We Blog

By | December 10, 2014

It has become common these days for industry events—like major product announcements—to be “liveblogged,” or written up in more or less real time on a news site, blog, or Twitter. Apple’s splashy press events are inevitably liveblogged, and closer to our home, HP’s Blended Reality press event in October was liveblogged in a number of places. Other industry events are also liveblogged and they can be a great way for non-attendees to follow along with the action.

Liveblogging is not just for press events. I don’t get cable TV, so this fall I did often follow Syracuse football games via the Syracuse Post-Standard’s livetweets of the games. (The games were far less depressing when I could “watch” them in 140-character bursts of inept offense.)

Last fall, one of my favorite musicians, Kate Bush, performed live in London for the first time in 35 years. Alas, I didn’t get a chance to attend, although the Guardian did liveblog one of the shows. I noticed from the setlist that she didn’t play one of her most famous songs, her first hit single way back in 1978 (at the tender age of 18): “Wuthering Heights,” based on the Emily Brontë novel. The title “Wuthering Heights” does immediately conjure up two competing associations in my mind: the Kate Bush song, yes, but also the Monty Python sketch, “The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights,” in which Heathcliff and Catherine express their tempestuous love affair via signal flags.

Did you know that the term “semaphore” (from the Greek sema “sign, signal” and phoros “bearer”) was coined by a late 18th-century French inventor named Claude Chappe (1763–1805)? Chappe’s approach to semaphore was not signal flags, but rather a series of stone towers that used large rods and moveable shutters to send messages—viewed by telescope—from one to another. It was a successful form of long-distance communication and was eventually used across Europe, most notably by Napoléon, who implemented the system to move his armies around his growing empire. Oh, and another term that Chappe coined? “Telegraph,” which was actually what he called his system. Others, like Samuel Morse, working on an electric long-distance communications medium would adopt the term.

The telegraph would trigger off a whole host of telecommunications revolutions culminating in what you are reading right now (the Internet, presumably), while another technology emerging about the same time is also simultaneously connected to both the ability to pick up and read Wuthering Heights on paper as well as read this blog post. (Choose wisely…)

It begins with someone trying to find a cheap way to print something.

The story of Alois Senefelder (full name: Aloys Johann Nepomuk Franz Senefelder—boy, did they know how to name ’em back then!) is pretty well known, certainly to this crowd. Senefelder (1771–1834) was born in Prague but trod the boards in Germany, as he was predominantly an actor and, more predominantly, a playwright. A play roguishly called Connoisseur of Girls was a success, but he ran into problems getting a follow-up play, Mathilde von Altenstein, printed. (It was not “a play about nothing”—that was Seinfeld, not Senefelder.) He ran into debt and couldn’t afford to publish another play he had written (been there, done that). However, in one of those random twists of fate, an entire industry was soon to be born—all because Senefelder had to do his laundry.

He had been trying to come up with an alternate form of printing to the letterpress methods in use at the time. He had been mucking about with copper plates, to no avail, until one day, he recalled, he wrote a laundry list on a slab of Bavarian limestone with a grease pencil. He wasn’t immediately sure of what he had, but after some more mucking about, he essentially invented what became known as lithography (Romano and Romano, 1997). He developed the image carrier (litho stones) as well as a special lithographic press that used the stones and in 1796, partnering with composer Franz Gleißner, started a music publishing firm based on lithographic printing.

Lithography—or planography (printing from a flat surface)—was largely used to print illustrations (lithographs) but there were early uses in packaging, specifically, printing on tin cans. As the technology advanced, lithographic presses started using metal rather than stone as an image carrier, and, thanks to Robert Barclay, went from flatbed to rotary.

By the end of the 19th century, a cutting-edge new technology—photography—was reducing demand for lithographs (sound familiar?). By the early 20th century, lithography—using either stone or metal—was a low-cost printing process used for printing books, photographs, and transactional documents (sound familiar?).

Enter Ira Rubel, a commercial printer in Nutley, N.J. He had been using lithographic stone presses to print bank deposit slips and, as was common at the time, the press’s impression cylinder was covered with a rubber blanket. However, good help is hard to find and automatic feeding had yet to be invented, so occasionally the person feeding the paper into the press missed a sheet, and the lithographic plate would print directly on the blanket. The next sheet through the press would then pick up the impression from the blanket, albeit reversed. However, Rubel noticed that the blanket-printed image was sharper than the image from the plate itself (Romano and Romano, 1997). Ding ding ding! Owwwoooogaahh!! Rubel had himself an idea, and thus was born offset lithography, which would eventually kill off letterpress, although far too late for it to do Senefelder any good.

Rubel made his inadvertent discovery in 1904. Literature nerds know that 1904 is the year in which expatriate Irish author James Joyce set his classic (and controversial) book Ulysses. Indeed, literati around the world celebrate “Bloomsday” on June 16, the day in 1904 that Joyce’s protagonist, advertising canvasser Leopold Bloom, has his Homeric odyssey around Dublin.

Joyce’s book was a publishing sensation and not in the best way; it was subject to censorship and court cases (Molly Bloom’s lengthy extended internal monologue in the book’s final chapter contains a bit TMI), but it has also inspired many other writers and musicians. Allan Sherman got a laugh with a Ulysses reference in his 1963 novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and, at the other end of the musical spectrum, Grace Slick sings about Molly Bloom in “rejoyce” on Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album After Bathing at Baxter’s.

And in 1989, Kate Bush’s “The Sensual World” was originally going to set Molly Bloom’s soliloquy to music, but the Joyce estate wouldn’t give her permission, so she paraphrased. Yes.

Anyway, James Joyce leads us to Jorn Barger, who launched the website Robot Wisdom in 1995. It was one of the very first “weblogs,” and in fact it was Barger who coined the term “weblog,” which he originally meant to refer to the act of “logging the web” as he went from site to site. He had wide-ranging interests, a significant one being the works of James Joyce, about which he wrote frequently.

The term “weblog” was abbreviated to “blog” by Peter Merholz in 1999.

So, today, we have liveblogging, video blogging, slow blogging, and so on. Senefelder wanted to find a cheap way of publishing his plays, and as it turns out, a blog is a pretty cheap way of doing it. Blogging—as this site amply demonstrates (except for the present post, I expect)—is a good way for companies to offer interesting and useful information to present and prospective customers, and should be considered one of the primary tools in one’s marketing arsenal.

 

References:

Frank Romano and Richard Romano, The GATF Encyclopedia of Graphic Communication (Sewickley, Penn., 1997).

“Claude Chappe,” Wikipedia, last modified on November 29, 2014, 2014, accessed on December 2, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Chappe.

“Alois Senefelder,” Wikipedia, last modified on June 4, 2014, 2014, accessed on December 2, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alois_Senefelder.

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