes begging for attention are more important.  

    All said some of my dearest friends have been made through blogging . . . but I miss the infancy of my blog . . . when even I was less consumed with having to post.  

  31. Jeff, I started blogging in 2004 on Xanga and continued thru the summer of 2011 when I switched over to WordPress and I find your five lessons learned to be spot on.  Thanks for reminding us about the early days of blogging.


  32. In the early days of blogging, it was pay-per-view and someone kiped one of my magazine articles and made 24 dollars off it before I caught him and sicked my editor on him. Sighs.

    That is my one big memory and I still do not like blogging, fb’ing, or twitting. Sorry.

    I only do those things because they say we must, like eating your veggies or exercising. You hafta. Sighs.

  33. Early days, nowadays — the same. Mine is mostly hit-and-miss. Which means “miss.” Lesson #3: Be consistent. Maybe I should be, huh?

  34. I remember being on xanga. That was my first “blogging” experience back in 2004. It was mostly copying and pasting those silly surveys where you answer questions like, “What is your favorite drink?” Good times. Good times. The content on my now self-hosted blog (ditched Xanga for Myspace and Myspace for my own blog) has gotten meatier and more professional. Almost as professional as answering the question, “How many times have you used the bathroom today?” I keep it classy over at hannahbunker.com.


  35. My first blog  was 10 years ago, and what a joy it was.  My energy hadn’t yet been sucked dry by the dos and don’t, the shoulds and oughts, the marketing and the free blog sites requiring constant upsells to do what I wanted to do.  The package was there, for a minimal cost, and everything I needed to let her rip was mine, mine, mine.  I hadn’t yet felt trapped in an endless cycle of more money to meet imposed guidelines.  I hadn’t yet learned to blog with a “why.”  My “why” filled my days and I couldn’t wait to share it on my spiffy blog, filled with photos and ramblings and musings and doubts and blunders and triumphs.  It was the real thing, and I made real friends who were just as uninformed as I in the fine art of blogging.  Transparent?  What the heck was that?  None of us had yet learned to be anything but this thing called transparent.  I wish those days were still with me, but you know what “they” say, gotta let go of what was to grasp what is.  That would be easier if it were more quiet and  there was half a chance of understanding what is, is.

  36. I think there are now so many blogs that people don’t take the time to add comments.  Often they read them from their smart phones and browse quickly.  I started my blog in 2007 and as I look back to the earlier days, that was when many relationships were formed as we read and commented on each other’s blogs in our niche.  

  37. Man I miss those days. We had small circles of blogging communities and we regularly visited and commented on each others blogs. We looked forward to “playing” link-up games on a weekly basis so we could meet new visitors and find new blogs. We didn’t have 50,000 tools to figure out and decide from. Back then good writing and photography is really what made a blog stand out. *sigh*

  38. I started my blog, like you said, Jeff, as online journal.  I then followed other people’s advice, and tried to create content I thought would intererest others. Now I think it’s a little bit of both.  And no, it’s not perfect, but at least I’m putting myself out there…which, of course, is the first step in building relationships.

  39. There was a character on Saturday night live called, “Grumpy Old Man” and he started his skit with “Back in my day”… this post should have started, Back in My Day! I totally agree with you. As twitter has increased my real interaction with other bloggers has decreased. It is sad. 

  40. Thanks for this post, Jeff. I’m just coming to the end of my fourth year of blogging, and even in that short time, a lot has changed. It’s really easy to get “big” (in terms of traffic) but not necessarily to have genuine influence. 

    There are lots of folks who seem to be little more than a flash in the pan—they get attention by being critical and controversial, but they always disappear. Their platform—controversy—isn’t sustainable. 

    But genuine influence still requires work, time, and consistency. It’s still about building a relationship with peers and our audience. 

    In that sense, I’m not sure the “old days” of blogging are really gone, nor will they ever be. For that, I’m very grateful. 

  41. In the early days of blogging… 

    People thought you had super powers or genius abilities if you had a site – especially as a high schooler. Haha.
    Then Myspace hosted blogs, and made blogging hip and accessible. I remember I had 67 comments on my first blog in 2004. Friends begged for more and said I’d be famous. Ha, I decided blogging was worthwhile.

    Blogger.com was cutting edge and satisfactory. People did it for passion, not monetization. Nothing wrong with either, except for one produces better content than the other.

  42. O, the days of the online diary, or journalling- that’s what we called it. My first one began in 1997 and was part of the Open Diary webring. I had also created a random diary generator that consisted of a few paragraphs created by selecting the first sentence from one random journaler, the second sentence from a second, etc. to create some pretty wild ghost-in-the-machine stories that would tease one’s subconscious mind a bit.

    In the course of writing, there was something so uncharted about the transparency that we were creating, it was like we were drawn to the others who were doing the same. I can remember at least three or four local get-togethers in the early days of blogging and was fortunate to meet many kindreds, those of us who had no choice except to share our exploration of words, the online medium, and our own spectres.

    Once again, Jeff, your nail hits true.

  43. Ah, the good ol’ days. I think there is still definitely a place for tight-knit communities like the old blogging circles of the late 90’s and early 00’s. The blogs that remain consistent, transparent, and genuine are the ones that will succeed, as your has. There’s a lot of crap out there now, but that doesn’t mean that the good stuff is any less valuable. There’s just more noise.

  44. I remember my very first blog post a little over a year ago. I wondered if I would get any comments at all. I have one comment on that post, “Can you add a “Like” button? Fun pieces, look forward to reading more. Keep it up.” I did. I am now on LinkedIn, Twitter, have a Facebook Page, have received many peer awards, have been paid for my blog pieces, have been asked to guest post by people I admire, have had my blog posts put in an anthology (my first book), etc. and have many followers. I don’t even worry about “making it” any more. I worry about honing my craft and entertaining people. I value my relationships with my readers and my writing future seems bright. I faced and conquered the fear of the unknown. What if I hadn’t? I don’t want to know ;0)

  45. I remember it used to be easier to read all my favorite blogs. Today some of my favorites get lost within the favorites because there is only so much time. 

  46. I remember doing “Blogger Idol” with ProBlogger back when he was a nobody (I’m still a nobody!). We wrote to write and have fun. I had a shirt that says “I’m blogging this” and everyone would ask me “what is blog?” I felt special. 

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