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A visual history of 11 successful blogs

Many of the blogs that have a huge following today go back to much more humble beginnings. This post is a look at how they got started and what they looked like in their early days, compared to today.

All of the websites presented below are among the 15 most popular blogs according to Technorati. We relied on the Internet Archive to get screenshots of the old versions of these websites.

Gizmodo

Gizmodo covers consumer electronics and gadgets. It started in 2002 and was originally edited by Peter Rojas, who was later recruited by Weblogs Inc. to launch the competing gadget blog Engadget. Gizmodo is part of the Gawker Media blog network. Technorati ranking: 2.

Engadget

Like Gizmodo, Engadget writes about consumer electronics and gadgets. It was co-founded by Peter Rojas, co-founder and editor of Gizmodo, in 2004. Engadget is a member of the Weblogs Inc. blog network, owned by AOL. Technorati ranking: 4.

TechCrunch

TechCrunch is a blog about Web 2.0 companies and services, covering everything from startups to trends on the Web. It was started by Michael Arrington in 2005. Technorati ranking: 3.

Boing Boing

Boing Boing covers a wide range of topics, including, technology, science fiction, gadgets and politics. Initially it was a zine started in 1988 by Mark Frauenfelder and Carla Sinclair, then in 1995 it became a website, and in 2000 it became a blog. Technorati ranking: 5.

Ars Technica

Ars Technica covers technology, science and gaming news for PC enthusiasts. It was started in 1998 by Ken Fisher. Technorati ranking: 7.

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post is a liberal news blog covering politics, business, entertainment and several other topics. It was founded by Ariana Huffington and Kenneth Lerer in 2005. Technorati ranking: 1.

Lifehacker

Lifehacker is a blog about useful software and time-saving tips and tricks. It was founded by Gina Trapiani in 2005 and is part of the Gawker Media blog network. Technorati ranking: 6.

Gawker

Gawker is a media news and celebrity gossip blog founded in 2002 by Nick Denton. It is the flagship site of the Gawker Media blog network. Technorati ranking: 15.

Smashing Magazine

Smashing Magazine writes about subjects relevant to designers and Web developers. The youngest blog of this collection, Smashing Magazine was founded in 2006 by Vitaly Friedman and Sven Lennartz. Technorati ranking: 11.

ReadWriteWeb

ReadWriteWeb writes about Web technology, applications and services. It was founded in 2003 by Richard MacManus. Technorati ranking: 13.

Mashable

Mashable covers social networking news and Web 2.0. It was founded in 2005 by Pete Cashmore. Technorati ranking: 14.

It’s interesting to see that many of the blogs that are huge today started only about three years ago. We wonder what the blog landscape will look like another three years from now. Perhaps some of the blogs just starting out today will be among the giants of 2011?



35 comments
Laura Brisbane
Laura Brisbane

Well done to all those bloggers - got to love Boing Boing!!

Kristi
Kristi

These were some pretty major improvements. Some of the most basic changes can make all the difference sometimes...

Sandeep
Sandeep

it's interesting that most of the successful blogs have something to do with electronic gadgets.

Dante
Dante

This is one of the best posts for successful blogs I have seen. I have to agree that the images of past and present are very helpful.

iCarly cds
iCarly cds

Those sites have certainly left a mark on the web

Tyler - Consumer Electronics
Tyler - Consumer Electronics

It's great to see that so many blogs are now specializing in consumer electronics and gadgets. I've seen a lot of these blogs before. It's amazing to see how a couple of these sites have just exploded (In a good way :) ) over the last few years.

Mike
Mike

I share the opinion of a comment further up: The sites degraded their overall layout and I believe the design became worse. At least while quickly scanning through them - and first impressions count, right? - I see more clutter, ads, unclear headings and clues on where to start reading, and most of all white space to rest the eye. Anyway, with RSS most readers might not even realize ;)

Farrhad
Farrhad

Great post! You have compiled them very well, next time also take in ProBlogger and Shoe :p

bnc
bnc

to me the best actualization is smashing magazine, the worst lifehacker's

AD PR New York
AD PR New York

Mashable use to take forever to load. Now it loads in mere seconds

BigDummy
BigDummy

The title of this blog should be "how 11 successful blogs crammed in more ads above the fold". Nothing inspiring or intriguing here. Yawn ... next!

Quinn DuPont
Quinn DuPont

The fact that there are more ads is not just a "hard balance" for the individual website owners. It speaks to a greater commoditization on the Internet, spurred both by the willingness of advertisers to see the Internet as a new medium, and the insatiable creep of capitalism. Some sites are obviously commercial in their intention (gadget sites, curated and large multi-author sites), but others have merely bought into the idea that money can be made and thus, "why not?". Boing Boing is the most obvious example of a site that started as fringe (doesn't get more fringe than a zine), but is now a successful commercial entity (for no apparent reason beyond some hosting costs).

