Chris wants to upgrade his monitor situation, and Dave wants to update his shed situation. And along the way, they answer a listener question about how to care more about the blogging.
Time Jump Links
Episode Sponsors 🧡
Have you ever seen a problem and thought to yourself: I bet I could do it better? Us too. We’re Equinix. The world’s digital infrastructure company- and we’ve been connecting and powering the digital world for over 20 years. We’ve just launched a new product called Equinix Metal, built from the ground up to empower developers with low-latency, high performance infrastructure anywhere. We’d love for you to try it, and give us your feedback. Visit info.equinixmetal.com/shoptalk. We'll give you $100 free in credit to play.
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MANTRA: Just Build Websites!
Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about front-end Web design and development. I'm Dave Rupert and with me is Chris Coyier. Chris!
Chris Coyier: Hey!
Dave: How's it going?
Chris: Doing all right. Doing all right. I was going to actually ask you a question about what you're looking at right now because I'm not in the -- oh, I'm not in the market, but I'm kind of in the market, you know, for a monitor. Here's my situation. I have an LG 5K, they call it, I guess.
Dave: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
Chris: It's pretty big and it has a lot of pixel density. It's nice on my Mac because it's got Thunderbolt and then it's got some extra Thunderbolt ports, which is not easy to come by.
Chris: There's not like Thunderbolt docks. There is and I could talk about that, but let's just talk monitors for a moment.
I'm okay happy with it but I bought two, eventually, and put them next to me. Then it was too much. I was doing the neck thing. You had me convinced that when you look left and look right too much, it's not good for your--
Dave: You're tweaking your back.
Chris: Yeah, man.
Dave: It's not good for the back, man. I don't think it's good.
Chris: I shouldn't put them right next -- it was too much, so I went down to one and I don't hate it. Once in a while, I use the sidecar thing. I still set my laptop next to it. Whatever. But I mostly just look at the one screen in front of me and it's okay.
At home, I have a little office set up, too, that my wife and I share. We just sometimes use it to plug in and stuff. It's a good little business space, good for guests, et cetera. But it's got an LG ultrawide curved.
Chris: But it's just an old one. It's not ancient, but it's not particularly nice or anything. It's definitely not 2x or whatever or anything above the lowest normal old-school resolution.
Chris: But I kind of like it.
Chris: I plug into it at home and I'm like, hmm, don't hate this ultrawide.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Chris: I'm like, well, how advanced has this technology got? Do you use an ultrawide?
Dave: Yeah, so in front of me I have a 34-inch ultrawide.
Dave: It's the Alienware gaming one.
Dave: Alienware. I went full gamer, so I'm kind of optimized for high hertz gaming.
Dave: This is a 120-hertz gaming panel.
Chris: So, 120 is a good number?
Dave: IPS panel. 120 is, like, fast, but I actually don't run it at 120. I just run this one at 60, the big one in front of me. But next to it--
Chris: But you could? What is there, a switch you flip?
Dave: Yeah, just in Windows.
Dave: I can just be like, "Go fast." You know? [Laughter]
Chris: It just takes more power, so you're being responsible by not doing that?
Dave: Gerry McGovern got me all convinced I should run my--
Chris: Fair enough.
Dave: --monitor super juiced, but I have a smaller monitor, a 25-inch 16x9.
Dave: You know normal videogame aspect ratio. That's only 1080p, so it's like 1920x1080. My ultrawide is 3440x1440 or something like that.
Chris: Yeah. I think I see it here. This is not crazy. Alienware used to be like, wow, it's 4x the price. I'm looking at, at least, an Alien curved 34 that's $800.
Dave: Yeah, and I got this for $800 and I got this other one, this little 25-inch gaming one. That runs at 240 hertz.
Dave: That's a lot of hertz and that takes a big graphics card to do that. But that's a lot of hertz. Basically, I just want to shoot teenagers in the evening time via my video games.
Dave: That's what I want to do with my life, and so that's what I've optimized that display for is just purely for gaming. But that's also kind of like my YouTube or my Spotify window out to the side. That's my sidecar.
Chris: Right. Right. Do you literally, physically move it when you're going to play a game on it?
Dave: I've thought -- I have the Jarvis arms that can swing around. I thought, "Oh, I'll move it," but I really don't.
Chris: Jarvis arms.
Dave: I think what I'm going to do to fix this, like the arms, the monitor arms, you know.
Chris: No, but now I have to Google that. Come on.
