Whole Lotta Blogging Going On

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There's been some furniture rearrangement going on at the cottage recently, which - naturally - has involved rather a lot of hefting of bookcases and their associated books. While it's not so wonderful having to drag the bookcases from room to room, it is an absolute delight to go through the books one by one - blow the dust off them as you take them off, flip a few pages and reorganise them as you put them back on in their new home, on their shiny new shelves. One of the buried treasures I've come across is the delightful "How to Mutate and Take Over the World" by RU Sirius and St Jude. Yes, that's right. I used to cite it in my university assignments at every opportunity - just to see if any of my lecturers would ever pull me up on it. Sadly, they never did. I was itching for a chance to produce the book to prove that it existed. The book is described as an "exploded post-novel", and it really does defy description. It was written in 1996 - when the internet was still pretty heady stuff, coders and hackers were still underground, and "From the Electron-Choked Desk of ..." was still a really cool email signature. I've even highlighted parts of the text. Who knows what possessed me, and why on earth I chose the passages I did, but here's a sample for you:

I'm a forward-looking hopeful sort. I like civility, online or off. And when I look around the Net I can find enclaves every bit as ugly as the Aryan Brotherhood ... Likewise, there are bars I stay out of, and I do not attend soccer games in Italy. I watch my step, try to stay prudently out of the reach of uncivil brutality on both sides of the modem. On the online, though, it's still speech -- I see no bruises here. And however ugly it may be, speech had better not be censored. You know who gets censored next. Better ugly speech than enforced silence.

There was this piece of scary future-talk:

Two persons may exchange messages, conduct business, and negotiate electronic contracts without ever knowing the True Name, or legal identity, of the other.

And what about this novel idea?

Multitech: the reverse of mass production and standardization. Instead of being forced to buy Item A, item ALT-A, or item A-COOL from the three biggest companies, you choose what you exactly want from among a thousand compatible flavors. A money-making operation could be one nerd online in a half a garage.

Back in the days when I was reading this (the inscription in the front says I bought it in 1999), I was playing in the MUDs and the MOOs, IRC was the only form of social networking (not that we called it that back then), Google was a distant dream, and email was still just a little bit strange. Now it's Second Life, Web 2.0, Facebook, My Space and YouTube. Google is not just a company, but a verb, and email is a way of life, not just another means of communication. The other major change is the proliferation of bloggers. I was blogging back in 1999 (incidentally, back when Blogger was in Beta and had nothing to do with Google), and I can remember having to explain what it was to people all the time. I didn't post much - there were no RSS feeds then, and the only real blogs were professional ones, personal opinion ones like mine didn't generate much, if any, traffic - but the theme then was much the same as it is now. Despite a long hiatus between that blog and this one, the focus has shifted only a little - the blog has always been my outlet for thinking things through - stopping the thoughts spinning around long enough to get them written down in some sort of order.

What I find most interesting is the new (or what I think of as new, anyway) type of blogger. The best name I can come up for them is vanity bloggers. I'm sure we all know the sort - the ones who write a personal diary, out there in the - very impersonal - world wide web. I wonder what motivates these people. Although I find most mundane and rather boring, some are bizarre, many are extended whinges, and others are simply embarrassing in their detail. Do these bloggers blog for themselves? Or do they blog for others? If it's for others, who are they? Are they people who know the bloggers personally? Or are they voyeurs who have stumbled across the blog and stayed tuned? Perhaps someone should write to RU Sirius and St Jude. They helped me sort out what the Internet meant to me in the heady days of the dotcom boom. Maybe they could help me sort out what the Internet means in the Web 2.0 world too ...


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