It Was Sixteen Years Ago Today

What does the web of previous 1 October tell us?

I few months ago I wrote that sometimes, “I come to visit my website just to look at the Blast From The Past section.” Admittedly, I don’t do this very often but today, on my morning commute, I did and found three entries from the first day of October in years gone by: 2002, 2004 and 2010.  As a view of the past, I thought they made an interesting set of posts to study.

Eight years ago I was sharing interesting news links from the world digital advertising on an almost daily basis; something that you’d find on Twitter today and not laguishing on a blog. As I’ve said before, Twitter is probably a better place for such updates. Back then, I expressed surprise that part of the digital ad world was described by AdWeek as a ‘cesspool’: I thought it was a little extreme. Today, I’d probably not be so surprised and I might even agree with that description.

The ‘cesspool’ comment was used in a session at AdWeek 2010 where, “[T]he easy availability of low-cost online advertising space was a theme, and a problem, the panel returned to several times” [quote].  I imagine many of the people have come back to that theme a good few times since then! I wonder how many of the attendees 8 years ago are amongst the podcasters, influencers and digital prophets at AdWeek 2018.  Certainly, three roles that were not in use at the turn of the millennium when the other 1st October entries were written.

In 2004 I wrote about a phone being stolen which seemed quite important at the time but, from today’s vantage point, the focus on the newspaper headline of the day is much more interesting.  These days I have no idea what the headline on the evening paper is as I head home and it’s unlikely I’m using my phone camera to grab a snapshot. Somewhere along the way, at least to me, headlines became less interesting because my news sources were much more personalised and my experience of the Evening Standard today (primarily accessed via a news aggregator on my phone) will be different to yours.

But it’s the sixteen year-old entry that really caught my attention. How does the ‘Snapshot of the Blogsphere’ stand-up today?  It’s rather poor: all the three links noted are no longer accessible from their original pages because none of the sites are active anymore, although Tom’s plasticbag.org is still archived even if the links are broken (a little bit of searching does come up with the original entry).  There so much of the early web that’s gone. Fortunately, the Wayback Machine has some kind of copy of the material and I have been able to update the original links (see: Tom, Meg, Bart). It’s not great because I don’t imagine many people will go searching for them if they get a ‘not found’ error.  I wish there was a way to prevent this but what to do when the owners don’t want to do it anymore?

I’m glad I managed to rescue the snapshot of 2002. I don’t read anywhere near as many blogs as I did back then but, just in case I want to check in with myself in another 16 years, here’s a quick look at what I read today:

  1. Some years getting the Gold Card discount added to my Oyster is really simple, and other years everyone shakes their head and says “no, we can’t do that here, go away”. This year’s attempt proved almost, but not quite, at the easy end of the scale. [DiamondGeezer]
  2. Musk doesn’t deserve to be compared to Steve Jobs, he’s a category unto himself. He has improvised on a scale we’ve never seen before and has forced the incumbents to wake up and adopt EVs as their future. [Monday Note]
  3. It was not hard to see why Trump hadn’t seen the point in preparing to take over the federal government: why study for a test you will never need to take? [kottke.org]

Let’s just make sure the Wayback Machine has a copy.

I Used To Blog

I used to blog when blogging was something that people who believed in the open web did. It was when I believed that having a place to write was good and that personal publishing was a democratising force.

I used to blog when blogging was something that people who believed in the open web did. It was when I believed that having a place to write was good and that personal publishing was a democratising force.

I used to blog when conversations happened, and ideas were shared, across blogs and not as trolling-comments or 140 character part-thoughts.

I used to blog when trolls lived under bridges before the mainstream thought of trolling as an activity you needed a keyboard to engage in.

Some of my early blogging is cringeworthy and has little substance: but the point was to share an idea, thought or experience with the world. Or with yourself. It was the status update before there was such a thing.

Very occasionally I still write something here in a way that might be considered a blog. I wish I had the patience and time to write more. I admire the people that still do it.

Even less often I look at other places in case there are some artefacts left that should have migrated here many years ago. I rarely find anything.

Sometimes, I come to visit my own website just to look at the Blast From The Past section. It’s a list of blog pieces I wrote on this day of the month in previous years. It’s a nostalgia trip: something like opening a teenage diary or journal and feeling vaguely embarrassed at the person you used to be. I didn’t keep an adolescent diary, so I’ll spare you that. This is the closest you’ll get.

Today, I arrived here and discovered 6 Blast From The Past entries: 5 of which all date from 2005. My Blast From The Past is really a rather narrow view. The blogging years were really 2003-2005. But 5 entries on a single day was unusual, but when I look closely, I find that these entries would live on Twitter today. Aside from a separate post about the G8 summit; they are all a countdown to the announcement that London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics.