Dave: Okay. Sorry. [Laughter]
Dave: There's VESA mounts. That's what they're called. It's basically just like a standard mounting technology and then these things clamp to your desk.
Chris: It seems good.
Dave: There are new, cool ones that kind of go -- it has a little bit of cable routing I can do through the arm and stuff, so that's cool.
Dave: I have these arms kind of holding up my displays and I can move them around. I used to swing it out in front of me and that would be the best way to game, but I think I'm coming to a conclusion that, in my next office, I'm going to get an L-shaped desk.
Chris: [Loud gasp]
Dave: I'm going to have a game station and a work station.
Chris: Yeah. Yep. My wife was like, "You should buy a new desk. We're moving to the next office and I think your desk is too small." I was like, "I'll take that. I'd love to go desk shopping," so I did, for days.
Chris: I made a Notion document of a bunch of desks and stuff. But it's hard! There are no -- because whatever. I want kind of a premium desk. I'm not just interested in the size. I want it to look nice. I want it to have cool features or whatever. I want it to solve some actual problems for me. The more I looked, the more I was like, my current desk is kind of good.
Chris: It's standing. It's got a cool glass top. It's got some cable routing stuff. There's a power management kind of built-in under the top of it and stuff. I'm like, I don't know that I can do much better than this, so I kept it. But the one thing it doesn't have is some L-shaped action to it.
Dave: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Chris: Meaning, like, if I come in with a fricken' burrito, which you shouldn't do. You should be an adult and sit at a table, but such is life.
Dave: Hmm. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter]
Dave: I don't know, man. Where am I going to put this bag of Starburst and the wrappers?
Dave: You know? I don't know.
Chris: There's no good place to put it on my desk. There's no room for anything other than the technology that's sitting there. I just think it's a little cramped. You know?
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: Anyway, jealous of the L-shape, if you go for it.
Dave: I think I'm going to do an L-shaped. My friend--I've said it on the show before--Uplift Desk. They're here in Austin. He owns that. He's an actual ergonomist. I think I'll probably just get an L-shaped desk, but I need to build the shed so I know how big a desk I can fit in there. I can make cardboard prototypes of my future desk all that I want.
Dave: I need the physical space it'll sit in before I make the big decision. Of course, I'm like 72-inch by 72-inch, the 8-foot by 8-foot desk.
Chris: Yeah, you want whatever the biggest one is.
Dave: Whatever the biggest.
Chris: Yeah. Select option last child.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: Before we get to your physical space, which will be interesting, we do have some user questions, too. I promise, someday we'll answer questions.
Dave: One day we'll answer it, but Chris and Dave talk too much.
Chris: [Laughter] Yeah, I know.
Chris: We should almost have side shows. Anyway, are they good now, though? Are they good for me too? Are they Windows focused? Let's say I had your LG. Is it LG? No, yours is a Dell Alienware deal.
Dave: Mine's Alienware. I would not for the Mac setup. Maybe this changes with that new CPU stuff and whatever but, for the Mac setup, I would not get something this beefy.
Chris: What? It's too good, really? It's better than my 5K thing?
Dave: Well, hertz-wise.
Dave: I'm paying for hertz. My compromise is I'm getting more hertz and less pixels. Does that make sense?
Dave: That's the tradeoff I'm making. As of this year, though, the graphics cards got better with the 3090 series of Invidia and whatever the AMD one is. So now, I think gaming is moving up to 1440p kind of as a standard. It's starting to, so it was at 1080p, 1440p, and then I don't even know what 4K -- 4K is the next level higher and that's the retina whatever -- whatever how many pixels tall is your 4K. Do you know?
Chris: Yeah. It's 3,000-something-something.
Dave: Okay, 3,200.
Dave: But when you are 2x--
Chris: Oh, now it's 5,120. No, no!
Dave: Five thousand?
Chris: How high is it?
Dave: Yeah, tall.
Chris: It's only 2,880.
Dave: Okay, so that's like 1440 if you divide by 2, but that's a lot of pixels and it looks real nice. Yeah, so that's going to be 4K or whatever.
Chris: Okay, so it's not--
Dave: Like you're double 1440 or something.
Chris: This is doable, though, if I wanted to. What I have open is this LG ultrawide that's 3840x1600, which somehow it's a little bit less pixels, but it has 144 refresh rate, so that's pretty good. Importantly, to me, it's Thunderbolt, so it's got that going on.
Chris: I'm like, this is doable, right? I'm not going to hate it when I get it, right? It's pretty comparable.
