I worked on and off for six months on a 25th anniversary Ideapad post, and then I went and missed the deadline. Tonight I finished the post, backdated it to November 1, and belatedly got it live. Take a look. And thanks for being here.
I have had this self-congratulatory fact in the Ideapad sidebar for some time now. On November 1, 1998, I started the Ideapad. So this marks a full quarter-century of posting my thoughts online.
When I began blogging, the community was small enough that Brigitte Eaton was able to hand-compile a list of all of them. I remember there being 500 or so when I first came across it; the farthest we can see in the Wayback machine shows 1285 weblogs, including this one. The web has come a long, long way since then, and while innumerable blogs have come and gone, the Ideapad endures.
When I reflect on what twenty-five years of blogging means, mostly it’s the persistence: my blog is still here, still publishing new content, at the same URL as when it was launched, and with almost all of the archives intact and readable. It’s not hard to do, but few do it, and when I’m blogging I’m continuing my commitment to digital longevity.
I revisited the bookmarks file referenced in 2018 to see who is still blogging, and oh, the linkrot. Let’s pause to appreciate those who keep at it. Jason Kottke, who inspired me to put up my own weblog, blogs for a living, of course. Peter Merholz, coiner of “blog,” is, blessedly, still maintaining his. Journal-bloggers like Jessamyn and Cat are still journaling away. A tip of the cap also goes to those who stopped blogging but keep their sites live, so their contributions to the formative era of the internet aren’t forgotten. I hope some of these folks see this, and I hope they realize the value of their efforts.
And to you, dear reader: I’ve long stopped looking at my site metrics, and for all I know, my only regulars are me and my mom. (Hi, Mom.) But I’m glad you stopped by, even this once, and I hope you enjoy exploring everything I’ve shared with the world these past 25 years.
And the Ideapad is proof positive. (Sample size of one, I know.) I posted four times in January—the most since December 2016—and I have more thoughts percolating and writing drafted.
We’ll see how long this keeps up, but for now, I’m enjoying it, and I hope you are too.
Well, that didn’t take long:
If inspiration strikes again, I may find a whole new template for the blog, too.
So now the Ideapad has a new, modern template, albeit still a work in progress. I seem to have gotten all the elements in place, cleaned up the font displays, and added a few more images to the header.
On some level, not much has changed, but mobile rendering should be nicer now, and I’ve lost the odd gray sidebars on desktop that never served much purpose.
There’s a bunch of work to be done as time permits—lots of extraneous horizontal lines, some odd elements from the template that I will continue to edit or excise (why is my blockquote gray and not indented?)—but in the meantime, we’re fresh and clean around here, and ready for the next decade of publishing.
Regular visitors of the Ideapad (hi, Mom) may notice something different: I’ve updated the font. Ideapad now renders in Avenir Next.
I have actually been using this font elsewhere for a number of years. Earlier today, though, I stopped by furbo.org, and the crispness and easy readability of his site literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t recognize it at first, so I popped Craig Hockenberry a note, and he kindly told me what font I was looking at. Of course! Avenir Next is gorgeous, and it’s preinstalled on Macs, too (which is why I’ve been able to use it in, say, my old desktop Microsoft apps).
Many years have passed since design was a focus of my work here—this WordPress template is called Twenty Eleven, if that’s any indication—but I’ve been bothered for awhile by the readability of Helvetica Neue, the previous default Ideapad font, which was too thin and narrow for longer form text, at least as your author’s eyes have aged. Upgrading user-friendliness and visual appeal is a win-win.
One thing I noticed upon updating is that Avenir Next has a rather aggressive boldface. I need to explore demibold fonts and relative font weights at some point, but in the meantime, I’ve turned off a lot of the bold on these pages, including the post titles (which, if you’re truly into these sorts of things, have morphed from 26px Helevetica Neue bold to 30px Avenir Next regular).
If inspiration strikes again, I may find a whole new template for the blog, too. But in the meantime, enjoy the font update.
Inspired by Matt Webb, a look back in my archives at posts from Mays past.
2020: Day 67. My second post from the covid-19 lockdown. This seems like ancient and also very recent history.
2015: Job hunt best practices, wherein I spend four paragraphs explaining why I’m pointing to a different set of Ideapad blog posts from 2000. (This post got meta real fast.)
2013: Timely Demise: where are they now? A look back at what happened to the companies I profiled in my financial crisis retail blog.
2006: Girder & Panel. Still love that building, still love that game.
2004: Good songs. My son Eli and I discussed this slice of music history just this week thanks to the Strokes’ new single.
2000: Weblog geeks unite! Back when just being a blogger made you part of a community.
