Twenty years a blogger….

Last week a local person graciously cited me as a creative person worth following online, which was a compliment I greatly appreciated! But what really took me back was the description:

Two decades? Really?

That’s when it hit me: Last month marked twenty years of me blogging.

I launched Byzantium’s Shores on BlogSpot back in February of 2002. I almost made it to twenty years of maintaining that same exact blog, but last year I went ahead and pulled the trigger on migrating to this space, because owning one’s own space online is really the way to go as corporate interests become more and more vested in controlling the content that is posted in the spaces that they own (and then, oddly, entrust the moderation of said content to badly-programmed AI bots that confuse tone and do things like require a certain popular commenter to take down a post the AI had labeled as “hate speech”, when all it did was post verbatim an official statement by the 45th President).

Looking back at 2002 and my road to blogging, some of it seems pretty clear and some of it is kind of foggy, like anything would be when viewed from so long a distance. I’d been a prolific poster on a few Usenet newsgroups at the time, but I was already chafing at wanting to write about stuff that wasn’t really on topic for those few newsgroups where I was a regular. Then a Google search for an old friend’s name turned up an interesting-looking website of his, which looked like basically an online journal, and shortly after that, I remember reading an article in an issue of TIME or NEWSWEEK about this new thing: “blogs”, short for “web log”, which are exactly what my friend was doing. He was maintaining an online journal and writing his occasional thoughts about…things.

I started looking around for blogs–

(OK, an aside here: I have ALWAYS hated the word ‘blog’. Can’t stand it. It’s the word we’ve settled on, but I really wish we’d called them e-journals instead. That would fit better with e-mail and e-books, and connotatively, ‘e-journaling’ sounds a bit less nerdy than ‘blogging’.)

–and after I figured out how to set one up, using Blogger and its hosting site BlogSpot, off I went.

Functionality back then was really bare-bones. Permanent links to posts were a total crapshoot as to whether they’d work or not. There was no photo hosting of any kind, and back then “hotlinking” photos on other sites was a big no-no. Google was still several years away from buying Blogger, so the service didn’t have very deep pockets. Unless you knew at least a little about HTML, you were locked into a few basic templates and you couldn’t even change your typeface on your blog. Unless you paid Blogger for the “pro” version, every blog had a toolbar with ads splashed across the top.

Here’s one of the first blogs I ever followed, back in the day. This one closed up shop a year and a half after I started blogging, and I’m honestly a bit surprised that it still exists online at all. I found that one, if memory serves, via a “Randomly Featured Blogs” sidebar that would show up on the main Blogger site. Blogs at the time were so new that you pretty much found new ones by following links back and forth and bookmarking the ones you wanted to keep reading when you found them. If you really liked another blog, you’d put it on your “blogroll”, the list of links to other blogs that you maintained on yours. The more times you got listed on others’ blogrolls, and the more times popular blogs linked yours, the more traffic you’d get. There was a “process” to “going viral” back then.

I didn’t post under my real name initially, as this was still the era–a waning era, to be sure, but it was still the thinking–that you shouldn’t share your real name online. Gradually this became less and less workable and less and less of a big deal, so the old screen name “Jaquandor” is now pretty much of a personal anachronism that dates back to my AOL days of posting on Usenet.

The tone of blogging back then was wild and wooly. When I started, 9-11 was less than six months in the past; I’m not even sure that the dust had even stopped settling, literally, at the World Trade Center site. As the nation reeled from that attack and as other powers started pushing for a war that was cast as a response to that attack (but I think we all know by now had almost nothing to do with it, along with another war that was a response but instead led to twenty years of bungling), so the online discussion turned mainly to matters of politics and war. Even then the general political tone polarized quite a bit, with bloggers skeptical of the war on one side, and bloggers vociferously for the war on the other.

