Reading 2: History of the Web

Please read this recent piece from Vanity Fair. Knowing the history of the Web is key to understanding the rise of social media and the current opportunities/challenges for journalism (online, in print, on TV, or in whatever other form it takes). As you read this oral history, ask yourself: How does this account track with the past 50 years of journalism and media — similiarities, differences, etc.? Looking ahead, what does this history tell us about what we might expect about the future of journalism? Also, connect this with the previous reading on the state of citizen media. What kind of picture are you getting about the state of news production and dissemination today, and what role ordinary people can play in that process?

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12 Responses to “Reading 2: History of the Web”


  1. 1 Caitlin W September 2, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    In terms of the history of the net and that of journalism/media, I think that the article seems to imply that technologies often stump money-minded media corporations, like with the AT&T example. At least, this seems to be the case for larger corporations – another example is given about the Clinton/Monica scandal, and how the news organizations did not want to bring up the issue because Matt Drudge was seen as an illegitimate source. From my own experience in other classes, I feel like many people still think of the internet as a less-trustworthy source of news information. However, I do think there has been a shift, and as the popularity of the internet has grown, existing news organizations have joined their blogger counterparts on the web.

    In terms of citizen-journalism, the shift in Web 2.0 to more user-friendly and participatory websites points to continuing participation in the ability of citizens to share news pertinent to them. Someone made an important comment on the last article about the “citizenry” actually being quite limited – only those people with access to the machinery can use it, and that is a small number compared to the world’s population. However, if more programs come about that put computers and cell-phones and other devices in the hands of a more diverse citizenry, these people can report and post what they have discovered on websites like YouTube or Ning.

    Perhaps as journalists re-discover how to report the news through the technologies being introduced all of the time into our society, the atmosphere will change back to that of collaboration, because everyone will be “new” at the new techniques used in journalism and angry competition will be deemed detrimental to all. We shall see!

  2. 2 jbechdel September 2, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    If anything, I think the Vanity Fair piece tells us more about human behavoir. The comments by the early founders of the Internet regarding AT&T were almost comical, but they highlight a recurring trend in human interaction with technology. This doesn’t exclude online journalism, either. The same theme was brought up during the Clinton scandal with Matt Drudge. Those in power (AT&T, MSM) skeptically view the newcomers and the the ones who shake things up (Internet founders, online citizen journalism).

    Even more interesting were the comments by one of the Yahoo! founders. At one point he stated that he had no idea where the money would come from for what they were doing, and then one day advertising presented itself as the solution. Bloggers, citizen journalists and even MSM publications are at this critical stage in their own existence. What will keep local city newspapers alive? How deep into this new culture of reporting will they have to go before they find a sustainable business model? In retrospect, Yahoo!’s problem seems simple, yet I’m sure advertisers weren’t sold (excuse the pun) on online ads generating the same kind of revenue as print ads.

    As discussed in class, the state of news production and the role of citizens in that process is rapidly evolving. I’m not sure it’s enitrely clear from either of these articles “where we’re going,” but it seems that for now there seems to be a tentative balance. MSM souces tend to be more-highly regarded, while blogs and citizen media is on the rise. Every time a Matt Drudge is right, progress (and prominence) is made for citizen media, and every time the DailyKos is wrong (the Palin rumors from last weekend), it’s a step back for credibility in the public’s eye. But one thing that is important to note is that once these types of sites gain credibility, it will be harder for them to lose it. I would guess that Matt Drudge gained more readers by his breaking news than the DailyKos lost for their error. Once these sites establish their niche and are in the quasi-mainstream, they likely will not go away easily.

  3. 3 Holley N September 3, 2008 at 12:06 am

    The article starts talking about how the Internet all started for the sake of national security, and I think, in a way this is still one of the reasons it can exist.

    I think on monitoring the Internet, this concept is still around, but I’m not sure that’s something you can do. There has always been a lot of talk about it, but I think the Internet is something that will never be completely monitored, it would take a miracle regulate across international borders. But, I do believe there is a balance that has to be found between regulation and a total free-for-all. I think at some point, there has to be a filter.

