Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blog Comments Reunion Wrap-up...and a NEW Challenge

Holy MacAnoli!
Y'know I really sort of dreaded writing it, but my previous series, A Place Called Blogsville, was one of those things you just ‘sorta haveta do’ sometimes to move on. And quite frankly, when I first conceived of writing a tribute to the group of my fellow bloggers who all discovered each other during the golden eighteen months of Blogger.com — mid-2004 to late-2005 — that’s what I was doing, moving on.

I was totally convinced that most everyone had purposefully and permanently eschewed blogging in favor of Facebook, Twitter, and/or their ever-increasingly busy and more-complicated lives.

I knew a small handful of folks would respond to the post, but I mostly expected crickets. I really thought the old neighborhood was dead.

Heh. A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

I never dreamed the response would be so great, or that so many of you longed for the old days just as much as I did. I never realized that so many had stopped blogging pretty much only because everyone else seemed to have done so as well.

But how awesome was it to have just about everyone back together again in the same place? Thank you all once again for making it such a fun time!

I guess sometimes you really can go home again. :)

And I am even happier to learn that, at least from initial reports, Inanna, Leese, and (eventually, for a limited time only) Lovisa, have decided to begin blogging regularly again, joining Cybele, Jennifer, and Sydwynd — who really never stopped, and Jack, who revived his blog late last year.

I guess sometimes all we need is a nudge. And so I'm gonna try and give you one more.

Be my guest.
In my reintroduction to blogs outside the ol’ hood over the past two and a half years, I’ve become intrigued by what seems to be an increasingly common practice. And only in light of the great response from everyone on the comments party (I honestly hadn't thought of this beforehand), I want to offer something to any of my friends who’d be willing to take part.

One of the things many of you expressed that took you away from bloggging, and/or has kept you from returning to it, is none other than the big ‘ol ‘NT’ — no time.

No time to be consistent; no desire to subject yourself to the pressure of getting something out there on a regular basis. Believe me, we all can identify with this.

But what if you only had to write a post, like, every six weeks or something? Would that work?

Here’s the deal. I’m just like you, busier than a one-armed paperhanger with fleas. But I want to rededicate my blog to having new content out there at least every few days, if not daily. So, if you guys are keen to the idea, I would be more than happy to establish a guest blogger spot here on AYBABTU. It would be a weekly feature at a consistent time and day. The offer is open to anyone (whom I already know and trust, of course), on any subject that isn't likely to draw trolls or spammers (and I think we all know what I’m talking about — two of the three things you're not supposed to discuss in polite company).

I would LOVE to give any of you who no longer have an active blog of your own, the means to scratch that itch that has never gone away. And if our little comments reunion was any indication, this could be a lot of fun.

So if you're interested (and it’s not gonna hurt my feelings if you’re not), shoot me an email at ajinnashville (at) gmail(dot)com.

Might give new meaning to the phrase All YOUR Blogs Are Belong to US, eh?

Blogroll Update
One other thing that I alluded to previously in a comment during the reunion: I am sad/embarrassed to say that I do not have URLs for many of my old neighbors’ new or former digs. Over the course of redesigning my template and throughout the period of the last few years, as so many have dropped out of the ‘hood, I have lost a bunch of links.

So if you would, if your blog is still alive and kickin’, please leave me the URL in a comment so that I can rebuild my blogroll with everyone who is still active in our neck ‘o the woods?

I hate to admit that I’ve lost track of some of your sites, but if you’d do that for me I’d be much obliged.

Hope to hear from you soon!


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Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Place Called Blogsville (Addendum, Part II)

By way of explanation, all but one the following screen shots below are no longer available in live web page form, but were accessed courtesy of the cached backup archives of The Internet Wayback Machine project, which is, when you can get the archive to actually return an cached site, another of the things that falls into my ‘greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread’ category. Despite the spotty availability of some of the archived site pages and the inordinate amount of time they typically take to load, there isn’t a more valuable resource on the Net in my estimation, and I wish to express my most sincere appreciation to Bibliotheca Alexandrina, International School of Information Science (ISIS) for this invaluable resource!

With that in mind, in referencing our purposes here I experienced only mild success in pulling together the web site archives from the particular points in time I wished to illustrate. Therefore I cannot say with exact certainty when the site messages below first appeared, only that their messages and design updates appeared by the dates indicated.


* * * * *

Every Picture Tells a Story
They say that it’s always darkest before the dawn, and at Pyra, the fire was just about down to a flicker. 2001 brought with it the realization that the company’s six-person crew was about five more than they could afford.