I read a lot on both sides back then, and when I say that the folks for the war were for the war, I mean, they were FOR that war. They wanted it badly. There were times when I could almost sense their glee when the first bombs started falling. My own feelings on the war were mixed at first, but I quickly soured on the whole idea as it became clear that the whole thing was an exercise in chest-thumping triumphalism (“Mission Accomplished!”, the banner read, after just weeks of combat in a large independent country) and masculinity-run-amok.

The “blogosphere” at the time was an eerie forerunner of what we see in a lot of social media today, in a more prolix era, a time when people weren’t limited to 280 characters, or even 280 words. Anyone who remembers a blogger named Steven Den Beste will remember some really wordy screeds cheerleading the war. Den Beste was a strange dude whom I found weirdly compelling, kind of an intellectual tire-fire from which I couldn’t divert attention. He was a former engineer who retired to a blogging-from-his-apartment lifestyle, and he would often start his very long posts in an interesting fashion, describing some issue in science or from his old engineering life or whatever. This was always kind of interesting, until he’d inevitably reveal how the thing he was talking about was really a metaphor to support yet another argument of his for why bombing Iraq back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar was really the best thing for the region. Den Beste would later abandon politics on his own site and recast his blog as an anime-fandom blog, though he contributed more and more political screeds to other sites. He often insisted that he didn’t like labels and that he had no real political “home”, but as the years went by, it was increasingly clear that he was a mainstream right-winger. I eventually stopped reading Den Beste entirely when he expressed feelings of schadenfreude toward those who felt that George Zimmerman’s acquittal in killing Trayvon Martin was a travesty. A year or two ago I suddenly remember Steven Den Beste and searched his name, wondering if he was still out there cranking out anime reviews. Turns out he died in 2016.

I don’t mention him now to throw rocks at him, but Steven Den Beste is one of my main memories of the tone of the “early” blogosphere (which I preferred to call “Blogistan”), at least on the national or worldwide scale. He even linked me a couple of times, once with bemusement when I responded with what I hoped was obviously fake outrage at his negative review of Attack of the Clones. I think he got it: his link to my response was something like “Kelly Sedinger comments here, and he might want to calm down a little!” If nothing else, Den Beste was more than willing to engage people who thought he was full of crap. Again, I don’t intend to single him out negatively, but I mention him at length precisely because he was a memorable voice back then, in a time when even then there were a lot of voices, many of which were saying the same things in the same ways.

Blogging had a more local focus as well, and once we resettled in the Buffalo area after our brief stay in the Syracuse region in 2002-2003, I started connecting with local bloggers, some of whom focused on politics and others who focused on other things. A small but fun community arose, and we even had several meet-ups out in the “real world”, the first of which was at a brewery-bar in downtown Buffalo. The local blogs brought up local issues, and national issues, and not just politics as well: I remember debates about the merits of various styles of pizza, which of the Democratic candidates in 2008 might be able to win, what the Bass Pro plaza in downtown Buffalo should be like (what a hoot!), and so on. If that sounds like all the kinds of things you see now on Facebook and Twitter, well…there’s a reason for that, isn’t there? But the Buffalo blogging community was a cool one, and though many of those folks have long since abandoned their blogs, they’re still online in social media and I still follow many of them.

People like to scoff at the idea of an online “community” being any kind of community at all, but…when Little Quinn died, a bunch of people I only knew online showed up at his wake to pay respects. I will always remember that.

Blogging now, in 2022, has changed and has remained the same, in a lot of strange ways. Facebook and Twitter have taken over many of its main functions, and for people who still want to do long-form work that is ill-suited to those platforms, there are paid platforms for monetization like Patreon, Substack, and others. The essence of blogging is still out there but is largely decentralized. Maybe that’s a good thing, as blogs never really seemed to break through into the general awareness in the way that Facebook and Twitter and others later would, even if a lot of that functionality still exists. Locally I remember that a few times a year the Buffalo News would report on blogs, and each time the tone was pretty much the same: “Hey, there are these things called ‘blogs’! What are they? Let’s find out!” And the article would feature a few local bloggers. I was never one of them. Yes, this annoyed me.

