It’s been five years to the day since I started this blog. An eternity in internet time. Now would be a good time to stop, but after a few months I’d probably come crawling back. Perhaps we ought to rewind.
The year is 2007. I’ve been hanging out on the ruby-talk mailing list for a while. My idea of entertainment is implementing the much-maligned
goto command using a dark vodoo technique called
callcc. My understanding of the semantics of the Ruby programming language is stellar, but I lack—and will still lack, five years later—any sense of software engineering. I can metaprogram the shit out of you, I can explain to you the arcane hierarchy by which a variable name lookup is performed, but don’t ask me to do anything that requires more than a hundred lines of code. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I’m very proud to have been into Ruby since before the Ruby on Rails craze.
In the Ruby community, there’s a guy called Christian Neukirchen. Christian, as far as I can tell, is just some geeky German dude, but his blog, Anarchaia, becomes my favorite website. I have never spoken to Christian, online or offline, but we clearly share many interests. Every night, Christian serves up a selection of links, and I devour them. As do other people in the Ruby community. Community trickster-cum-artist Why the Lucky Stiff describes Christian’s blog as a “
very long and narrow and distracted tumblelog,” and the term “tumblelog” is born. I’ve been following Christian’s tumblings for a year or two when he posts a simple link to something called “Tumblr,” which “
hosts tumblelogs for free.” By being in the right place at the right time, I become one of the first people to join Tumblr after it opens to the public.
Early Tumblr is pretty much an Anarchaia clone. Two of the default themes are ripoffs of Anarchaia and Projectionist, another tumblelog from the Ruby community. (I say that with love.) Tumblr’s main innovations are a bookmarklet that allows you to very quickly repost an image or a quote or a link to your blog, in addition to the “reblog” button.
My first post is about Solipsism, the philosophical idea that only you exist—everything and everyone else is an illusion, or at best, you can’t know that they’re not. This is fitting, since I delete the post almost immediately. No one sees it. It might as well not exist. I don’t revisit Tumblr until some months later, after giving a terrible Tumblr clone a try.
My intended audience has always been the internet at large. I’ve tried a dozen blogging platforms, and Tumblr is still the one I prefer above all others, but unlike other platforms, Tumblr has always had an insular quality to it. I don’t track stats, but I’m sure most of you are reading this through the Tumblr interface anyway. Since I started, “tumblr” has developed from being a blogging platform to being its own thing that may soon eclipse the “blog” in popularity. There was a time when the party line was that blogs hosted on Tumblr were not to be referred to as “tumblrs” but as “tumblelogs”. Tumblr the company has long since embraced letting their trademark become a generic name, much like “Q-tips.” I never wanted to be “a tumblr”, but I’ve been a part of this community since the beginning, and I’ve seen it grow from this tiny thing to one of the biggest sites on the internet.
What I liked about Tumblr as a blogging platform was simple: it worked really well. Its features worked efficiently and simply, it was easy to design for, and above all, it made blogging fun. As a community, I liked the fact that it was a level playing field. I didn’t know David Karp personally, but suddenly because I posted some things that weren’t totally idiotic on the internet, the founder of Tumblr was following me. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of real-life friends, and it was incredibly satisfying to get in on this little internet bubble. Tumblr embraced me, and I embraced Tumblr.
I spent a lot of time hanging out in the
#tumblrs IRC channel, getting to know people like Richard, Liam, Nik, Bill and Marco, who was the lead (and original) programmer for Tumblr. Topherchris was there posting weird memes, and he later got hired by Tumblr. When I wanted to start a science blog, a domain squatter had been sitting on the perfect username for more than a year, probably waiting for some poor schmuck to pay him for it. Marco went into a database and deleted the squatter, and I was able to snag the domain, which I think I’ve put to good use since. (I’m not saying this to brag. Is it not the height of pathetic to brag about one’s peripheral acquaintance with people who are marginally famous on the internet? These were simply the people who happened to be around at the time.)
Aside from all the time I spent posting to this blog, I spent a ton of time creating free Tumblr themes, helping others customize their Tumblr blogs, maintaining the largest repository of Tumblr themes at the time when Tumblr decided to launch its own theme repository. (Richard created that, I merely took over the maintenance after a while.) I’ve answered tons of emails from people who somehow thought I was Tumblr tech support. In short, Tumblr has been kind to me—I probably wouldn’t have an audience anywhere near this size without Tumblr—but I’ve also provided them countless hours of what is essentially free labor.
In the beginning, this blog was modeled on Anarchaia. It was short, it was heavy on the reblogs, and it was impersonal. Anarchaia doesn’t do opinion pieces: the only way to get to know the person behind the blog is through their choice of what to link, which quotes to pin. Christian Neukirchen stuck to his formula. I’ve been reading his stuff since 2005, and still don’t know his personal history, nor do I have any specific idea about his politics, his ethics, his familial and romantic life, his career or his goals in life. I went off in the other direction, gradually shifting away from the citational style, revealing more about myself and focusing on writing original posts. In the beginning, I was on a first name basis with the internet simply because I didn’t want to reveal my full name. It seems ridiculous now.
Maybe I’ve been too candid. Some of the stories I’ve told on this blog may yet come back to bite me in the ass. So far, none of them have. Rather the opposite: they’ve enabled me to forge a number of internet friendships that mean a lot to me.
That’s where things stand right now. For geographical reasons, I’ve never been able to transition those internet relationships into the real world. I live far away from most internet denizens. But don’t worry—or perhaps do worry—I’m coming for you. One day I’ll go on a trip around the world and meet some of you weird, wonderful, beautiful people. Until then: here’s to five more years.Sep 1, 2012