Perhaps, tiny updates like this work better on Twitter. There, they are posted in real-time and shared alongside others who may be witnessing the same thing. But Twitter makes it really hard to get a sense of my past. I wish they’d do a better job surfacing my history. I love being reminded about things like I was today.

Interestingly, I don’t really need the Blast From The Past section to remember that day, but it is useful to remind me that it is today. The memory is very vivid. I wish I had blogged during the actual 2012 Olympics in as much detail. I wrote a couple of things. Not much.

Of course, I remember the next day too. For very different reasons.

Challenge – Failed

The #SOLS challenge failed in 2017 so I am trying again in 2018.

It’s the last Sunday of January 2018 and I have a decision to make. Shall I continue with the #SOLS project?

#SOLS (Sermon of the Last Sunday) was a self-inflicted challenge to see if I could write on this website at least once a month and make the hosting costs somewhat worth paying. It almost worked.

January started off strong with a note about the reading challenge (more on that in another post). In February, I used the #SOLS challenge to post an entry about my amazing trip to Japan. I failed to make the last Sunday in March and the post about Google dominating UK digital advertising was written at the start of April. There was no post at the end of April, nor in May, but the fascinating diary exhibition formed the basis of June’s “Dear Digital Diary“.

Major rail engineering works outside London Waterloo station and a shake-up of the train service in South West London formed a trilogy of #SOLS in July, August and September. As we moved into winter time, I wrote about adjusting the clocks in October and a great visit to the top of London’s BT Tower for the nighttime view finished November. Somehow, I missed writing anything in December which means I failed in my goal of writing something every month.

Even though I failed the specific challenge, I actually wrote more here in 2017 than I have done for a while. I’m enjoying the experience of trying to be creative at least once a month and so, for 2018, I have decided to try again. I want to go for a full house: an entry every month this year. Stick with me.

Dear Digital Diary

Dear Diary is an exhibition at King’s College, Somerset House, until 7 July, that is a celebration of the art of diary keeping in all its forms. From the early almanacs, through the diaries of Pepys, online journals and YouTube, they are all covered in an interesting collection that forms this small exhibition.

Dear Diary ExhibitionIn the archive you’ll find that I posted an entry from 2002 entitled “Give Us Our Daily Blog” which is a collection of daily blogs that I read. Most of the links are now dead and I don’t recall that much about many of them. I do know that one thing that appealed to me in the early days of web publishing was the very personal nature of the content; it was the kind of window on the world I don’t think we had seen before.

Since then, we have become used to a never-ending stream of personal thoughts that pour onto the screen from blogs, social media and now YouTube videos. In the first days of the web it was like opening the padlock on somebody’s secret diary and reading their inner-most thoughts. Of course, we’re all used to it now and we all move the first things that pop into our heads onto a screen via a keyboard.

Dear Diary is an exhibition at King’s College, Somerset House, until 7 July, that is a celebration of the art of diary keeping in all its forms. From the early almanacs, through the diaries of Pepys, Kenneth Williams, online journals and, now, YouTube, they are all covered in an interesting collection that forms this small exhibition. If you are in London before 7 July 2017 then you should go and see it (and you get to see inside one of the wings of Somesert House that you would not get access to unless you were a student).

It was a thought-provoking exhibition and made me think about what element of these journals I’d like left behind. After all, a printed version of this site could hang around but – eventually – nobody will be paying for the hosting and I imagine my hosting provider will hit the big delete button. I’ve already commented this week, in the post about satellite dishes in New York, about my early online life which has already disappeared. What version of history does the web give us if much is deleted?

How do you preserve an online diary for further generations?

#SOLS

Sermon Of the Last Sunday is my attempt to ensure that there is something published on my site every month in 2017.  You can read about my attempts to force myself to write or review the full #sols collection through the handy site tag, sols. In an earlier post I wrote about a visit to Japan or maybe your more interested in digital advertising. #sols has it all.

BEWA Unstuck

In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product.

Oops. My Blog Every Wednesday in August project (#BEWA) came slightly unstuck last week, didn’t it? In my head I am imagining the thousands who rose early to read a thrilling, pithy and insightful page of words from me over their morning coffee and artisan baked breakfast product. Each and every one of their days spent constantly f5-ing (for the PC nerds) to no avail.

