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The state of the blog

by Giles Turnbull -- 2001/02/26

Part 1: Blogger past
Evan Williams, his company Pyra, and its product Blogger, have come a long way in the last two years. He kindly agreed to answer questions in an email interview with WriteTheWeb, in which we asked for his views on the state of the weblogging scene. This is the first of three parts which will appear during the course of this week.

Pyra itself has had a rough ride in recent months. It made a (hugely successful) appeal for funds from Blogger users, but eventually had to lose all staff except Williams himself, who now runs a much simpler and quieter operation single-handed.

Our questions were divided into three sections: Blogger past, Blogger present, and Blogger to come. This first section deals with Blogger's past.

WriteTheWeb: OK, simple to start with - what date did Blogger go live?

Evan Williams: Looking back on Evhead, it looks like it was August 23, 1999.

WtW: Can you remember how you felt at the time? How much work had gone into building it at that point? Did you just feel relieved to get it out in the open, or nervous, or what?

EW: We were excited at the time, but not overwhelmingly nervous or anything. As you may have read elsewhere, we considered Blogger just a small side project at the time. What we were really working on was a much more complex groupware/web-site management product (called Pyra).

We put up Blogger just because we thought it'd be a simple little thing that was useful to a few people and, eventually, maybe we could upgrade them to Pyra. Since Blogger was based largely on code we had already written (both for our own blogs and for Pyra), the first version only took about a week of just Paul's and my time, to go from design to launch.

When it got linked to by some of the most well-read blogs at the time -- memorably, Peterme and Scripting News - we were quite excited.

WtW: What was the inspiration behind building Blogger? Can you remember how it all came together in your minds?

EW: I actually had the idea for Blogger several months before we decided to build it. All of us in the company (just Meg, Paul, and myself at the time) were publishing our own sites as weblogs. Being web developers, we naturally wrote our own code to automate the publishing of these sites.

Having done this, we realized how powerful it was to publish something on your site with such ease and immediacy. We knew that some people did blogs by hand, but I couldn't imagine why you would bother.

The seed of the idea for launching Blogger as a web app, though, came when Paul wrote a script to publish our external company blog by writing out a static file and FTPing it to our server (which we didn't have database access on at the time).

At first, we put off building the tool because it just seemed like one of many good ideas, and we felt we needed to focus (which was true). Then, we found some way to justify it and did it anyway.

WtW: More importantly, perhaps, did you have any inkling of what the reaction would be?

EW: While it seemed like useful little tool, we certainly did not account for the enthusiasm it would generate. We kept trying to go back and work on our "real" product, because Blogger just didn't seem that significant. But Blogger would not be denied our attention.

WtW: Have blogs developed in the way you expected? Did you allow yourselves any expectations?

EW: I would like to claim it was inspired genius from the beginning, but not at all. Personally, it took me a long time to realize what was so significant about both the blog format and the tool itself.

It was only after I put the Pyra product, which contained (to me) important ideas I'd been thinking about for years, on hold that I started to realize the full scope of what was happening with blogs and Blogger.

WtW: Can you give us some indication of the growth of user numbers over time?

EW: For the first couple months, we got 10-20 new users a day. We launched a new version in November of '99, after which we got a relatively large influx and were up to about 2,300 by the end of the year. Through last year, we averaged 20-40% growth per month, and that continues today. As of right now, there are 117,970 registered users. 19,582 of those signed up in January.

In part 2 of this interview: Blogger Present: personal publishing, the "Blogging concept" and Blogger Pro.