Strong opinions, weakly held

Notes on Say Everything

I’ve plowed into Scott Rosenberg‘s new history of blogging, Say Everything and finished the first half of the book today. It’s pretty clear to me that this book will be seen one day as incredibly important. This is the first history book I’ve ever read (and could very well be the last) that describes events that I observed very closely. Scott does a great job of filling in the backstories for those events. Nothing in the book rings patently false or wrong to me, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay.

A few random impressions from the first few chapters:

  • I appreciated the chapter on Justin Hall. He was one of the most interesting characters on the early web. Rosenberg mentions Electric Minds in the context of Justin working there. That was a site that I really, really loved — it was probably the most stimulating forum for online conversation that I ever encountered.
  • The second and third chapters cover Dave Winer and Jorn Barger. Both of them were huge inspirations to me and were very influential in terms of how I built this site, and both of them are in some ways controversial characters. I thought he told both their stories fairly and well.
  • Suck.com gets a big mention. There is no site that inspired me more to write online than Suck. I originally wanted to write essays for Suck, and settled for trying to write essays in the style of Suck.
  • I knew a big chunk of the Pyra/Blogger story, but not all of it. Now I feel like some of the gaps have been filled.
  • Scott discusses the influx of “warbloggers” immediately after September 11, 2001. Reading that part of the book made me really sad, so much so that I almost wanted to put the book down. I felt like those people took something from the people who were blogging before, and I still resent them for it.

A few things I was sad to see go unmentioned:

  • Noah Grey. Noah wrote an open source blogging tool called Greymatter that was released after Blogger and before Movable Type. These days it’s hard to find a good link to link to for him. Greymatter was (I think) the first open source server-based blogging application as far as I know. It was also written in the most inscrutable style you can imagine. I’d hate to see his contributions be lost completely.
  • Brigitte Eaton. In the early days of weblogging, Brigitte made a herculean effort to catalog all of the weblogs that existed. Eventually the growth of weblogs made that task impossible, but she maintained the most comprehensive list for a really long time, and she did it by hand. Scott mentions the first blogroll, but doesn’t mentions Brigitte’s work on that front.
  • Me. Not because I was omitted, but because I feel like I didn’t make the contributions I could have back in the olden days. I was there to bear witness but didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to make a bigger impact. Fortunately it’s not as though I’m out of chances.


  1. Thanks for the kind words, Rafe! Glad you’re enjoying the book. A few notes:

    (1) Eaton is actually in the book (briefly). The mention is more in the context of “lists of blogs” (A-list, Technorati, etc.) so comes later in the book than the discussion of blogrolls.

    (2) It’s true I didn’t cover Greymatter, nor did I devote a lot of space to the Trotts/the SixApart saga, which has been widely covered elsewhere. After the Blogger chapter I felt I’d written about as much about blogging software as the book could support. There could easily be a whole volume on the topic.

    (3) This is, I hope, good news: I am planning to launch, before the book’s release, a wiki called bloghistory.org where I’m going to post all my research and invite people to add their own additions. Sort of an open space for anyone who feels “hey, why didn’t you mention X or cover Y?” to add it themselves.

    More on that as I get it together. Of course, I’m way behind 🙂

  2. I’m looking forward to reading this too, and like you, am an old timer that could have made more contributions back in the old days. I think Phillyfuture might be among the ‘first’ locally focused blogs. Maybe 🙂

    Especially happy to see Justin Hall and Electric Minds – I loved that place as well.

  3. Oh, I don’t think I’m going to be able to read the bit about the ‘warbloggers’ – I’m sure it will make me alternately nauseous and furious revisiting some of that.

    I’ve read the 2 chapters that are up online and share your impression that nothing is egregiously wrong — and how RARE IS THAT??

    And a big hearty ‘ditto’ on your last bullet point. But you are going great guns right now! Really good stuff here of late. (I on the other hand am currently reduced to wondering how much of my kid’s potty exploits I should blog – but really, I will be back! Someday..)

  4. Comment systems changed blogging in an interesting way, and it will be interesting to see if this is touched upon. Time was that if someone had something to say about what someone else had written they’d do it on their site, with a link back. A conversation would develop, frequently involving multiple sites, and this was often a useful way to discover different points of view, and new voices.

    Blogs are vast now, and contain multitudes, so it would be difficult to generalize, but I think a case could be made that there has been some loss of civility that can be attributed to the fact that it is now more common to post a comment to someone else’s post, rather than to engage in a site-to-site conversation.

  5. Speaking of old times, I think I’ve been reading your blog for ten years man. Even if I don’t comment all that often 🙂

  6. Before comment systems were pervasive in blogs, a few bloggers actually took time to read all of the email they received, weed it down and publish just the best stuff. I remember Dave Winer doing this very early on and it was a thrill to make it into one of his Scripting News Mail Pages he put up every week or so.

    When I met with Scott in NYC I forgot to mention that there was a very early group of online diarists who were struggling with whether or not they wanted to be called bloggers. They called themselves Everything/Nothing pages or E/N Pages for short. I brought these to attention back in 1999 when Dave was starting to talk about who pioneered blogging and when.

    I too am disillusioned about how the “warbloggers” changed the face of blogging. In some ways their hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas sucked the life out of blogging that made it fun, engaging and personal. It’s also one of the reasons I stopped blogging for long periods of time. I simply did not want to be known as a blogger for fear of being mistaken for being a “warblogger”, which in my mind was synonymous with “raving lunatic from the right wing nutjob convention.”

  7. Interesting. I’m reading Chapter 1 right now and thinking “oh, yeah, these were the people I did my best to ignore”. I may have to read this to catch up; while I was bemoaning that “The Semi-Existence of Bryon” (Sutherland) was being abandoned, the rest of the world was latching on to Justin and the suck.com crowd.

    To Rafe’s “…I didn’t make the contributions I could have back in the olden days.” comment, I’ll engage in a bit of nostalgia. I preferred blogging back then, when we had cross-blog conversations and all the other good stuff of those days, and I’m not sure that most of what’s happened since then has been a contribution. If your bigger impact from here on out can help us get back some of the conversation that we had back then, rather than the one-sided yelling and incessant pitching that seems to have replaced it, then I welcome it. Give me the environment that spawned Cam emailing me and saying “you don’t know me except that I linked to you, but I’m coming out to SF for a job interview, can I crash on your couch?” over what we ended up with every time.

  8. The most awesome thing about blogging for these past 10 years? Still corresponding with so many of the people I met through blogging back then here, on Twitter, and elsewhere.

  9. Rafe: Thanks for posting the review, and for the shout-outs to EatonWeb and Noah Grey (who merits inclusion in any blog history not just for Greymatter but for his photography and the way he told his own story).

    Scott: As a big fan of Dreaming in Code, I can’t wait to dive into Say Everything. I’ve recommended DiC to many, many folks as the best introduction I know to programming culture for non-programmers. (As one of the people swayed by Jim Fallows’s endorsement of Agenda, I also had high hopes for Chandler.)

    Cameron: Your blog (with its smartly curated blogroll) and Rafe’s were two of the sites that first showed me what the Web might make possible.

    Thanks to all.

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