- Was blogging 10 years before the word was coined
- Wrote a 60,000-word computer manual in 1989 that went from BBS to BBS completely around the world
- Had a page of the latest hot Web links 10 years before Instapundit launched
- Have been continually editing Web sites since the Web was one month old
- Have a number of Web 'firsts' to my credit
- Have a worldwide recognition as an expert in digital video
If the definition of "blogging" is running a personal online site filled with links and daily commentary, then I started "blogging" on Tuesday, Feb 6, 1990 at high noon. That's when I flipped on the switch to my new BBS and started "blogging" daily in the message base.
Of course, the 'links' at the time were these things called "newspaper articles" and "other BBS phone numbers", but that's a different story.
Since I started writing a daily online journal just a wee bit ahead of today's bloggers, I really don't consider myself in the same category. When you hear me referring to bloggers in the third person (the bloggers, rather than we bloggers), that's why. In all honesty, I consider them to be late-comers to the ball. All they did was put a cute name on something I and others had been doing for a decade.
I ran the aforementioned very popular BBS, located smack dab in the heart of Silicon Valley, for nine years. While the average BBS at the time might have had 500 files online, I had 8,000. While the average BBS might have broken the files down into 20 categories ("Tools", "Music", etc), I broke it down into 224. While the average BBS was displayed in plain black & white text, I employed 16-color ANSI menus, one of the first BBS's on the planet to do so.
I also wrote a 60,000 word computer tutorial in fluent Laypersonspeak which was widely applauded (downloaded 10,000 times from CompuServe in the first 24 hours) because it bridged the gap between us budding computer idiots and the awful technical-y manual that came with the computer. It bounced from BBS to BBS all around the globe and I received praise for it from all over the world.
Then the Web arrived.
Seeing the writing on the wall, I was building my first Web site when the Web was one month old, and "blogging" by posting links and descriptions to the very few Web sites out there at the time. I'd have links to these new-fangled things called "search engines" in one corner of the page, and colleges like Stanford that were slowly getting parts of their libraries online would be in another corner.
This was in the pre-browser days, when the Web was just a black screen with white text, and you'd dance around the page from link to link using the keyboard's arrow keys. A link would be the word(s) in a little box of 'reverse video' (black text on white) and when you got there via the arrow keys, you'd hit the Enter key and off you'd go to the next page.
I still remember the first big advancement in the development of the Web, about three months after it got rolling:
Rather than plain old boring black & white, the links were now gold or green or red.
We thought we'd never seen anything so modern.
What's somewhat interesting is that I've had a Web page "under construction" somewhere on my computer ever since. Obviously, there were people constructing Web pages before I started, but the question is, have they continually been Webmastering ever since those days, or, more likely, have they drifted off to something else? It's possible that I've been continually Webmastering longer than anyone on the whole damn planet. An interesting, if mostly meaningless, accolade.
Being a creative little imp in the right place at the right time, I have a few Web 'firsts' to my credit:
- First "twinkling starfield backdrop". While a few sites were already using big panoramas of stars as backdrops, I added tiny GIF animation blinking stars to mine. And what was
incredibly cruelseriously funny was that I used real long time delays between their blinks. So, you'd see a blink out of the corner of your eye, dart your eyes over there and wait … and wait … and wait for it to blink again … and then suddenly another star would blink nearby, so you eyes would dart over there … and the whole ugly cycle would start all over again. It was for my first web design business, XenWeb Designs.
- First "tabbed" home page. A lot of sites these days use tabs across the top. To the best of my knowledge, this prototype was the first. It was supposed to be an emulation of a Windows program, but, well, then I got a little carried away and…
- First combination of music playing up front and a sound file playing in the background. This was really pushing the envelope at the time. For starters, there wasn't any such thing as 'compressed' audio formats, like MP3 and AC3, for background sound tracks, only great big huge WAV files, so nobody used them. Regular WAV files are in a format called PCM, but in blundering around I came across a rarely-used format called ACM, which was half the file size and the browsers played it just fine. I did a site for a motel by the sea and combined a sound track of the ocean waves softly breaking in the background with a MIDI version of the Beatles' "Octopus's Garden" up front. To hear both at the same time, back in those days, was simply amazing.