    As I read, I realized that the Internet is still changing society in big ways, like it was 50 years ago, and I think it will always be updating and it will always surprise and change society. As Vinod Khosla said “…society organizes around the channels,” and I believe that is exactly what society continues to do. Like I mentioned in my post on the first reading, mainstream creations like ireport and UReport are allowing audiences to engage in journalism like never before. It’s almost as if the network is allowing viewers and readers to have a taste of the last word, but in the end the network still controls what airs…what the world sees.

    Paul Baran, says back then, all people wanted to do is help each other and now everyone just wants cash in their pockets. While, I think there is truth to his observation, I also think the PEJ article emphasized an important point about the booming use and creation of blogs and “citizen” sites. The article pointed out that the Huffington Post had thousands of volunteer bloggers that were not paid, and so I think people do want to be heard, and seen, but I also think they want to help others be passionate about what they care about. So in a way, I think there are people in the online world that do want to help others.

  4. 4 Mollie B. September 3, 2008 at 12:10 am

    The Vanity Fair piece was really interesting to read. It shows us a lot about how communication has changed and how people began to harness the internet to make change of their own. The role of citizen media is clearly outlined here. People, like the creator of Craigslist, eBay and YouTube, had very simple ideas of bringing people together through the use of the internet. I think that the Drudge Report during the Clinton/Lewinksy scandal was a huge factor in showing that major news industries may not be on top of everything. Of course, this also made the profession look bad when they were scooped on this story. The Clinton/Lewinksy scandal also proved that the internet could become a significant source of official information, such as the documents from the trial that were posted on the web, and that people wanted this kind of information. I think this history of the internet shows us that it is continually changing and people are finding even more uses to use it. It proves that the journalism industry must also find a way to adapt and take advantage of the internet to be able to deliver information to people with the same accuracy, fairness and integrity as it has in the past.

  5. 5 Raquel September 2, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    When I compare the histories of the Internet to the last 50 years of journalism I think of the impact each had on each other. The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was definitely a stepping-stone in favor of journalism, because had it not been for the Drudge report the simple rumor might not have had greater implications. But like the article says, it takes years for people to understand the behavior of new media, like the first 15 years of television that taped live radio shows.

    The Internet and journalism are similar in that they seek to protect, the first to protect government interests and the second to protect truth. Truth is more and more in the hands of citizens, and not the press. Citizens can be journalists because the web gives them those tools, tools to put out news of all sorts that represent a two-way communication, and not just one like it was with TV.

    World news might be interesting, but what’s most interesting to people is what affects them directly, what happens in their community. And Internet is a community. Its nature is of a two-way communication, not just one-way like it was for TV. This community is instantly connected, through chat, social groups, email, but as there is good email there is also junk email. And as there are citizen journalists that produce good information, there are also those that produce falsities which evokes the idea from the PEJ, that user content must be limited to protect the truth.

    Also interesting is the economics aspect of journalism and the Internet. How at the beginning people didn’t know the economics of the Internet evokes our current state of uncertainty as to how the economic model for online journalism will be.

  6. 6 kwalla September 2, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Like Elon Musk said, “[The internet] was like humanity getting a nervous system.” It gave humanity a way to tell all of its parts any information needed. Since its inception, humanity has never been the same.

    Journalism’s connection with the internet has been like most large organizations in our culture that have, at first, doubted the internet’s potential for takeover until the point where the internet has, in fact, begun to take over. Through learning about the history of the internet, we see how rapid the changes of the last 10 years have really occurred, considering the first usage of the internet was in 1969.

    One interviewee nailed it on the head when saying, “We thought community trumped content,” meaning that the fact that people–many people–were on it, was more important than what information was actually there. By the same logic, the fact that many people were out there using this new device ensured that the content WOULD be there. This community emphasis hints at the way Journalism has come full circle in a way. An industry that started at the very smallest local level with out loud readings of town news, to pamphlets, to local papers and on, has now expanded so much that it is once again more local, while at the same time giving the ability to be more global than ever. In other words, individuals on the smallest level can contribute while broadcasting not only to their neighborhood, but simultaneously on the other side of the world.

