June 19, 2018

Two decades of blogging.

My first blog, then called Vasta’s Daily,” was launched on June 19, 1998—twenty years ago today.

Prior to that, I had been using the web to post things like my essays, my résumé, my book reviews, but never in any kind of order, or in any kind of cohesive space. An older friend hosted my mishmash of pages, and I would send the link out to the pages to friends by ICQ, IRC, or email.

In early 1998, I was introduced to the idea of a weblog: a reverse chronologically-posted listing of daily entries, with archives that allowed for discovery and history. I was smitten with the form, and I knew I had to have one.

I spent a good chunk of the month of June 1998 cobbling together a hand-made, hard-coded blog. I knew rudimentary HTML, CSS, and a bit of Flash, so my first blog wasn’t the prettiest, but it did the trick. Vasta’s Daily launched on June 19, and for the first two years or so, I kept to my promise to post something daily. The content wasn’t always of high quality, but it was regular, at least.

In late 1999, I moved the blog over to Blogger, and renamed the site Subway Tokens.” It featured stories of people I met on public transit, and was updated every few days. Shortly after that, I renamed the site On A Day Like Today” and began my daily posting once again.

By the time I moved over to Typepad in 2003, I had stopped blogging every day, but had a sizeable archive to move over to the new service. By the time I moved over to Typepad, I had the chance to meet with people like Anil Dash, Om Malik—I was honoured to be invited to be part of Om’s burgeoning Desiblogger community—and so many others who continue to blog and inspire me to this day.

When late 2005 rolled around, I had already started a career working in digital content, experience design, and social media; I decided I wanted to own my blog and everything involved, so I set up a Wordpress installation, hosted by a friend, and moved all my archives over to that installation.

In mid 2006, everything disappeared. For many reasons and because of many errors—some of them mine, some of them my friend’s—my blog, and my archives, were lost. I hadn’t backed anything up. I was devastated. I paid for a hosting account at Rackspace and re-set up my blog there, but rarely updated it; it wasn’t until early 2007 when I finally got my spirits back up, renamed my blog I Tell Stories,” and began blogging in earnest, again.

Over the past ten years, the blog has moved from Wordpress to Squarespace, and now, to blot.im. The name has changed—I’m quite fond of inthemargins.ca—and it has gone from a focus on my personal life, to a focus on essays, to now mostly a place to share things written and created by others, things that pique my interest and get me thinking.

This space, this blog, will undoubtedly change again: in tone, in name, in style, in technology. For now, I’m going to celebrate twenty years of having this tiny little corner of the internet as my own, and thank everyone who has encouraged me to keep going throughout these two decades.

I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging these days—a twentieth anniversary is a great time for reflection. I’ve also been inspired by the great writing that has been happening about blogging recently, especially as personal blogging seems to be having a mild resurgence.

What is a blog, really? Aside from the formal definition of a series of posts, arranged in a reverse chronological order, blogs are used differently by different people.

I’ve been smitten by Tom Critchlow’s sense of small b blogging,” where he articulates exactly how I’ve looked at blogging over the past decade:

I call it small b blogging. It’s a virtuous cycle of making interesting connections while also being a way to clarify and strengthen my own ideas. I’m not reaching a big audience by any measure but the direct impact and benefit is material.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most content marketing”.

And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.

For me, blogging has always been about thinking out loud, and about allowing my thoughts and ideas to evolve and grow, through time, out in a public sphere where I’m connected to others who are thinking out loud and growing, too. For me, blogging has always had a small b.

The idea of big B blogging and its promises of audience and acclaim has never appealed to me—I’m lucky to have had the privilege of being published in more traditional” publications, online and in print, who have given me access to those things—because my blog was a place for me to experiment, explore, and connect. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I love Colin Walker’s metaphor that articulates this approach so well:

Ideas are the seeds we plant; some may fall on stony ground but the lucky few find the fertile soils of curious minds just as our minds become incubators for the seeds of others.

As these ideas grow so we take cuttings and offshoots, replant them and let them develop in new, interesting ways. Sometimes they will seem the same but there will be nuance. They may share language or tread the same ground but there will always be variance, just as different cuttings from the same plant will adapt to conditions in a new environment.

I’ve begun talking about my blog as my thought space,” as well, after reading a short reflection by Om a few weeks ago:

When relaxing in the sun this past weekend, I realized that my original blog was my thought space, and that is why it resonated with my community. Among all the blogs I continue to follow — Dave Winer, John Gruber, Bob Lefsetz, Koi Vinh , and Jason Kottke, for example — they are all what I think of as thought spaces. Original posts, links, and opinions are essentially a reflection-on how they view the world and how they are thinking.

What I’d love to explore more is the idea of a blog post as part of an unfinished conversation, both with my small audience, and with myself. This way of thinking, again, is influenced by Om:

What people don’t realize about blogs is that they are never a complete story. They are incomplete and by nature more mysterious, more episodic, and thus more interesting. Blogs are meant not to leave you with everything. The whole idea is to think to deliberate, and to come back again and again, to finish what was started a long time ago. But there is no end, just a pause, for a voice to start, talking again.

Brent Simmons encapsulated the same thought in a beautiful, poetic way:

Here’s a provisional thought (all thoughts on a blog are provisional) — to read a good blog is to watch a writer get a little bit better, day after day, at writing the truth.

I’ve never thought about my twenty years of blogging as an exercise in getting better at writing the truth, but that’s exactly what it is.

If someone asks me what my blog is about, now, I’m going to tell them it is my thought place, it is a conversation with myself and with others, and that it is my way of getting better at writing the truth. That’s what it has been for twenty years, and that’s what I hope for it to be for at least another twenty.

After all, no matter what medium it takes, this conversation with myself and with others will never end. As James Shelley so beautifully puts it:

Conversations don’t end’ in any absolute sense. They are just temporarily punctuated by the silence of distance until we reconvene.

Thanks to all of you for supporting me through the past twenty years of thought, the past two decades of trying to writing the truth—and all the noise and silence that came with it. Here’s to another few decades of great conversation ahead.