The funding money they had received a year earlier had run dry and some hard realizations had to be faced. After unsuccessfully attempting to market a paid version of Blogger (Blogger Pro) it was decided that the company would remain in business, but that its operations would be drastically curtailed out of necessity. As Pyra’s CEO, Evan Williams would stay on as the company’s only full-time paid staffer.

The Pyra website told the story throughout the process with updated announcements of the company’s status from March 2000 through May 2002; the frequently-changing homepage became a weblog unto itself.

Pyra.com homepage March 2, 2000

This is how the Pyra website looked on March 2, 2000 (click to view at full size); still hawking the Pyra app, but speaking in more and more excited terms about Blogger, which had just reached version 2.0. However the wind had already begun to shift.

Pyra.com homepage May 10, 2000

By May 10, 2000, the website — and the company — was in full re-tool mode, prepping for a full-on, fully optimistic run with Blogger. Oh, and the picture? No, that's not a couple of astronauts in zero-gravity training — it's Meg Hourihan (left) and Paul Bausch burning off some pent-up energy, doing 360s for the webcam. (click to view at full size)

Pyra.com homepage August 15, 2000

By August 15, 2000, a freshly redesigned Pyra.com began the process of distancing itself from itself, literally. (click to view at full size)

However, the ensuing ‘fall’ season would carry with it a double-entendre. The problems would continue for Pyra, but the money would not.

Evhead.com blog January 31, 2001

For “the careful observer” and any other of his friends and readers, who knew where to look, Ev Williams laid it all out in his personal blog, Evhead.com, on January 31, 2001, in an extremely honest and straightforward post entitled, And Then there Was One. (click to view at full size, and in case you were wondering, yes, I did manually photoshop the screenshot into two columns for easier viewing.)

Williams describes in painful detail how the company had laid off all but himself in December, but that some of his team had worked on, for as long as a month for little-to-no pay, in hopes that a new deal with an undisclosed partner would come through. With that reality not panning out he was now going it alone, determined to see things through, to keep the company going, and to continue developing Blogger.

Pyra.com homepage February 2, 2001

In a more public announcement a few weeks later, in this Pyra.com screenshot from February 12, 2001, Williams glibly channels Mark Twain, announcing the news that the company was still in business, but had indeed incurred, “a major set back” (…and we won’t pile on here by pointing out the misspellings either…). (click to view at full size)

Pyra.com homepage March 30, 2001

More than a year after turning its full attention to Blogger, on March 30, 2001, the website reinforced that there was “nothing to see here” (except for a link to Blogger.com) and that the Pyra application was no longer being developed (click to view at full size).

This iteration of the Pyra.com homepage was also the swan song of the infamous ‘Pyra Newsletter’ signup box. Funny thing is, in the seven months it was in place on the website, nobody ever got around to creating that newsletter they collected all those email addresses for, as Williams sarcastically pointed out.

Pyra.com homepage April 18, 2001

Three weeks later, March 18, 2001, the message of Pyra.com is all Blogger and all business (click to view at full size).

Pyra.com homepage September 16, 2001

By September 2001 The website was again redesigned but remained only as a handbill slapped on the front door of an empty house for another year and a half, with a logo and no other text than that explaining Pyra’s two mottos: 1. “make something good” and 2. “other motto: there is nothing to see here. go to Blogger(.com).” (click to view at full size)

Pyra.com homepage May 24, 2002

By May of 2002, the site had taken on the appearance that has essentially remained unchanged to this day, that of a one-slogan tribute to Pyra Labs, “making the web more interesting since 1999,” along with the iconic Blogger logo link to the Blogger.com website. (click to view at full size)

Addition By Subtraction
However the great thing about this particular sad story is that it ultimately has a very happy ending. As it turned out, Ev and Meg’s little company was just so far ahead of its time that it simply needed to give the rest of the world a couple years to catch up.

For all the heartache and disappointment experienced by the former Pyra Labs crew, the patience and belief exercised by Williams would pay off in spades.

The paring down of staff allowed Williams the time needed to keep the company afloat, while he worked to stabilize the platform and add servers to address the physical load of Blogger’s continually-rising popularity. Along the way he also managed to negotiate a few small business deals, including licensing Blogger to other countries and forming an important partnership with the website-building software company, Trellix in April 2001.

At the end of June, Williams announced a ‘Moving Sale’ to liquidate all nonessential equipment in Pyra’s San Francisco office. He was taking the business home, servers and all, and would operate things from his apartment, lowering the company’s overhead even more. It was no doubt a humbling experience, yet one that Williams seemed to embrace with a more-than-admirable sense of humor. But over the next twelve months things would turn around dramatically.

Blogger.com homepage July 23, 2002

By the time I was introduced to Blogger, in the summer of 2002 the homepage looked like this (click to view at full size). Williams’ status blog was brimming with good news, boasting the statistic that Blogger blogs were being added at a rate of 1.5 per minute.