    In this way, journalism’s past, present, and future have collided through the exponentially rising use of the internet as its channel. This new electronic “nervous system” has created a simultaneous local and global news source for any and all to use and contribute at will. Communication will never again be the same.

  7. 7 pieper12 September 3, 2008 at 1:36 am

    The piece displays the importance of other media outlets than your traditions news sources. The example about the Drudge Report regarding the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal denotes another’s ability to put out a newsworthy topic, even before a true news medium can!

    There is still skepticism to the credibility of information found on the internet, but there is a lot of truth as well. The citizen journalism phenomenon is growing and is allowing a collaboration of actual citizens to post their ideals, inputs, advice on the web. Many times they find themselves documenting their lives and experiences on the web, but there is a lot of truth to them. Again, the credibility is still pretty iffy when it comes to obtaining reliable information from blog sites and other independent websites, but the internet industry is growing and changing everyday. There is still so much room for improvement and adaptation.

    The past 50 years have shown us how important the internet has become as a media outlet and has definitely proven how much it can change in such a relatively short period of time.

    From the previous reading, it is obvious that there are so many new ideals being added as a new source of information via the web. Censorship seems a pending threat to bloggers, but as they have done many times before, new members of the media will have to adapt to the changes surrounding them and the changes to come.

  8. 8 Jane Kim September 3, 2008 at 4:39 am

    The Vanity Fair piece basically demonstrates the pattern in which human society accepts innovation. According to a report by Gartner Executive Programs, participants in change follow a predictable cycle of adoption – ridicule, denial, testing skepticism, disbelief, doubtful initiation, initial success, acceptance, ongoing improvement, and then revolution.
    The Internet at first was ridiculed by AT&T and while they were in state of denial they missed out on the opportunity to participate in the initiation of what became the basis of modern society.
    In the same way, mainstream media has missed out on being the main agent for citizen participation. Who knows, if they had jumped onboard sooner, Blogspot or WordPress might have actually been part of a news site.
    Currently, I think media is in the ongoing improvement stage – there is still a long way to go before the system is totally revolutionized and a perfect balance between user generated content and mainstream media is created.
    Some seem to think that better censorship might be the only way to manage the quality of citizen journalism, and I agree, but not in the same way. I don’t think there needs to be a central agent that controls the content, because obviously it threatens the entire ideal of citizen participation. The answer is in the censorship by the citizens themselves, and I believe it is already happening now. Blogs that post thoughtful and high quality articles quickly gain popularity among users while blogs that don’t become ineffective.
    As the quality of the Internet and the web improved through competition, I believe blogging will improve in the same way.

  9. 9 Caroline Page September 3, 2008 at 8:28 am

    The fact that scientists were given grants and left alone – Although I don’t know much about the strings that are attached between those who fund scientists and the scientists, I believe the scientists are more micro-managed today. The men who pioneered the early phases of the Internet did not know the extent of what they were going to create – they were experimenting and not aiming at a specific goal. Our technology is so advanced now that the growing developments and inventions have a much narrower focus. It is truly amazing to me how in a relatively short period of time we have gone from Internet connection being a “job for wizards” to infinite possibilities and easy access.

    The parallelism to this historical piece and the evolution of journalism in the past 50 years is evident. Journalism 50 years ago consisted of majority white males who were very specialized and had significant limitations in what they could report on. There were no fancy graphics or headlines and the news was strictly a reporter sitting in front of a desk and simply orating the nightly news. In some ways the simplicity of it is endearing, but Americans are blessed today to be more directly involved in the media. News channels, newspaper and other publications relate specific comments, questions and concerns from citizens. I can only see citizen journalism growing in the future and “ordinary” people having increasing involvement. In the Vanity Fair piece, the pioneers admitted to somewhat blindly creating the basic ingredients in today’s World Wide Web. In terms of journalism aiming to keep up with the times, I see that as a goal and in direct response to viewer’s desires.