The real world caught up with me and events on the first three nights of the week transpired to keep me away from the keyboard. I, of course, could have simply promoted the current BEWA series and pretended that was a worthy entry. It could have featured a handy numbered list something like this:

  1. Blimey, BEWA’s Back!
  2. Handed Down from 2012
  3. Right Place, Right Time

Alternatively, I could have waxed lyrical about the tremendous performance Team GB had put at the Rio Olympics. That would have been topical and might have scored some hits.

I did neither, choosing instead, to have another beer and then by the weekend, it seemed ridiculous to write an almost week-late entry. But the BEWA project has not lapsed. It’s back with a suitably stunning entry that might start with a reference to the London skyline (although perhaps not the one used here).

Stay tuned.

Better In Just 14 Days

Is Bifidus Digestivum a made up term or is it real? Scientific proof that fewer blog comments makes you less gassy. So, I turned them off.

Today must be like a good dose of Bifidus Digestivum for my database. You know the tellybox ad that tells us that digestive discomfort affects 56% of women, or some such statistic, and then tells us to eat a pro-something yoghurt type thing and in two weeks we won’t feel like we want to fart so much?

Think of junk comments (15,481 of them) and junk trackbacks (3,598 of them) as well as the undetected junk comments & trackbacks (about 7,000 in total) as that bloated feeling and the delete button as a daily helping of tasty Activia from Danone (this blog accepts freebies if you want to contact me). In fact, to help my database get over the discomfort I thought about buying it a blanket and some cushions but it said another Rhubarb Fruit Yoghurt or a tasty Prune Fruit Layer would be better.

So there we go, scientific proof that fewer comments makes you less gassy. So, I turned them off.

Admonished By A Snack Food Wrapper

I’m a crisp packet who’s about to fine you £50.

I love Anna’s writing. Captain Crisps and FagEndBoy is one of my favourites:

It’s got to take the shine off your manhood, being publically admonished by a snack food wrapper.

Little Red Boat certainly has a way with words, she makes me laugh almost every day.

Buttons In The Honesty Box

I’ve never met Jason Kottke but he makes me feel like a bad thief. The judge will send me down unless I do something about it.

Jason Kottke
By Zach Klein – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

You will know that Jason Kottke is a superstar blogger – and I don’t mean he wears a Seventies-style Addidas tracksuit (although he might and it would be very retro) [click here if you don’t get the classic British TV reference and go bow at the alter of David Vine].

No, he’s been (Kottke, not Vine) writing a personal web site (in the blog style) since sometime in 1998 which makes him – in web years – very, very old indeed (although he doesn’t look it in the pictures). If you haven’t read his site you should because he’s good at this stuff but now – in a nutshell (and the word nuts may be important) – he’s given up a job to spend his days writing great content for his site in the hope that readers pay him (read his reasoning in more detail) for writing it.

Anyway, to cut a ramble short, I just went to read today’s postings (like this one) and have come away feeling like a dirty thief. I haven’t stumped up the cash so I feel like the kind of person who walks out of WH Smith’s with The Independent under his arm and hasn’t paid (nor dropped a button in the honesty box to look like I am paying). The security guard hasn’t clocked me but my toes are sweating in fear. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be a good shoplifter which is why, mother if you’re reading this, I am not a thief. And, yet feel like one.

Damn, damn, damn .. I have to find a credit cards sans dust.

It Was A Good Read

While I will miss the disappearances, they are – of course, just blips in the workings of the web. What I find sad is that, in time, it is likely that all this content will disappear from servers as the owners stop paying for the space that houses the sites. It would be like burning every copy of a book you had read – vanished. It’s part of a shared history that disappears.

I always feel it’s a little sad when a blog dies – particularly when all trace of it is removed. If it’s a blog I have been reading for some time then it feels as if a part of my history disappears. It is one of the strange things about the online experience – it’s very easy for things to disappear; things that were once inspirational, useful or entertaining.

One of my earliest online inspirations was Jase Wells. Although I’d been trying out building web pages for the company I worked for, Jase was the inspiration for my first home page (sadly long gone from the servers on which it resided and a great example of what I am talking about). Jase is still alive and well but the focus of his site has changed and, while it’s updated much more often now, the coming out story that was such a useful resource has gone (although it’s still available via archive.org).

Another Jase, now Snoboardr of OutEverywhere, had some personal pages once that were also fairly important in my use of the web.

Then there are the blogs that disappear. Mike of Troubled Diva fame (who I was introduced to via the excellent 40in40) put the blog on indefinite hold at the beginning of December. 8Legs went the same way a few weeks later. And now Chris has packed up. I don’t know Chris nor have I ever mailed or commented his site but I read it almost religiously. Why? Well, he has a talent for writing to the extent that almost everything he wrote was compelling. It was his writing style which was an inspiration because, by the time I discovered his site, I had been writing this blog for a while.

