“ I resist anything better than my own diversity.”

—Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

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Location: Columbus, OH, United States

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Small Beginnings, Greater Ends

So said St. Francis of Assissi. I first heard these words in the song "If You Want Your Dream To Be", by Donovan, from Franco Zeffirelli's 1973 film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon".

For my first post, I ponder: what was the first blog? The question of "firsts" is always interesting. For example, what was the first English novel? Some say Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and others, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, but neither of these seem particularly novel-like to me---not enough interactions among characters, which I'd say would be the defining trait. I would vote for Richardson's Pamela.

Back to blogs. I propose that the first was John Baez's This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics, which he began on January 19, 1993. True, blogs are supposed to update more often than weekly; and This Week's Finds started out on a Usenet newsgroup, not the web. But blogs often don't update even as much as weekly, and I'd say no other blogger has the track record of John Baez. Moreover, newsgroups are all on the web now anyway. Speaking of which, the Google Groups 2 beta launched today!

Back to Baez. He seems to me to capture the spirit of a blog in a couple of ways. He puts together a bunch of things he's just learned and gotten excited about that week, even if they don't necessarily have to do with each other. And he always links in lots of references to other people and their work---in fact this is more or less the main point of his column. At first the references were just citations, but for quite a while now they've usually been hyperlinks to preprints, usually on the arXiv.org e-Print archive.

Those more interested in the history of electronic media than in mathematical physics can check out Week 32, where he discovers the World Wide Web, and Week 84, where he discovers the search engine (namely AltaVista), among many other interesting things.

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