Blogger was co-sponsoring blogging contests with major periodicals, featuring sizable cash prizes; there were ‘Blogathon’ charity events and Blog Meet-ups being planned, along with superlatives about blogging from pubs like The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

In short, Blogger was riding the cusp of a new wave of a phenomenon that was sweeping the nation and the world. Things had indeed turned around, but the best was yet to come

Yes, They Really DO Like You!
Ev Williams’ Sally Field moment came on a historically poignant date in his company’s history, exactly three years after that game-changing decision to commit to the development of Blogger over his original dream, the Pyra project management tool.

It was February 14, 2000 when Pyra’s initial funding round through O’Reilly & Associates launched the official era of its sole focus on application development, and three years later, it would be on that same date that all the hard work would pay off, in the form of both financial reward and the reality of resources for Blogger’s ongoing product development.

Search Engine giant, Google showed its love, acquiring Pyra Labs and Blogger on Valentine's Day 2003.

Blogger.com homepage July 23, 2002

By the time my TK mates and I moved on to a new messageboard home and I made the decision to venture into the wilds of Blogsville all by my lonesome, the Blogger.com homepage not only had a completely new look, but a new audience as well, with the new Blogger reaching greater heights and exposure than ever before (click to view at full size).

There were newly-created XML blog templates designed under the auspices of Douglas Bowman of Stopdesign, offering the new breed of citizen journalism a place to call home; a place to grow; in an ever-expanding community of newsmakers, journalers, social media mavens, gossip-spinners, mommybloggers and the alike.

Ev and Meg’s Blogger lit the match, but the bonfire of Pyra’s vision was ultimately fueled by Google.

Nevertheless, even a year after the sale, in 2005 PC Magazine honored the success of Blogger and the work of Williams, Hourihan & Bausch (despite the latter two having long since left the company), naming the trio among their People of the Year for 2004.

Still Burning
Ev Williams would stay on with Google for roughly year and a half before again venturing out on his own, first in co-developing Odeo, a search and delivery web service centered on podcast technology, the organization of which would later become Obvious Corp, with a new business partner, Biz Stone.

Odeo was sold to Sonic Mountain in 2006 as Obvious Corp turned its attention to developing what would become the social media dynamo, Twitter in 2007.

Williams currently serves as Twitter CEO while enjoying life with wife, Sara and son, Miles.

Meg Hourihan went on to various other tech projects, including, in the mid-2000s, a joint effort with Gawker Media’s Nick Denton called Kinja, which, by her own description was “one of the web’s first news aggregation sites, an RSS reader without the RSS...a reading tool to make it easier for people to find and read blogs. The other hand of Blogger making it easier for people to write them.”

She is currently between companies, enjoying life as a seriously unpretentious foodie, mother to children, Ollie and Minna, and wife of yet another weblogging pioneer, Jason Kottke.

Paul Bausch, Pyra’s first employee and the man credited with being the Blogger’s primary developer, is still involved in web development at online community MetaFilter in Corvalis, Oregon.

I would again like to thank Meg Hourihan for providing such a well-spoken, thoroughly interesting narrative of Pyra’s increasingly difficult-to-find early history, for use as the basis of this story (and for the honor of her personally proofreading and blessing this post prior to publication).

If you’re a Blogger geek like me, I’m sure you’ll really enjoy the actual audio of that interview, which is still available online as part of Halley Suitt’s podcast series, Memory Lane.

Even though it wasn’t exactly how they planned it, Pyra lived up to their name; they took the weblog flame and fanned it into a bonfire that's still blazing.

Smart technology from some very smart people.

Now a decade later, that motto, do something good kinda seems like an understatement, doesn’t it?


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A Place Called Blogsville (Addendum, Part I)

NOTE: I had originally intended the following to be the opening of my little tribute to Blogger. It seemed appropriate to me to introduce my relationship to this medium I love by first introducing those brilliant and inspired individuals to whom we owe its existence.

And while it’s a well-established fact that the more elevated of standing among those who lead the medium today would suggest that Blogger is now passé by comparison to other, more elite platforms, I couldn’t care less. Blogger is special — to me and to millions of its continued, devoted users.

I mean, seriously; say what you want about a product, but in reality, who is more important — the person who refines it, or the one who invented it in the first place?

And because of that, I decided to go beyond cursory mention and give what, based on my research in writing this account, is the most extensive biographical sketch of the company that founded the modern blogging medium: Pyra Labs, and their ‘accidental’ phenomenon: Blogger.