At least Daniel’s said it’s unlikely that he will give up completely.

While I will miss the disappearances, they are – of course, just blips in the workings of the web. What I find sad is that, in time, it is likely that all this content will disappear from servers as the owners stop paying for the space that houses the sites. It would be like burning every copy of a book you had read – vanished. It’s part of a shared history that disappears.

Diary writers perform an unintentional function as social historians. If you go all the way back to Pepys or think more recently of somebody like Kenneth Williams, their diaries are read today and give us an insight into what the world was like. If Mike or Chris has written their blogs as paper-based diaries there may very well have been something for historians to use in the future. If they don’t keep some kind of record of what they wrote in an accessible form then it will be lost to the future and people trying to understand life in the 21st Century will be poorer.

So, to those who wrote content I enjoyed reading, a plea. Archive your content for future generations. Regardless of how you do it, keep it.

Oh, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed them all.

Another Look

This is curnow.org, Jon Curnow’s personal website. I’ve decided to have a bit of a revamp and move some of the content around. Thus, most of the blog content is no longer here.

Eventually, I will add some more content to curnow.org.

Thoughts on Blogspace

I believe I might be attaching a purity to the weblog concept that is misplaced. I wouldn’t place those same ideals on population as a whole, so why should I do it to the blogged world? Freedom to write whatever I want is a fine thing and, perhaps, I imposing concepts of integrity that are incompatible with this freedom?

Yesterday’s post has started a whole train of thoughts about the concept of blog integrity and why should we care? I am sure it’s the idealist in me that is attaching a great deal of importance to the billions of words blogged on a daily basis. Perhaps I shouldn’t care because the power of blog-space is that people write opinion and thought in an way that they want to. It’s not for anybody else to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to promote a new mobile ‘phone because either I want to or the company sent me a free ‘phone.

I believe I might be attaching a purity to the weblog concept that is misplaced. I wouldn’t place those same ideals on population as a whole, so why should I do it to the blogged world? Freedom to write whatever I want is a fine thing and, perhaps, I imposing concepts of integrity that are incompatible with this freedom?

I’m not sure where these thoughts are going but they are challenging my blog ideals. I mentioned in one of my posts yesterday to the UK Bloggers list that, perhaps, blogs were just catching up with other media. I suspect that is true but in a way I hadn’t thought – the fact that they are as exploitable, commercially, as any other media.

Where does this leave my online ideals?

In related reading, Rebecca Blood talks about these issues in Weblog Ethics.

Elsewhere: Blogging & Advertising

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how iwll it work for a blog?

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss mailing list at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how will it work for a blog?

I started quite open to the concept,

I believe advertising is a compromise. Are you comfortable with a reader questioning your independence? I know it’s a very grand term but, nonetheless, it’s at the heart of the advertising debate. It may not matter to the vast majority of readers but it could (should?) to some. I don’t think anybody but me cares about my independence but it is the reason why I wouldn’t want any advertising on my blog.

But is it that simple? Blogging generally costs something – hosting, bandwidth, time and effort. Should a blogger be entitled to get a little something back? I don’t think advertising is a bad thing on blogs,

When typing my previous post I was being very careful not to say that I felt the acceptance of advertising is inappropriate (because I don’t think it is) but I do believe that while it shouldn’t change what you do or what you say, it may very well change the way you are read. And for some people, that’s a consideration (admittedly, probably not for many).

Or am I putting an undue emphasis on editorial independence for bloggers? Perhaps I am. Is it a silly notion to (try to) apply to weblogs in all their forms?

But then Tom introduced me to projectblog.com, a site aimed at recruiting bloggers with reasonable audiences “who would be willing to help advance their marketing efforts”, and introduced the concept of blogging about products you may have been sent as freebies or paid to write about. I think I turned cynical,

My first reaction was that it proved my point about editorial independence. Then, I was going to cite traditional broadcast media. There are some rules there to ensure clear distinction between programme and advertising content.

However, when you think about it, how many morning DJs talk about having seen new blockbuster that’s not released yet? Many of them. And most of them went for free. You do not consciously think their opinion is biased.

Perhaps the online world is playing catch up with traditional media. And I can’t decide if that a good thing or not.

Maybe it’s sad that I cling to the notion that connected networks somehow empower people. I am not against the commercial web but weblogs are a great example of a (generally) positive use of the technology. When the marketers get involved it changes my expectations. It’s not a surprise but the next time somebody raves about something new won’t you question it (even a little bit)?

Is it possible to turn into a world-weary cynic in the space of two hours?

