March 20, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Blogs turn 10--who's the father?
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Some of Carmack's frequent updates described programming accomplishments, such as "made qport more random" and "fixed map reconnecting." Others were conversational: "Quake has bugs. I freely acknowledge it, and I regret them. However, Quake 1 is no longer being actively developed, and any remaining bugs are unlikely to be fixed. We would still like to be aware of all the problems, so we can try to avoid them in Quake 2."
The humble .plan file even played a role in the early history of the Linux kernel. In July 1991, as part of his first public post about the kernel, Linux developer Linus Torvalds asked for help with operating system standards. As an aside, he also mentioned a tweak to his .plan file to make it change automatically, and that was what generated far more attention.
Torvalds' Usenet post was eventually seen by Ari Lemmke, who gave Linux its name (Torvalds had proposed "Freax") and who provided an online home for what would become one of the world's most popular operating systems, according to Torvalds' own history.
Putting a 'finger' on blogging's birth
Dot-plan files were read through the "finger" command, which is so antique it actually dates back to the pre-Internet days of the ARPAnet.
It was created in the early 1970s by Les Earnest, who had already invented the first spell-checker and the first successful cursive writing recognizer. Earnest is currently a senior research scientist emeritus at Stanford University's computer science department, an enthusiastic bicyclist and a cycling association official. (Read the rest of an interview with Earnest).
"It was used in much the same way as blogs are now--that is, the .plan file was intended to be just a way to tell people where you were going to be," Earnest said in a telephone interview. "If you were going off on vacation or a trip or something, or were just going to sleep for a while, you could post that in your .plan file. But then people noticed that it could be used as a statement of personal views on things and they started doing that...(For) expressing your personal views on things, it was very much like a blog, a personal blog."
Earnest's creation of the "finger" command and .plan file became an official standard (RFC 742) in December 1977 and was updated in 1991. (Along the way, of course, it also led to innumerable jokes about how to "finger me" among oversexed computer science undergraduates.)
Students used them to keep journals, post schedules, or talk about tae kwon do practice. In 1994, one undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University created a rambling online diary in his .plan file that was hundreds of pages long. Some still exist today.
Because they were merely text files, however, even the most sophisticated .plan files could not include features we take for granted in blogs today: RSS, CSS, trackbacks, formatted text, hyperlinks, and of course, comments.
Those were gradually added after the Web was created, and Justin Hall was one of the first Web-based diarists to experiment with this then-novel medium. He was profiled by the Times for his very personal diaries at links.net, which began when he was a student at Swarthmore College. Hall is now working on a research area that he calls passively multiplayer online games.
In an interview on Monday, Hall said he started in January 1994. "I was inspired by every home page I saw online--a picture of some scientist and his dog, his collection of old English riddles, whatever--it was so simple and trivial, I thought, it can't be hard to post a page here," he said. "It wasn't hard at all! Once I found a way to post my pages up, I could create more and more interlinked text."
Hall doesn't claim to be the first blogger; rather, he said he prefers thinking of spontaneous appearances of similar sites. "Where was the first printing press with movable type?" he asked. "Good luck tracking that down."
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