Ev and Meg’s Big Adventure
As large and everyday-ubiquitous as the Web is, currently, it’s hard to imagine that as recently as ten years ago it was a much smaller place.

It was a world of fertile ground, untapped resources, and breathtaking discovery. It was a world prepping for a huge growth spurt.

Once the near-exclusive domain of nerds, geeks, and academia, the phenomenon of ‘weblogging,’ originally born very early in the decade of the 90s, emerged from its infancy with the growth and popularity of the HTTP-encoded World Wide Web, popularized by the Net’s first graphical browser, Mosaic in 1993.

Blogger.com founders, Ev Williams, Meg Hourihan, & Paul Bausch
Blogger.com founders (from left), Ev Williams, Meg Hourihan, & Paul Bausch.
However it was nearly ten years later before the team of Evan Williams, (yes, the same Ev Williams, who would later co-found Twitter), and business partner, Meg Hourihan, would spur the medium to the new heights we know today.

In a wonderfully informative podcast interview she gave to the website, IT Conversations back in 2005, Hourihan discussed the beginnings of Blogger.com — the blogging portal that she, Williams, and Paul Bausch developed — almost by accident.

According to the interview, Williams and Hourihan formed Pyra Labs in 1999, operating out of the latter’s San Francisco apartment.

Their new company’s original goal was to create a web-based project management application targeted at web developers to improve upon the often cryptic and inflexible Microsoft Project. They wanted to come up with an online tool that would make the process of updating a project plan easier and more immediate —across cyberspace as opposed to the more static constraints of updating a physical MS Project file and then distributing it via email or FTP.

Interestingly, what would become Blogger was a sideline component developed in the midst of that effort, which was essentially a ‘throwaway’; a free feature intended to entice potential buyers to purchase their primary product.

Instead, the sideline overtook the mainline.

It is significant to recall that 1998-99 was the crux of the dot-com boom’s initial period of rapid ascension. Thousands of enterprise web sites were being created at that time, often by teams of developers scattered across the country. The Pyra Project’s main focus was to make the management of such efforts easier, more accessible, and more immediate.

It was a great idea, but it spawned an even better one in the process.

BlogStuff
While working in the same room, but not wanting to disturb each other with interruptions to present new ideas that might pop into their heads throughout the day, Hourihan said she and Williams created a simple, internal weblog, aptly named, ‘Stuff.’ Its purpose was to register brainstorming thoughts and other flashes of enlightenment that either one might come up, but in so doing, not disturbing the flow of work in the office.

They later decided that including a similar weblog feature as a standard component of the Pyra application would be a beneficial value-add for their customers, just as it had been for them in developing it.

However, as Hourihan recalled, “through a bunch of…random happenings,” the server that hosted the ‘Stuff’ weblog was a different one than that which hosted the Pyra.com site itself, which had a separate weblog as well.

This would be a problem should they wish to avoid the extra work of posting an entry in both places. So later, for purposes of both internal and external communications, to solve the problem they tasked Pyra’s first employee, developer Paul Bausch, with creating some code that would allow entries written to the ‘Stuff’ weblog to automatically appear the on pyra.com weblog as well. As Hourihan explained, Bausch’s code would become the foundation upon which Blogger was built.

Hourihan described the Blogger ‘Ah-HA’ moment thusly: “Hey, this is kinda neat! You can write something in one place, and it’s appearing in another place.”

But again, the key intent was not to develop a blogging platform, but rather to use this new innovation as an inducement to market the bread & butter Pyra app.

As Hourihan described, the bulk of weblog users at that time were the indeed Pyra’s target audience: web developers. The hope was that once the developers saw how much easier this new ‘push button’ method of weblogging could be, they would then in turn be inclined to believe that Pyra was a cool company that they would want to do business with; purchasing the Pyra project management software tool for use on their web projects, and in general, making the world a better place for everyone.

Som’ ‘bout the plans of mice and men oftentimes going awry…?

By the first quarter of 2001, however, much had changed in the world of emerging web companies. The DotCom boom began its steep slide into full bust mode. Times grew tough for San Francisco internet startups like Pyra.

Pyra’s "Team Implosion"
A change in direction had actually begun a year earlier, in the winter of 2000, when team Pyra, then consisting of four members, decided to seek outside funding for the first time.

The Pyra project management app was still struggling through development. Mucking up the waters further was the fact that the company was actually being supported via contract work relationships that Ev Williams had brought with him from his previous freelance career. One developer worked full-time on the outside contract jobs while the other three continued developing the Pyra app and Blogger.

This model of self-funding “just wasn’t gonna scale,” recalled Hourihan, “unless we kept hiring people to do client work, and that wasn’t really the type of company we were interested in building; we didn’t want to do professional services; we wanted to build really cool web applications.”