  10. 10 Brittany September 4, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    I think that this piece ties in well with our discussions about citizen journalism, blogging and the current state of journalism. There is a quote in the Vanity Fair article that stuck out to me. Elon Musk said of the internet, “It’s very difficult to hide information. If it was possible to do a conspiracy in the past, it’s very hard to do a conspiracy now.” It is so true that the proliferation of internet sites and the ever increasing efficiency of search engines like Google make a vast amount of information open to the public. Documents that people might normally have overlooked because of the inconvenience of having to go copy them are making it into journalism stories and blogs. You no longer have to consult a book in a library or an expert at a University to get the information you need. Computers with internet connections are waiting everywhere to help you. To me this is the most relevant aspect of the evolution of the internet.

    To tie the two articles together, I think the evolution of the internet has manifested a much greater interest in journalism and investigative reporting. Suddenly laymen now have the means to do reporting of their own, and not only the means to write but a way to get it out to a huge audience. People generally love sharing their opinions with anyone who will listen. The internet now allows a medium for those interested to share their thoughts on anything, and many people are taking advantage of this fact in the form of citizen journalism. The easy access to information provided by the internet allows for citizens to actively investigate things going on in their community. This participation is rapidly changing the traditional world of journalism as we know it. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.

  11. 11 Saul September 4, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Brittany, I think that’s a really interesting point–that for all that the web has made us all start losing our traditional research skills, it has also–thanks, mostly, to Google–helped make once-esoteric information available to everyone. In a sense, it’s lowered the bar on knowledge, and on that level it’s been a democratizing institution.

    But I would add to that that, as your teachers always said in high school–“Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.” So yes, it’s easy as hell to find an answer to your question on Yahoo! Answers or ehow.com or something, and yes, Wikipedia seems to have worked well at moderating itself. But the reality is that a fact you get from an expert, or out of an encyclopedia, is more trustworthy than one you get from a lot of sites online. Yeah, that’s changing, but slowly. I think there have to be gatekeepers for that information. Otherwise, there’s no way for us to know what’s real and what isn’t. In conventional publication, these people are called publishers, editors, book critics, review panels–in the blogosphere, what you have is a vast miasma of assertion and opinion.

    I don’t believe in objective truth, or at least objectively knowable truth. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinion–good for them. But I also believe that uncensored, metastasizing information is not a good thing. That’s an elitist idea, I realize, but only in the sense that it says that there should be a bar set before something has the stamp of authenticity that marks published ‘fact.’

  12. 12 Briana C September 4, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I think the conception of the internet goes right along with the model for the conception of media. In the article, they stressed the fact that it takes a while for new information channels to reach their full potential. They gave the example of when television was first invented… they taped radio broadcasts. Now, television connects billions of people by allowing them to receive information in the comfort of their homes. While I don’t know much about the history of journalism (haven’t taken the course yet… lol), I imagine that papers and reporters didn’t start out as successful as they became later on. Both the internet and the news paper “boomed” during the time period when they were the most vital source of information. I also thought it was interesting that the article cited 9/11 as the catalyst when the internet became people’s key source of news.

    We not live in an age where people like their information at their fingertips, and as the reading said, news is more of a service now than a product. The internet, the machine that we make it, has the ability to tell journalists what kinds of news people want, and in return, journalists can produce more of that type of news. This also goes along with the trend of the scope of journalism becoming more narrow. I think that this is a double-edged sword, because while people are getting the news they want, they may not be getting the news they need. Raquel stated that it’s important that people are now enabled to read parochial news that directly affects their community, but I would argue that sometimes news that happens on the other side of the world can affect you more, or at least at the same level.

    In the future, I think journalism will become even more consumer oriented. People will pay for what they want, and therefore it is in the best interest of journalists to produce what people want. Unfortunately, people want scandal and sensation often times as in the case of the drudger report on the Lewinsky scandal. Indy writers and the mainstream must reach a common ground where the positive aspects of each type of writing can combine to produce both a product and a service that will be useful and beneficial to readers. I think it would be a neat idea (if there already isn’t one) to have a mainstream news website be run more like a blog, meaning a change in vernacular, style, and appearance. I wish the New York Times website and articles were formatted like Perez Hilton’s! I would be on it all the time!
    -Bri


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