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.

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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. 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. 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) homepage August 15, 2000

By August 15, 2000, a freshly redesigned 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. 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,, 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. homepage February 2, 2001

In a more public announcement a few weeks later, in this 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) 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 and that the Pyra application was no longer being developed (click to view at full size).

This iteration of the 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. homepage April 18, 2001

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