And now? Well, I stand by my thoughts that you should be clear about what you write. Blogging to me is the fulfilment of the web’s promise of personal publishing for everybody. But, of course, money always gets in the way and there’s nothing wrong with advertising online. After all, it’s what I do, isn’t it?

Commercial Free

Should Blogs carry advertising? When it’s not clear if an opinion blogged is really paid for commercial content being passed of as something else. It’s not a problem unique to the blogsphere but it’s something that I haven’t pondered a great deal until today. It is a problem other media have had to deal with for years – some have done it better than others

There’s been an interesting discussion on the UK Bloggers discussion list today regarding online advertising and if it’s appropriate in the blogging world.

I need to put my position into context. I came to the web (and, therefore, to employment) because I truly believe that personal publishing can empower people. To me the pull of the medium was access to views and interests outside the mainstream. The ability to publish what you had to say without an editor’s red pen. That doesn’t mean that you can ignore laws of the land but, within an existing legal framework, it is relatively easy and cheap to publish. It’s not easy to guarantee the audience but that’s a different story. The message is out there and that’s a starting point (and should be a right in a democratic society). This is a good thing.

I also believe there is a need for a commercial web. The fact that we buy things online, read content paid for by subscription or advertising etc. helps pay for the infrastructure that allows the rest of us to publish. The commercial web is a good thing too.

Advertising is also a good thing, it pays for things so I don’t have to. I’ve made a career out of working in advertising-related industries. I have no objection to advertising.

Where it starts to blur for me is when the three points above mix. When it’s not clear if an opinion blogged is really paid for commercial content being passed of as something else. It’s not a problem unique to the blogsphere but it’s something that I haven’t pondered a great deal until today. It is a problem other media have had to deal with for years – some have done it better than others.

I honestly believe that giving marketers access to a weblog audience (and you can see why they would want a mass of referrals) starts to compromise the reason why weblogs/journals etc. are so successful and such an important part of the landscape these days. Any media with access to an audience is bound to attract the attention of marketing men. Let’s face it, that’s how Amazon grew – lots of affiliates making small amounts of money and we’ve been linking away to them for years. Is the integrity of a weblog at risk? Well, readers should be asking if a link to Amazon is bourne out of genuine appreciation of the book or if it was placed purely for profit.

The idealist in me thinks the freedom to publish personal opinion shouldn’t be mixed with commercial interests. The realist believes people have to pay for server space and bandwidth so a little commercial involvement may help allow people publish what they want to say. Thus the two are intertwined.

As always, it’s difficult to come down on one side of the arguments. I would honestly like to believe not everything in the world needs to carry a commercial message. I would like to believe that bloggers did it because they had something to say, even if, like this site, it’s not earth shattering. The world, however, is much more complex.

UPDATE: I’ve written a second piece that includes more of the quotes from the mailing list, mainly for my archive but it may as well be posted.

UPDATE 10 March 2003: Tom Coates – who sparked the discussion – wrote (as always) a great piece on this subject.

Give Us Our Daily Blog

As I started redeveloping this site, it became apparent that I wanted to link to my collection of daily blog reads and this became the place to keep them.

In common with any page of links, many of the pages noted below have long since moved, closed or cease to be updated in any regular kind of way. Facebook and Twitter have meant some of those who I used to read have moved on to the next way to communicate their thoughts. I keep this here as a nice remineder of the early days of blogging!

As I started redeveloping this site, it became apparent that I wanted to link to my collection of daily blog reads and this became the place to keep them.

The first, almost daily, read is Jase Wells. I guess I have been something of an invisible online stalker to this site for years. I have watched it move, change and develop since sometime in 1994 when I first came across it. It still remains one of the best personal homepages on the web – and I am very pleased to see that he has turned it into a blog.

Next on the list is Tom Coates’ plasticbag.org – which must be one of the best around and, if I am honest, I miss it if he doesn’t post. You will find notsosoft linked from there which, I think, contains some of the best writing on the web.

trabaca, posterboy, eric and contrasts.net provide additional regular reading from the US, while Adam’s photoblog provides stunning pictures on a regular basis. overyourhead is a UK take, while prolific is based in Amsterdam. Haddock blogs is a collection of well-known UK internet names.

Of course, blogsphere is represented well by Metafilter which I try and check out most days.

Other’s of note include Nick Denton and Brendan O’neill for opinions; Scott Andrew, Ben Hammersley and Jason Kottke for web-related stuff and Stuart Towns for his travelogue.

Finally, if you’re not interested in reading the ramblings of people you may never have heard of, then click along to Wil Wheaton’s blog which is a fascinating take on the world of celebrity.