As I see it, open letters take one of two forms. The first one is possibly useful:

Dear (insert name of recipient),

Hey, I’ve lost all your contact details, and as you’ve got a pretty common name, googling you isn’t helping me find them. I’m hoping that you look at this site and remember me, and if you do, would you send me your details so we can get back in touch?

Thanks, and hope to talk to you again soon,

Open Letter Writer

(Note, that I said possibly useful – done wrong, or for the wrong reasons, and it’ll stop being useful and start being more stalkerish)

Sadly, the more common form of them is this, which is not much use to anyone

Dear person in the news who’s the ostensible recipient of this letter but is unlikely to ever read it,

Why don’t you agree with me on everything? You really should, because then everything would be great. And by ‘you’ I actually mean everyone reading this, not the ostensible recipient of it, who’s unlikely to see this, given that they’re far too busy to trawl the media looking for people who write letters to them but can’t be bothered to track down their details and send the letter to them.

Anyway, you should definitely agree with me on everything. And possibly send me money too.

Yours,

Open Letter Writer

So, now you know the secret of open letters, let’s hope you never feel the need to write one.

It’s been ten years since I decided to add a blog to my website, and I don’t think then that I expected to still be blogging ten years later. Yet here I still am still plugging away and still with a loyal band of readers who hang on my every word can’t be bothered to go through with the faff of deleting me from their feeds.

However, while I’m still blogging, the look back I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks has shown me that what we mean by ‘blogging’ has changed a lot over that time. For those of you who don’t know, ‘blog’ originates from ‘web log’, and the original blogs were essentially lists of links the blogger had found, occasionally with some added commentary. By the time I started blogging that had already begun to shift in favour of blogs being much more about the content than the links, but you can still see in my early archives that longer posts were interspersed with lots of ‘here’s an interesting link’ posts.

It’s important to remember how different things were back then – there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube and even MySpace didn’t start until a few months after I started blogging. Most people were going online via dial-up and most phones didn’t have cameras on them, let alone the ability to connect to the internet. And, of course, all this were fields, we had to get up two hours before we go to sleep and everyone respected each other in the morning.

The point I’m trying to make is that while I’ve had a blog throughout that time, the way I’ve used that blog has changed considerably. After all, if I just want to show people an interesting link or make a quick snarky comment about something, then I’ve got Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus to do that. A blog post now is something longer and (supposedly) more thought through. Indeed, I think the blog itself is much more fragmented than it was ten years ago. Back then, you tended to visit someone’s blog by going to the main page and looking through all their latest posts, now visits and links are much more to individual posts rather than the site as a whole.

The changing nature of the web has also broken down the sense of a community of blogs. Or ‘blogosphere’, which is a term that’s fallen out of favour. There’s a lot of my early posts which are on the lines of ‘in response to what X said, commenting on Y’s post about Z’s article in the Observer’ (and X and Y’s blogs have since disappeared from the web, of course) and in that sense, blogs were an early form of the public conversation that’s now moved to Twitter. In that period before the 2005 election, there was also a sense of blogs not being as partisan as they became afterwards. Sure, there were some people who seemed to be only interested in scoring party-political points, but they were in a minority with the more important division being whether you were for or against invading Iraq. I think some of that was down to the rarity of British political bloggers, though – because there were so few of us around, it was in most people’s interests to maintain good relations. As blogging grew, and little like-minded bubbles could support themselves, things became much more fragmented.

For those first couple of years, blogging was still very much a niche activity, and like a lot of internet niches then, it didn’t really interact with the wider world around it. Despite the initial idea of blogging being about finding interesting stuff and sharing it with people (the Netscape What’s New and What’s Cool lists were amongst the first blogs in form, if not in name) it became quite self-referential, with people sticking in their little bubbles and occasionally letting new people into them, but never taking more than a glance at the other bubbles they were floating alongside.

In some senses, of course, the blog won the internet. Twitter, Facebook and all the rest are, at their heart, ways of sharing content and making a log of things you’ve found on the web. However, the name of blogging remains attached to just one element of that, which has now almost entirely shed its original reason for existence. Who reads a blog for the links instead of the content nowadays?

On a personal level, it’s been very interesting to go back through these posts catching the little references to things I was doing, and remember where I was at certain points in time. It’s odd to think that I’ve had this blog in its various forms for about a quarter of my life, and it doesn’t show any signs of disappearing just yet.

So, to all those of you who’ve visited here over the last ten years, whether you’ve been coming here regularly since I started or you’re just here because Google sent you and this post has none of the information you wanted, thank you for reading, commenting, linking and sharing the things I’ve done over the last ten years. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, it’s put me in touch with people I never would have met otherwise and information I’d never have known about, and has also justified a number of visits to various pubs, which have definitely been worthwhile.

And I promise to try and wait ten more years before doing another series of long retro posts.

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This year featured my longest blogging dry spell in my ten years, and then my decision to come back to regular blogging. Having spent the time to go through all these posts, it’s fascinating to see how much blogging has changed over that time, but that’ll be for a post tomorrow.

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And now we’re getting very close to the present, with blog posts that reference issues that are still going on and less ‘oh, I’d completely forgotten that’ moments for me as I go through the blog. But still, there are interesting things back there.

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This year followed the pattern set by 2009, with long periods of sparse blogging interrupted by frenzies of regular posting, in this case sparked off by the General Election. It was the year I joined Colchester Council’s Cabinet, and also the year I accidentally created a Twitter hashtag that spread around the world. It was not however, despite Hollywood’s promises, the year we made contact.

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2009 continued the trend from 2008 of sporadic and irregular blogging, with some months entirely missed out, and others packed full of posts. This is the inconsistent blogging pattern I’d keep up for a few years, always happy to think of myself as having a blog, even if I rarely put any actual content on there.

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2008 marked a milestone. Not that I’d spent five years blogging, but that it includes the first completely empty, devoid-of-posts month in my blogging career (earlier missing months did have stuff in them before server crashes took them out). There was blogging in all the other months, but fallow months will become more common in the retrospective from now on.

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Despite the best efforts of some French protesters, 2007 happened. This was the year in which I first got elected to Colchester Council, but plenty of other things happened during that year, even if I didn’t blog about them. This was the time when I wasn’t blogging very often, and when it was, it tended to be just short posts.

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2006, for me, will always be all about the walking. After my brother died, I decided it was time to do something different to mark his memory and raise money for charity – the Brain Research Trust – so I decided it was time to follow a long-held ambition and walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

Obviously, that consumed a lot of the blog for the year, but other things happened too…

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If you look in this site’s archives for 2005, you’d think that I completely gave up blogging, save for writing review of Doctor Who episodes. This is because of the problems with my old hosting company that I mentioned at the end of the 2004 company, which led to me losing most of my posts from the end of 2004 to early 2006.

Luckily, the Wayback Machine was making regular crawls of my site, so most of the posts from that time have been retained for posterity in some form or other.

There’s always going to be one abiding memory of my life from 2005, as it’s the year my brother died, but I didn’t know that was coming as the year started out.

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