To keep all of this in perspective, we're talking 14.4 modems here. That's about one billionth the browsing speed you're currently getting. So the combined size of the files making up the home page was the most important factor when putting together a site, and especially a commercial site. If the files were too big, the site would take too long to load and the potential customer would be reaching for the 'Back' button after 30 long, boring seconds.
As such, that meant using large pictures for backdrops was a big no-no. You could optimize the hell out of them to reduce the file size, but then they'd be real blurry and too crappy to use.
So there I was, playing with a picture of the cute seaside motel I was doing the site for when I tried out some new Photoshop special effects I'd picked up called 'Eye Candy'. It turned the pic into this really cool 'weave' pattern. It made the whole picture somewhat blurry, because of the effect, but it didn't matter because it was all part of the cool pattern.
Actually, it did matter. It mattered a lot.
I suddenly realized that if the pic was already blurry … then it wouldn't matter if you optimized the hell out of it!
Which I promptly did, vastly reducing the file size. I slapped it on the Web site, put in the two audio files playing simultaneously, and here it is. (Firefox users may have to refresh the page to hear both sound files)
- My video how-to site was probably the first — and last — of its kind. It wasn't a 'Web site' by strict definition, it was a 'Usenet Web site'. It wasn't hidden or private; it's just that my Usenet group were the only ones with the address. When a new video tool came along, I'd tear it apart and write a quick Usenet review on it, then others would try the program and add their input. Then I'd write the official guide for it, a number of people would try it out and offer feedback, usually making some small step clearer, and then I'd dutifully update the guide. As a result, unlike every other video how-to site on the planet, the instructions actually worked. It was a community effort is the best sense of the word. That massive site — 650 pages, 1,000 pics to go along with the guides — was probably the premiere video how-to site on the entire web in its day.
One amusing thing about the Web is that when it first arrived, we honestly didn't think it was going to go anywhere. For starters, a name like "World Wide Web" just seemed too corny to be taken seriously. Little did we dream that eventually three of the most popular sites around would be named "Monster", "Google" and "Yahoo!".
Moreover, we didn't see any need for it. We were already FTP'ing and Gopher'ing and Telnet'ing and BBS'ing all over the place, the IRC was in full gear, the Usenet and Fidonet newsgroups were popping, and there simply didn't seem to be any need for another 'file storage area' like this "Wacky World Web" thing.
Wrong again, I'm happy to say.
Then I became a video god.
Jeez, how these things start, huh? I asked one little question in a tiny video group on Usenet, and, the next thing I know, two years later I'm one of the leading experts in the field of computer video and running what was generally considered to be the premiere video how-to site on the Web. Crazy.
Pardon me? What's that? You say that you want to be a video god, too? Well, that's great! I could sure use the help! It's real easy. First, memorize all 650 pages on my video how-to site, then go over to Usenet and let it be known in alt.binaries.multimedia.utilities that you're now a video god — and just wait for the adulation to come pouring in!
And thanks again for the help!
Then I became a real blogger. Woo-hoo!
I ran a blog site for a year, but gave it up when I got snagged by a site called Maggie's Farm, a site I once considered to be the preeminent eclectic blog out there. A lot of sites get close, but they're always missing a few key pieces, like a nature guy or, in Maggie's case, a local computer whiz. But then it 'went political' at some point, and hard-core right-wing political, at that, and I just couldn't relate to the other bloggers or the readers so I left after five years.
And I'm proud to say that I'm not just another reactive blogger, like seemingly most of them, reacting, reacting, reacting to the event of the day. If I don't at least have a fresh angle or perspective, I don't bother, but what I really enjoy is cutting a unique post out of whole cloth. The main page on my home site lists a number of articles that are 'guaranteed original', and probably my best pieces are my video essays.
See you online!