Fortunately, by this time, the contacts and reputation that the company was creating, along with the ongoing relationship Ev had with a former employer, O’Reilly & Associates, allowed Pyra to acquire the seed money it needed to really sink its teeth into its work. They could now dispense with the unrelated contract work they’d needed just to make ends meet. It was the opportunity to finally be the company they wanted to be.

The initial funding round for Pyra began on February 14 — Valentine’s Day, 2000; for the company it would be a significant spot on the calendar, not only at that time, but later on as well.

They decided to suspend work on the primary Pyra app, and focus on Blogger, the former spinoff that ironically was receiving increasingly rave reviews, and in fact became Pyra’s first officially released product.

They would build out the team, adding another two people, bringing the total compliment to six, and as Hourihan put it, “see what we could do with it,”

However not all would go as planned. Over the next eleven months the DotCom bubble would finally burst, sending tech stocks tumbling and bringing most startups to their knees, financially. Most tech development went into a deep freeze.

At the same time, from the opposite end of the spectrum, Blogger was facing its own problems. The platform’s tremendous popularity created more traffic than their existing servers could handle, leading to lapses in reliability. New features weren’t being added fast enough, leading to more customer complaints, including, ironically, one that led directly to the development of what would become one of Blogger’s chief competitors, Movable Type.

Mena Trott and her husband, web developer Ben Trott, created Movable Type as an answer to Mena’s frustration over Blogger’s period of arrested development in 2000.

Trott, originally a Blogger enthusiast, confided in Hourihan that she felt such loyalty to Blogger, that she couldn’t bring herself to use a competing product, so she decided to develop one for her own personal use. That effort, designed by Mena and coded by Ben, worked out so well that within a year the Trotts indeed decided (at the insistence of their other friends) to market it as a competing product.

Later, under the umbrella of their new company, Six Apart, the Trotts would additionally develop two other varietal blogging platforms: TypePad and Vox, in addition to the premium Movable Type.


Next: Addendum Part II: Every Picture Tells a Story

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Place Called Blogsville (Epilogue)

Urban Renewal?
I was a year and a half behind the onset of Twitter before becoming truly involved with it in July of 2008, subsequently becoming a daily user some four months later.

In so doing, I also succumbed to the urge to join the masses of info-oriented, ‘useful’ bloggers out there whose content was shiny, new, ‘social media savvy’ and would draw advertisers to my site so that I could ‘monetize’ and make my blog an actual, viable income-producer. I mean look around — that’s the way it’s done these days.

My initial push to accomplish this was a complete flop. At the end of 2008, still buzzing from my newly acquired Twitter-inspired game plan, I mapped it all out, worked on a new template for weeks; I even wrote a few re-introductory posts for those outside the Neighborhood. I went so far even as to announce the 'rebirth of my blog, both in a post that was soon thereafter pulled, and on Twitter, only to back out when I realized I really didn't know what the hell I was doing it for.

Then the recession smacked me in the chops, big time. Right after the Holidays, The Company I worked for announced what would be the first of two workforce reductions in 2009. I was spared from the first one that came down in January, and then fully engaged myself in the subsequent yearlong scramble to try and save my ass from the second, later that November. On the second count I was obviously unsuccessful.

Now a year later and a half later, with nothing left to lose, I’m ready to try again and see just how good this blog can be.

As far as monetization goes, I’ve recently made a few small in-roads in that regard, but have vowed to myself to do it right. Fortunately I’ve become involved with a wonderful new organization of folks who are dedicated to teaching blog marketing techniques that are effective without being obnoxious. It’s called The Third Tribe and if you’re curious you can check them out here or anytime from the Third Tribe badge located in the blog’s right-hand sidebar. It’s pretty cool stuff, really, especially for someone like me who has always been repulsed by traditional Internet marketing methods.

But even if I do end up going with a few affiliate links here and there, there’s no way it will ever become my main focus — that’s not what AYBABTU has ever been about. Like I said earlier, I have struggled mightily with the idea of making my blog a more topically-based destination, and will always seek to exercise brevity in any way I can, but not at the expense of being who I am.

I do realize that my long-windedness can be a handicap to gaining and keeping new readers. But then I always have to return to the Hamletian maxim of, “to thine ownself be true.”

I can publicize this blog. I can monetize this blog. If the readers come, they come; if they stay, they stay. However I cannot be someone I am not, nor can I write like someone I am not — well, I probably could, but why? To what end?

I do consider this the start of a renewal of sorts, but I’ll just have to take it day by day and see what the future brings. I hope you’ll feel inclined to tag along.