I also have a draft (incomplete) list of an incomplete list of animals we’ve been told our white-and-black Australian Labradoodle looks like (Dalmatian, cow, panda bear, etc.).
Every now and again, the “Feels Like” Forecast bubbles into my consciousness—via a tweet from someone with a long memory, say, or a time-shifted reference to the day of the week not seeming right, or when a pandemic reduces our collective view of the calendar to mush. It came up again this week, so I thought I’d tell the tale of my one moment of viral internet glory, way back in the twentieth century.
The forecast dates to the era of Yahoo, back when search was useful but not ubiquitous. Yahoo was a success because it catalogued the web, back when it was somewhat feasible to do so. Early netizens saw Yahoo’s well-organized directory of links as a tool and a note of validity, which made Yahoo something of an arbiter of taste; they also had “New” and “Cool” GIF slugs that website owners craved.
In its attempts to be comprehensive, Yahoo didn’t just organize obvious links, like news and sports; they also had fun subcategories for the humor, games and fun that populated much of the early, homemade Internet (capital “i”). One of the pages I frequented was Cool Links, a regularly updated list of entertaining destinations.
At the time, there were a few online zines that were must-reads, including Slate and Salon. The latter carried some comics, including Tom the Dancing Bug, a strip I’d been reading since college. One week in 1997, this appeared:
I thought that was a stroke of genius, and I also thought to myself, That would make for a funny website.
Now, in 1997, web programming was simple and quick; I was building pages daily for work and play. So I whipped up a real-world version of the Tom the Dancing Bug “forecast,” complete with my own predictions (e.g. long weekend? Two Saturdays, no Tuesday). I promised myself I’d update the page a few times a week, and posted it live.
In the pre-social-media era, there were two ways to get the word out: personal website cross-linking and search engines. I posted it on my site and got folks to link back to it, which started to generate traffic. I also submitted the site to Yahoo. And sure enough, they put it on their Cool Links page, complete with gif. (I don’t know that it ever achieved “cool” status, but for the record, those listings got shades: )
Yahoo’s site used to showcase new links at the top of the page, and when the Forecast appeared, the floodgates opened. Traffic spiked by a few thousand percent. My site host warned me of an unwieldy surge in daily data transfer. Most amusingly to me, an early ad network called ValueClick invited me to add their banners, and I said sure, why not, and got a check for $127 a few months later. The spike was quick but oh so satisfying.
I kept the site up to date for nearly six years. At one point, my friend David Miller and I pulled together a PHP database and rendering engine, so I could set the forecast weeks in advance, rather than updating the HTML by hand every morning. We also put in a visitor poll. But the site was past peak, and the poll never got more than a few dozen votes, and my ad revenue slowly dwindled to zero.
A few years later, my site host updated their servers and broke our primitive PHP, so we installed a new script that keeps the dates current. That’s the last the site was touched. Around 2009, some coworkers and I relaunched the concept as a Facebook app, but it broke before we built up an audience, and the developers quickly lost interest. Not much has happened of consequence since. The Forecast had all of 327 page views in the 90 days leading up to this post.
But! I am still proud of the “Feels Like” Forecast, for a few reasons, all of them deeply personal.
- I built a thing, amused myself, and then amused others with it.
- I managed to create and ride a wave of viral popularity, however early and brief.
- The site’s HTML is pristine. Look at it! The page renders perfectly and it’s 24 years old. No linkrot here, either.
- And hey, I made a few bucks. (Very few, but hey!) Those ValueClick ad scripts are still in the page source. Maybe I should turn them back on.
I’m a couple of years behind the curve on this, but Ideapad (and all of netwert.com) is now running securely. I had a joyously simple SSL setup courtesy Pair Networks, my longtime web host: a couple of clicks, a sub-$10 annual fee, and instant-on https.
This is really a post about service more than security. Pair has run my various websites for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never seriously considered moving. Over the years, their services have broadened, their prices have actually dropped on occasion, and their customer service accessibility has never wavered. For all the posts I see on Twitter and elsewhere complaining about hosting services–whether it’s “seriously considering a new webhost; mine messed up [X] and I’ve had enough” or “AWS is amazing and then you get the bill”–I’ve never once gotten fed up with the folks at Pair.
I have a tendency to get loyal when I find something good, and why not? Variety is good but consistency deserves to be rewarded. Pair gets the little things right. And for that, you and I get a more secure blogging experience.
My blog isn’t the hotbed of activity it was in the early aughts, but it remains a going concern for me, and I remain immensely proud of that. I often wonder how many of the 500 or so weblogs in the first Eatonweb portal are still chugging along—however many there are, this is, and shall remain, one of them.