About five years ago, when I first attempted to examine home pages, I wasn't aware that anyone had conducted something called The First World Wide Web Personal Home Page Survey. Much had already been written on the subject, and I'd even read quite a bit of that, but I didn't know about the survey. At the time, the survey estimated that there were "600,000 active personal home pages in the United States". I have no idea how this estimate was reached, nor whether it's time for a new one. In the Personal Home Pages section of Yahoo!'s index, 2338 sites are listed under families. On the similar Personal Homepages section in the Open Directory Project 9470 sites are listed. Though they may be available, I'm not personally familiar with any research grants out there for studying these approximately 10,000 easily accessible sites, or the (back then) 600,000 estimated sites. Even if someone wanted to finance me on this one, I doubt I'd want the job.
But of course I'm not really interested in a statistical review of personal web pages. What does interest me is the fact that even though the phenomenon seems to have continued to grow (though not geometrically), it fell out of fashion as an issue to be investigated. I have a number of guesses as to why that might have happened. First, and perhaps easiest, when it was no longer new, it no longer remained interesting (though simply reaching a number like 600,000 personal web sites, suggests that, even back then, new was a somewhat relative term). Second, and only slightly related, numerous other tools and media captured the attention both of those who might have prepared pages, and those who reported on them. For a while, for instance, community became the buzzword, and people lost interest in the more narcissistic (really?) home page. What's more, tools like chat and Instant Messaging brought about a different sort of communication that at least slightly mitigated the need for the homepage. Third, and I suppose that this is what most interests me (and seems to have been doing so for many a column of late), the internet underwent a fundamental change, becoming less the realm for individual investigation and exposure, and more the arena of choice for fast money. Even if home pages continued to flourish, who wanted to see them - they became passe.
Lately a renewed interest in the personal web site seems again to be flourishing, this time in the guise of the Weblog, or Blog. Is a blog different from the more traditional personal web site? I suppose that in order to try and answer that question it's necessary to define the phenomenon: Blogs are web sites that easily generate journal entries onto a continually expanding web page. (Don't just take my word for it.) Though someone who maintains a blog can wield quite a bit of control over the layout of the page, in general the format is rather standard. Uploading new material to a blog is exceedingly easy, and is done from the web page itself. If, in the past, a minimum of knowledge of HTML (or less) was necessary to produce a web page, blogging makes the whole process even easier. The standard blog looks and feels much more like today's state of the art web pages than like the cutesy graphics and animated gif heavy pages that normally defined the first generation web pages of a few years ago. This contemporary feel is no doubt an advantage in the eyes of most bloggers.
Even though technology and content are intimately related, the technical aspects of blogs don't really interest me. Since very little was difficult about making a personal web site back then (the estimated 600,000 people who at least tried their hand at it before leaving their first attempts somewhere on the web for researchers to count later on seem to offer proof of that), it's hard to say that new technologies have made it significantly easier to post and/or maintain a site. Still, there's a lot to be said for outward appearances, and a mix of ease of use and esthetic design probably goes a long way toward the popularity of the medium. It also doesn't hurt to have something to say as well.
I haven't cross-checked, but it seems that web logs and personal web sites don't get cataloged in the same categories. The Open Directory Project lists 1036 personal web logs in its directory, and about 200 topic-specific blogs. Yahoo! apparently doesn't feel much of an urge to catalog the phenomenon. The 263 web logs it lists show up under Online Journals and Diaries, where 490 Individual diary sites, apparently not blogs, are also listed. There are, of course, sites that are devoted exclusively to listing blogs. The Boidem, by the way, isn't in either the Open Directory, or the Yahoo! catalog.
Though they can be tedious at times (can't we all?), blogs can be a lot of fun, and my guess is that most bloggers enjoy their self-appointed task. It makes sense to assume that they keep it up until they find that the return on their time investment no longer satisfies them. Just as there are orphaned snippets of long-abandoned personal web sites cluttering up the web, numerous blogs whose last entries are from many months previous are still out there and we occasionally bump into them. As an advocate of the personal web, the web that has real people behind it rather than corporations that seek to define our tastes and dominate our web experience, I certainly can't complain. So what if the writing and content often leave much to be desired. Let a thousand blogs bloom.
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