Dave: I don't think you will. You have the scaler resolution. You can go, this is a good or, like, good, better, best or biggest to smallest.
Chris: Yeah, like how zoomie zoomed it is.
Dave: Yeah, how zoomie-zoomed it is in the setup. You could dial it -- you could go to 1.5x or something and maybe it's--
Dave: There are switches you can pull to get more pixels, get more fidelity.
Chris: I like that it goes on both sides. You can zoom it out so far that you actually have an unbelievably ton of room, but it's too far. Everything is too small. You know?
Chris: You can zoom it in the other where you're like, wow, this looks really good but it's too far in.
Dave: Yeah. No, and this is kind of where -- this is kind of what I'm sort of looking at maybe as my next one. But again, I have these two. They work pretty well. But I might need -- I might just end up with two stations or something.
Dave: These 38-inch ultrawide are really, really cool because it's just one big plane in front of your face.
Chris: Yeah! That's what I want because I have it at home. It's not quite this big but it's pretty big and I like it. I like how you just look right at it and you organize things right on this one plane.
Dave: The place where it's bad or whatever is screen-casting. Ugh!
Dave: That's why I have the second one because I just know. It's almost like my safe screen.
Dave: I can have email and chat up on the big ultrawide. When I go into a Zoom call or whatever and share a screen, I'm always sharing the small one.
Chris: Yeah. We've talked about that before. That kind of works. You can't draw an area, but it's kind of fun. Zoom is tricky that way but, when I screencast, I use the screen flow thing, which does have drag the area you want to record.
Dave: Yeah, okay.
Chris: Which is a little tricky for various reasons, but you can always edit in post pretty well, so I'd be tempted to just record the whole damn thing anyway in case you need it.
Dave: Yeah, and you could always get divvy or something to size a thing straight to that window or whatever.
Chris: Oh, yeah. Indeed, you could.
Dave: That's always my thing is, how do I get a full screen thing?
Chris: My worry is that this thing would just be junk compared to my non-ultrawide one that's 5K, you know, but it doesn't seem like it is.
Dave: You have X number of pixels and are you willing to trade crispness of type for, like--
Dave: --spreading that out over a wider--
Dave: --wider periphery? You know what I mean?
Chris: I see because graphics cards, CPUs, and stuff can only handle so many pixels, period?
Dave: Yeah, I mean it's just like you're hitting a physics limit, sort of, and how many times it can refresh. But this one you sent me, honestly, the Thunderbolt 3 is the big thing you need--
Dave: --for being on Mac. 144 hertz, you don't really need. Your iPads are like 120 hertz and they're buttery smooth animations and stuff like that.
Chris: Oh! So, I could cheap out on that a little bit if they had a model that had less hertz?
Dave: Yeah, you could. Here's the secret. Browsers are only 40 hertz or 60 hertz, sorry, max. They cap out, kind of.
Dave: In theory, browsers are only going to paint -- but that may change in the next five years or something.
Dave: You've got to think about that, too.
Chris: There's no way this monitor is going to last five years. I'm way too finicky.
Dave: [Laughter] Well, and that's the thing, right? I wish you could almost do trials.
Chris: Monitor of the Year Club?
Dave: Yeah, that's perfect. Just like, hey, could I Netflix a new monitor and a new microphone and a new -- I don't know? Could I just Netflix that into my computer and try it out for a bit?
Chris: Yeah. I also wish there was -- I think there's a gap, a little bit. It seems like every monitor -- and TVs are this way, too. They're all in the $600 to $1,000 range. There are very few that cup up over $1,000. Then on Macs -- or we could spend literally $5,000 on their pro display thing, which I have had to bite my finger a couple of times to not buy. But the reason is because that number is ridiculous, really ridiculous.
Dave: Yeah. I don't know who that display is marketed to.
Chris: But it's not for me, you know. Well, it's marketed to not Web developers. I just want it because it looks super nice and I just want -- sometimes, I just want premium stuff. It's our hobby, you know. But that number is crazy. I think there's a missing number at the, like, $2,000 level where I'd be paying for it, maybe not even the technology inside the monitor. Like you said, the hertz are already above what we're using anyway.
Chris: Maybe I'd be paying for some sweet aluminum frame or really nice mounting technology or something.
Dave: Yeah. I'm surprised at that display's price. It is 5K or whatever, kind of ultra, slightly ultrawide.
Dave: It's wider, right?
Chris: Then the curve. Is the curve a gimmick or is it cool?