But Just For Fun…
As I write this, it has now been exactly 30 days since the opening segment of this series was posted — not that taking a month to write five posts is such a rarity me, but this time it had a lot more to do with contemplation than procrastination.

Part of what has taken me so long to get back to this series has been in deciding how to end it (which is what I should have done before I even began the thing...but I digress...again). It took awhile for me to resolve the issues surrounding that which drove me to write it in the first place.

But I think I’ve got it now.

You see, this was more than simply a trip down memory lane. I’ve come up with a much more practical application for this piece — if I can manage to pull it off.

I’m getting the band back together.

I’ve recently spoken to a couple of my ol’ Blogsville neighbors on the phone, and it was absolutely fabulous. These two, I hadn’t had any significant communication with — quite literally — for years. Like many others, they’ve been around, just not out on the front lines like they were years ago. Some of my other former neighbors have become active on Facebook in recent years, a few more on Twitter; some have even remained active in their original blogs, although often with a largely different readership and/or social group than before.

As for my hesitation in wrapping up the series, I really didn’t like the direction it was going when I first began writing it. It was becoming a decidedly negative lamentation of my life over the past 3-4 years, which while true, was certainly not of a hue that I wanted to paint what was always intended to be a celebration of Blogsville — a somewhat melancholy celebration to be sure — but a celebration all the same.

I may use the 1100+ words I’ve now deleted from this post at another time, in a more suitable context. But for now, I’d much rather turn that frown upside down and end this thing on a positive note. But whether it indeed ends up being positive will ultimately be determined by you.

When remarking earlier about ‘TJ’s Place’ I noted that one of the things I miss the most about our old neighborhood were the comment sessions; that was where the community was generated. I would absolutely love it if we could all come together again — even if just this once — and experience a ‘comments party’ like we did in the old days.

My dear friends, LucidKim and Restless Angel have already chimed in. I’m hoping (provided all the old email addresses I have for everyone still work) to alert a number of our other former Blogsville neighbors as to this series’ existence and invite them back to comment as well.

But to make it really special, I would request that each of you who chooses to say hello, will take the time to spin together a few sentences, telling us all of what you’ve been up to, and hopefully, an email address or other contact information, blog or Twitter username, so that we might have an opportunity to continue the conversation elsewhere down the line.

I know it’s kinda nervy of me to expect that anyone would even want to do this, but geeze louise, you guys, do you not realize what a wonderful thing we all had together? It could be that way again, at least for a little while.

I hope you know how much affection I still hold for you all, and how happy it would make me to hear from you again.

So then, Mike? Lovisa? Jack? El Sid? Inanna? ESC? Esther? CCC? Queenie? Gooch? Jennifer? Kenju? Leese? NoMilk? Aimee? Victoria? Melinama? Anyone-else-I-can’t-think-of-off-the-top-of-my-head-right-now?

Whadaya say?

And to those of you whom I may be forgetting, as well as those who only know me from Twitter or elsewhere, thank you for being here too! Please say hello and join in the fun!

Lastly, but not leastly…
As if this series hasn’t taken enough twists and turns, there’s still one more.

As often happens to me, when I begin writing, sometimes things end up growing and expanding and going off in different directions than those in which I first intended.

What was originally supposed to be a few paragraphs in the series prologue sorta took off and assumed a life of its own shortly after I began writing. I let the idea play out, circled back and decided to include what had become two full posts as an addendum instead. What began as the historical backbone for the series, turned into a standalone biographical sketch of Pyra Labs, the original creators of Blogger.com.

It’s a separate story unto itself, but it still works within the context of the series. It’s a look back on the history of Blogger.com from its pre-Google inception, which is actually when I first became involved with the service as a member of a multi-author blog group of online friends. We used ‘The Blog,’ for a lack of a better term, as a message board.

Back then I didn’t have a clue as to whom Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan were, and neither did much of the web world. But as the co-founders of Blogger — the one that started it all — it certainly does now.

In recent years, Williams has continued to push the envelope with his ‘other’ little social media project, along with Biz Stone, called Twitter.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this account of a great moment in web history as much as I did in researching and writing it.


Next: Addendum (Part I): Ev and Meg’s Excellent Adventure

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Place Called Blogsville (Part IV)

AJ 2.0
Trends come and trends go; sometimes it’s easy to forget that. For example, back when my daughter Amy was in middle school, one of the many fashion trends of the mid-90s was the revival of the styles from the 1970s ― a time that I know quite well.

So enamored was Amy with an iconic man-made fabric of the era that was now once again wildly popular, she one day exuberantly declared to her mother and me, “Polyester will NEVER go out of style!”