Tine
Tine

For some reason, I prefer a lot of the "before" templates. Much cleaner, less cluttered because there were less ads.

Koren
Koren

Like Taylor Dewey, I generally preferred the first versions. The designs seem to be getting too busy, real "slap in the face" type stuff that I reckon overloads viewers (especially if you are not a regular reader). I think the balance between the boring standard themes that everyday people use and innovative, original design is out of wack.

whatUrunning.com
whatUrunning.com

Nice, one or two I haven't come across before. It is always interesting to visit the Way Back Machine and see how the older styles look so dated.

BlogBlazers
BlogBlazers

Everyone has to start somewhere... It's also amazing how much most of the earlier websites looked like basic wordpress themes. As they've improved their styles, it's getting harder and harder to tell they use wordpress underneath (and I'm not saying that they use wordpress, but it sure does look like a lot do).

phobos
phobos

Very interesting, nice to see how the things change. :) however in most of those cases advertising is more eye-catchy than content

Nick
Nick

yup, make room for advertising...

Ajay
Ajay

instead of writing about these blogs if you write on some good startup blogs then that would be really good. because all people know about all these blogs. any ways good informative post

Mikael
Mikael

I think it is interesting to see how widely used banners and 125x125 blocks still are. I would have thought that there would be a better solution as it has been the talk of the town for many years how badly banners convert.

genieyclo
genieyclo

Very interesting article! Intriguing the way the different blogs have developed their layout to better cram in more in less.

matthias @ mopupduty
matthias @ mopupduty

Great article. I see that most sites switched to a right hand sidebar. Could the overall volume of sites featuring this style of sidebar begin to "blind" users in the same vein as top level image ads have in the past?

Fubiz
Fubiz

Amazing examples. Thanks for the article.

Pingdom
Pingdom

Thanks everyone for the comments so far! :) Some have remarked on how much advertising there is on the modern versions of the blogs. It's probably a hard balance for them. On one hand they need to make a living and pay their writers and on the other hand it mustn't get too much in the way of the content. Not an easy balancing act.

Taylor Dewey
Taylor Dewey

Funny, I like most of the original versions better. Of course, that is probably because they were advertising-less and thus had more consistent designs. On the other hand, I'm put off by themes that scream "STANDARD BLOG THEME!" I guess that's why people are paid to be designers.

Ray The Money Man
Ray The Money Man

What a coincidence, I visit every one of these sites on a regular basis. Great list, all bloggers should look to these sites for examples of the right way to do it! Great post!

Tracy
Tracy

I was just coming to post essentially what Peter did -- are we really seeing design that has evolved for design's sake? Or have the designs simply changed for the sole purpose of accommodating copious amounts of display advertising?

Peter
Peter

So by successful you mean the content has been successfully buried in a sea of advertising.

Mike Panic
Mike Panic

I've been reading, commenting and a fan of several of Gawker's blogs over the last few years and have seen the change they've done across the board evolve. While evolution is nice, they've made most of their blogs unreadable in my eyes, unless you use an RSS reader of sorts. Also a fan of Smashing Magazine and was saddened when they changed to their new layout that allows more ads (fine) but reduced the width of their actual content by about 10%. Same is true with a lot of other blogs. Seems in a day and age when even the most weak computers power a monitor that runs at least 1024 pixels wide of screen resolution, bloggers and those who code themes refuse to make the content portion of blogs wider than 500 pixels.

AnotherGuy
AnotherGuy

This is a cool list. I love to see how sites evolve (I've been writing about a few such sites on mine) and am encouraged to see that some have made drastic changes in design over the years. Of course, if I'm one of those leaders in the future, you couldn't find a single design that I started with. I've jumped through about a dozen different designs and 4 different content management systems in the last 6 months. One day I'll end up settling, but while the excitement is still here I might as well tweak and play around with as many things as I can.

mike belgrove
mike belgrove

It's kinda cool how most of them kept the same themes over the years. Branding is very important these days.

Peter White
Peter White

Great article, I read a number of these regularly so its interesting to see how they have changed over the years.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A visual history of 11 successful blogs  Interesting to see what’s different, and what’s the same (mostly the latter, it seems to me). For a really dramatic change, head to the Internet Archive and check out Kottke’s blog from 10 years ago. Or PeterMe compared to 9 years ago when he coined the word “blog” (it’s down the left rail) [...]

  2. [...] visual history of 11 successful blogs. Always nice to see how famous/successful things both got their start and evolved over time. [...]

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