It is interesting to see the “essence” of blogging come back, albeit in the form of paywalled newsletters and content-aggregators like Substack and the rest. I’m of mixed mind on this, to be honest. People should be able to get paid for their work, but I do miss the wild-and-wooly nature of the “early Blogosphere”, which was kind of a free-for-fall. And I continue to be irritated that the paid-content model is almost entirely subscription based. There are many times when I’ll find something I’m interested in reading…but I am not interested in signing up for a year of access for a single article in which I may be interested. This is not just a problem with paywalled news sites; I’m now seeing it on sites that are basically all but blogs in name. Just this week there’s been an in-depth article making the local rounds about the now-infamous “13 seconds” in the recent Bills-Chiefs playoff game; this morning I went to check that article, only to find that after reading ten paragraphs, the rest is cut off by a “This article is for paid subscribers only” notice. Look, content-creators of the world, I have to be honest: never say “never” and all that, but I have not once, to this point in my life, found a paywalled article online that I wanted to read so badly that I upped for a subscription to a site. The solution here is some kind of pay-by-the-article micropayment system, which is often suggested but so far never created. One waits and hopes.

Blogging also cemented overalls as a major piece of my online identity, as it were! Blogger finally added photo-hosting services sometime in the mid-aughts, so I added a profile pic, in which I had happened to be wearing overalls. The photo was a terrible one (no, I don’t think I still have it, and no, if I find it I won’t share it), which I took using an old Polaroid Instamatic camera and then scanned in using our old flatbed scanner (geez, just typing that description of the process makes my eyes glaze over!), and someone joked about me resembling an axe-murderer! (It was a terrible picture! But it was my first attempt at such a thing, and if anyone knows how much I hated having my picture taken as a kid, that was a really big corner to turn.)

So anyway, here I am, still blogging away, now on ForgottenStars.net, still holding forth on many of the same topics as always, along hopefully with some new ones. When I started blogging, I was still eight or nine years away from really starting work on Stardancer, after a few “trunk” novels (one of which I posted online as a blog itself before taking it down a while back). It was four living spaces ago, The Daughter was still in her “terrible twos”, The Wife and I were only approaching five years of marriage, and a whole lot of friends and life and stuff ago.

A lot of people have come, gone, and come again in the time I’ve been blogging. Some I discovered at some point and have followed ever since (her, her, him, him) Many bloggers have given up the habit but are still friends online; many more have vanished completely. Some I have sadly outlived (Messrs. Mannion and Teachout, for example). I remember regular readers who fell away over time–I hope this was a function of life and not a shift in my writing!–like a woman who lived in Winnipeg and another named Michelle who was a fellow candle in the dark in a time when the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy was still deeply unappreciated. And if my blog has never been widely read, at least I also have never much had to deal with obnoxious trolls.

And to think, when I started Byzantium’s Shores in February 2002, I figured that maybe, maybe!, I’d have about a year’s worth of things to say before I wrapped that little sub-hobby up and moved on. Little did I know. As ever, I continue marching on, for however long I feel like doing this.

…and if you’ve been reading (or have read me at any point along the way), I thank you!

Totally NOT an axe-murderer.

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3 Responses to Twenty years a blogger….

  1. Roger says:

    I have NO idea how I came to find your blog. Did someone else recommend it? Did you find MY blog, comment, and I checked yours out? I have no idea. Maybe via Nik Durga? In any case, congratulations!! (an exclamation point for each decade.) As you probably know, my blog is ONLY a couple months shy of a mere 17 years. Now that the great Dustbury, who started in 1995!, has passed on, you and Mark Evanier are the bloggers I follow with the longest tenure.

  2. Paul says:

    Heh. “One of these writers is sharp and insightful. The other two are just really persistent.”

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