How Star Trek, a VCR, and dial-up Internet got me started blogging.

My blogging career started because of a VHS tape and Star Trek.

I had developed an addiction to Star Trek: TNG in college, but now I was back home and we didn’t have much hope for a TV except rabbit ears and clear skies. I knew that there was to be a five-episode special on the Top Five Fan Favorites of TNG and I so desperately wanted to see it. I called my sister Jacqui. She had cable and a VCR.

I soon had the tape and was watching it up in my room on a little 13″ TV at the foot of my bed. One episode had Wesley Crusher in it, and for some reason, I couldn’t stop wondering about Wil Wheaton.

"Blog, Julie, blog," said Wesley Crusher.

“What’s Wil Wheaton up to these days?” I thought as I went to the computer room and hopped on my Gateway computer, complete with Windows 95 and dial-up modem. Wesley Crusher was such a polarizing character for TNG fans. Through a few quick searches, I found his blog. WilWheatonDotNet.

His blog. I’d never heard of such a thing.

Getting my start in blogging

I spent the rest of the afternoon tying up the phone line reading his blog, figuring out what a blog was, and signing up for pre-Google Blogger.

It wasn’t a terribly far leap for me. I had already been doing something similar to a blog, writing a three-times-weekly series called “The J Letters” on my website. They were written one hand-coded HTML page at a time, HTML I’d learned by cleaning up the bloated mess MS Frontpage created. Style sheets weren’t really in heavy use at the start, but became the new big thing. I set up my Blogger blog to copy my website’s look and FTP’d it to my own host. I had a Netscape Navigator 4 version of my site, too. I visited WebPagesThatSuck regularly to make sure mine didn’t. I gradually left HTML and went to a classic three-column CSS design I wrote so proudly on my own. I was cooking.

The early days of blogging

This was about 2000, I suppose, and blogging was just starting to take off then. Robert Fisk had freshly annoyed the conservative and libertarian bloggers, and Fisking was all the rage.

There were only a few bloggers in North Dakota, and by just being one of the early few, I was interesting by default. I was interviewed by the Fargo Forum and the Jack and Sandy radio show out of Fargo. Most bloggers were men, and most of the blogs I came across were political blogs (poliblog).

There was no Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social media sites used as we do now, so I built readership the old-fashioned way: heavy writing and content producing, using a blogroll, commenting and participating on other’s blogs many times a day, and hoping for search hits. You had to be seriously active on other blogs then, to get people to find and link to you. Everyone wanted an Instalanche to happen, meaning we all wanted a link from Glenn Reynold’s very popular Instapundit blog. One link from him would bring unimaginable traffic. I still remember the day I had a second-generation Instalanche; a post I had written was linked to in a blog called Lead and Gold, and his post was linked on Instapundit. It was a glorious day of thousands of hits.

Blogging has changed.

I used to be an avid blog reader; some of my favorite old blogs are no longer around.

Social media and blogs

Twitter came along, and we no longer had to use a blog post for a quick update (although Instapundit still does). Facebook and other social media made it so we had another realm to drive blog traffic, find readers, and not rely on the ever-necessary blogroll and linkback. They also took much of the conversation to their walled playgrounds, leaving blog comment sections a bit more bare. Blogging started to involve more female writers, and blogs were on subjects that weren’t just political. There were cat bloggers, DIY, and of course, now, the very popular food porn bloggers. Businesses started to have blogs. Blogs were used to sell and market things. But, back when I started, it was mostly a male-dominated poliblog world. Readership was hard-fought, and the blogosphere had unwritten rules of etiquette that aren’t so much an issue now.

One of many looks of the early Lone Prairie website included these birds.

For me, it was all because of Wil Wheaton.

Sometimes I miss those early blog days. They seemed more purist about being there to change the world. They covered politics, caught Dan Rather in Rathergate, and changed the way we saw newspapers and media. It felt ad-hoc, less slick. Bloggers united around whether they’d take money for posts or were proudly un-sponsored. We were going to do away with the status quo. Media was filled with “what are blogs?!” and it was exciting to be a person who could answer the question proudly and from experience.

At my peak, and I had a really decent readership of loyal blog followers, many hundreds of hits a day. I lost it these past four or five years when life got seriously in the way and I all but stopped writing, but there was a time when I wrote every day, sometimes several times a day. People I knew — and some that I didn’t — would come up to me and tell me they loved my blog.

How odd to find myself reminiscing about blogging. It was once the upstart, but no longer.

Wil Wheaton is now in exile, but I still can’t thank him enough. All I wanted to do was write, and he showed me how I could do exactly that, with an audience — and meet people online — while living on a farm in North Dakota.

Lone Prairie Blog Factoids

  • The most traffic and blowback I’ve ever had from a post was one on church. Theobloggers grabbed it within a day and it exploded across the Christian blogosphere. I got more praise and more disparaging comments and emails from every source imaginable than I’ve ever received. It ended up in a book by Billy Graham’s grandson, and I never want the experience to happen again.
  • My top post on this blog is one on how to fill out a Navigation Log.
  • I was a contributing blogger to a Christian Theoblog, but left after an acrimonious debate which left me with a bad taste towards a lot of things. The experience caused me to stop reading argumentative us-vs-them Theoblogs altogether, and rethink their value in the Great Commission.
  • An angry reader left a comment that my blog was the “7th dark corner of the internet”, which has made me wonder about the other six, and how many corners there are to the Internet.

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