Heh, we’ve NEVER her live that one down…

But to be fair, haven’t each of us fallen victim to that same sort of short-sightedness at one time or another? Haven’t we all latched onto something new that we thought was “life-changing,” or was the next-big-thing-that-we-can’t-live-without; confidently asserting to anyone listening that nothing would ever be the same; that we would forever be changed by that wonderful new paradigmatic epiphany?

I’ve decided that to a large degree, personal blogging was that way for a lot of folks heading into the mid-2000s — at least that seemed the case in our Blogsville neighborhood.

In our early years together it was indeed life-changing, much in the same way that chatting was for people in the mid-1990s; a real phenomenon, and very important for a time. But in the end, it was simply another ‘next big thing’ and once it ceased to maintain that fashionable status, people began losing interest.

Don’t believe me? How much have you heard about MySpace lately?

However it’s unfair to totally place the two in the same boat, particularly given the somewhat well-deserved, seedy reputation that internet chat rooms subsequently earned as a breeding ground for cybersex and predatory behavior. Blogging on the other hand has always been on a much different level; it obviously requires a greater, more honest commitment, both emotionally and practically. It’s hard work, and is not an undertaking for the weak-willed — that is, the weak-willed who are also without conscience.

That being said, there are times when I really have to search my own motivations as to why I always return to personal blogging no matter how long my absence — almost as if my life depended on it. I’m pretty sure a lot of my former Blogsville neighbors have thought about it in a similar vein at one time or another. However in the end, not everyone has the time or perhaps the amount of self-loathing of someone like me to goad them into continually getting back up on that freakin’ horse.

I am now convinced that I must write; I am enslaved to the notion. Why? Who the hell knows? But one thing is for sure, when I got bit by this bug six years ago, it actually did change everything for me. Trouble is, the other things in my life that had also changed made it all the more daunting for me to keep up.

A Rude Awakening
With the popularization of the ‘Web 2.0’ movement, which I began hearing about sometime around 2006 (but which had actually been in the process of implementation since the late 90s), I knew I was out of step and wasn’t ready to deal with it.

The constructs of the modern, social web took a quantum leap forward on a number of fronts, from around the time I began blogging in 2004 to just beyond the mid-decade mark; and quite frankly, I was oblivious to it all.

Suddenly it seemed my long-winded, narrative style had become less and less relevant to the now-assumed reality of daily, social information-based posting. Most of the successful blogs I was seeing were no longer static, personal essays, but living, breathing, social organisms, teeming with useful information and comment interaction; cross-linked and shared via Delicious (formerly known as del.icio.us), Twitter, and Facebook. It all seemed to happen at once for me; but in reality, while the changes did come about quickly, they were over a much longer period — I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Looking back on it now, I was stuck in somewhat of a feedback loop. Lots was going on in my head, and even more in my life; I just couldn’t seem to get it all out of myself with any semblance of the consistency I had in the beginning, when the stories of my life and family seemed to flow out of me in a never-ending stream of content.

Besides, what was going on in my life at that time wasn’t stuff I really wanted to celebrate, as had been the motivation for my previous work. I second-guessed nearly everything I wrote, becoming tentative, overly self-conscious, and feeling like a hypocrite for letting it all ‘get to me.’

As I stagnated, it seemed as though the neighborhood was withering as well. Most seemed to begin making the same transition away from daily or even weekly blogging, and moving more toward social networks like Facebook and later, to a lesser degree, Twitter; where we slowly found each other and began re-asserting ties that had linked us previously in Blogsville.

And while I certainly can’t speak for anyone else’s opinion, I think the new landscape is certainly a beautiful one in its own way, but it’s just not the same kind of community we had before.

Having been part of the blogging’s inital wave as a mass medium — an early-adopter even though ‘weblogging’ had been around some ten years previously — there was a certain level of pride one felt in being ahead of the curve.

In 2004, blogging was still relatively unknown amongst the general populace; something that seemed ‘weird’ to the average Joe. It was far from the now-widely recognized medium it has become.

However it all seemed to change so quickly, and by 2006, my once-enviable ‘informed’ position had turned on me — or was it I whom had turned away from IT? I found myself in a position similar, social media-wise, to the one I was currently embroiled in professionally, having sailed through the first half of the 2000s as a web designer who didn’t know crap about something as game-changing as CSS, and was now in a mad scramble to step it up or lose my relevance — even my job.

As a result of both my sudden shift in motivation to become current with modern web technology, and the paralysis of my frustration with the changes in the blogging landscape, my blog post production — as well as a heapin’ helpin’ of my perceived personal relevance — all but dried up.

Now, nearly three years later I’m attempting to kick off that creeping malaise. I have already hit rock bottom professionally, having been laid off from my employer of nearly 12-years last November. And even though I did manage to bring my sagging web-tech skill-set up to standards over the last couple of years, the fact that my job performance was allegedly a non- factor in my demise doesn’t provide me a whole lot of solace. It’s more than a little unsettling to go from being indispensable for years, to suddenly finding yourself thrust back into the job market, entering your mid-fifties; competing for jobs in an industry inherently dominated by twenty-and-thirtysomethings.

Sometimes changing with the times is a personal option; for me, right now, it most certainly is not. I’m in a ‘roll-or-BE-rolled’ position for the first time in my professional life.

As to the extent to which I can do anything about the perception of my age as I seek new employment, only the market knows for sure. On the other hand, the blog world, for the most part, is ageless — and thanks to genetics and personality, I’ve never looked or acted my age.

As a blogger I have begun to embrace the change of the now-dated ‘Web 2.0’ moniker — albeit sometimes kicking and screaming — and I have also begun seeking ways to regain my relevance in this continually evolving medium.

Twitter was the biggest step for me, although it has in some ways been somewhat counterproductive to blogging. As a self-described micro-blogging platform, tweeting not only relieves me of the need to express myself via daily posting, but also of the associated guilt when I fail to blog. And while the association of any kind of guilt with personal blogging may seem an absurd notion to most, that’s just me; I know it’s the way I am and I’m tired of beating myself up for it or trying to change my stripes. I will always feel the need to write, and the obligation to myself of the same.

However, as fantastic a conversation vehicle Tweeting is, I need to be able to go deeper. That, I now know, will never change.

I’ll never abandon this house. No matter the condition of the neighborhood or the number of its residents, Blogsville will always be my home. I may spend some time in other abodes, such as my weekend winter cottage, but this is the place I will always come back to.


Next: Urban Renewal?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Secundum Memor

For me, Memorial Day is always at least a day late
My father served in the army during WW II, but luckily for my family, didn’t see any time on the battlefield. He’s still with us today; a hale and hearty 86-goin’-on-87 year-old.

None of my aunts and uncles lost their lives fighting for our country either.

I didn’t have any friends or relatives who died in Viet Nam (that I know of, anyway), save for a high school buddy of my late brother David, Glenn Bailey, for whom I always say a prayer each time the calendar rolls around to the final Monday in May.

I don’t believe either of my kids have had friends who’ve lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan; nor have any of our family friends with children in current military service dealt with the anguish of such a fate.

Even my most famous soldier-relative, WW I’s most decorated, Sergeant Alvin C. York, who defied incredible odds and employed legendary valor, managed to come through his tour of duty in The Great War with life intact.

So, that being said, Memorial Day, apart from a general reverence on behalf all of the men and women who fought to secure my freedom, had never been all that personal a day of remembrance for me.

That is, until ten years ago today.

June 1, 2000 was the day my step-mom, Maxine was laid to rest.

She died that Memorial Day weekend from a viral infection, which suddenly overtook her body during recovery from a previous surgery. It was shocking; unexpected; devastating. She was 78 years old, but had always been in good health. However that began to change following a second knee replacement in 1999 and a subsequent series of complications, including removal of a benign tumor and a staph infection, which she was recovering from at the time that the secondary viral infection took over and ended her life.

The stormy relationship Maxine and I shared is well-documented, yet the loss I still feel each June 1st has never abated; and I doubt, ever will.

For the vast majority of my adult life, I was on wonderful terms with the woman who raised me; who taught me responsibility, and “the principle of the thing.” But it hadn’t always been so.

The lessons she delivered were hard and unrelenting; the same way that she had learned them, growing up during The Great Depression. I had every reason to rebel; every reason to hate her, but I endured, and eventually won her favor.

The years seemed to mellow her, but I’m not certain of that. All I know for sure is that her stance toward me changed after I became an adult. She often made it a point to let me know that finally, I had “done good” after years of not-so-subtly suggesting that I never would.

I learned the definition of forgiveness through my step-mother; not by her example, but rather by God’s provision of my opportunity to grant it unto her, despite all the reasons I had not to.

Ten years later, now with adult children of my own, with whom many of the same issues of will that my Mom and I battled having come and gone, I see things through different eyes; even more so now than I did ten years ago, when I stood at the podium of Forest Lawn’s Church of Our Fathers, delivering her eulogy.

There are always two sides to every story; dual points of view, both seemingly ‘right’ in the eyes of those who hold them. Whether it was hers or whether it was mine that was the correct one is immaterial.

What is important, and what is that part of the substance of my character gleaned from my relationship with Maxine, is that there is good in every situation, no matter how dark or daunting. A battle of wills does not always declare a victor, nor does it always brand a loser.

Maxine taught me that there is more than one way to love.

Thanks, Mom.


finis