Dave: I like the curve. The curve feels like a face hug.
Dave: It's a little disorienting the first time you sit around to it but, as you use it, you're like, okay, everything is -- it's not like a big flat thing. It's kind of like, okay, these apps are kind of coming to me where my head is tilting. It's a little disorienting. You see the bend for the first week. But then, after that, it's just normal. I don't mind the curve. I actually would probably not like the not curved, if that makes sense, for an ultrawide.
Chris: Yeah, for ultrawide. All right.
Chris: I'm putting it on the maybe list and with a Jarvis arm. God dang it!
Dave: Yeah, you've got to get a good arm. You could upgrade into that but the arm is kind of critical. This actually has a pretty good base, this one you sent me, this LG. Yeah, it has a good base, but--
Chris: Okay. Okay. Close the tab, Chris. Jeepers creepers.
Dave: I'm getting -- this is an expensive episode.
Chris: Yeah, it is.
[Banjo music starts]
Chris: This episode of ShopTalk Show is brought to you by Equinix. Equinix has just launched a new product, Equinix Metal.
Equinix has been around. They're the world's digital infrastructure company. They've been around for over 20 years, before this digital infrastructure was even really a thing. They have been at this for a long time.
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They want you to try it out and give us your feedback on the thing, too. They're very generously giving away $100 in free credit to play with this, so info.equinixmetal.com/shoptalk. The link will be in the show notes, too.
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They don't care what you're building on this. These are servers to build, to give you total freedom, to build any way you want, anywhere you want it. Equinix Metal, thank you.
[Banjo music stops]
Chris: Let's do a question. Then I want to ask you about some other things, if that's okay.
Chris: Because this is a good one about blogging -- we're both bloggers -- from MillionB, who wrote in about blogging. He says, "Every time I start writing," like thoughts about the Web or whatever, "I enter some alter ego where I'm trying to present myself as too smart or too funny and not really myself. I don't care really if anybody reads it. I'm just trying to express my thoughts. Then, a few days later, after reading it, I cringe and think, "Who wrote this pretentious garbage?" and scrap it."
Chris: Million wants to know, "Any ideas how not to care?"
Well, that's an interesting angle, Million. Not caring can work. But if you read it and you think it's pretentious garbage, you maybe should care. Maybe you should rewrite it, or maybe you should wait for a minute before you publish it and put it through some pretentious alarm or something.
You're clearly capable of it because if you're self-analyzing your own writing in that way and you're not happy with it, that's good. At least you're not writing and being like, "Everything I write is perfect. I am an amazing blogger. Why nobody listen to my perfectness?" You know? That's a much worse place to be.
Dave: [Laughter] That's a bad position to start from.
Chris: But I know what you mean. Haven't you had that? I feel like I used to have that when I was a kid, and I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything, but I wrote like that when I was younger, literally younger, like high school, middle school younger. Every time my pencil hit the page, I wanted to sound amazing. "One must consider the possibilities of your actions," kind of like, ew.
Dave: "Yes. I Dave Rupert, graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, I have taken over six psychology courses and I, therefore, know--"
Chris: Yes. Livingroom poet laureate Dave.
Dave: [Laughter] Yeah. Well, that's great teenage poetry vibes. That's also like I have some of that in my folder of shame, and you're just like, "Oh, man. I was feeling some emotions there.
I think, yeah, I've definitely felt this where you're just like, "Let me pontificate on Webpack," or whatever. I think the ways I try to combat this, and even in my talks I've kind of adopted this, I kind of set a rule for myself, like, this has to be something I'm doing. If I start it from a story about something I'm actually doing and an actual experience I have, I feel like I jettison from that alter ego because it's not the alter ego writing. It's me.
"I was setting up an app and I had all these problems. This is how I solved it." I feel like I get better mileage when it's rooted in something I've actually had to deal with. Does that make sense? It's less like theoretical Web design. It's more like practical Web design.
Chris: There you go. Yeah. [Loud exhale]
What should we -- any other further advice for Million here?
Dave: No, I mean, also, post your drafts. Just post it and just say, "Hey," or share a draft and send it to somebody and just say, like, "Hey, does this kind of just wreak of ego?" or something. Be like, "I feel like it does." You can DM me articles--that's fine--drafts and I'll let you know.
But I just think, again, we're all learning how to write and we will be our whole lives. Just don't be too hard on yourself, but just kind of go for it and find your voice. You're never going to, out of the gate, just nail -- you're never going to nail your writing voice right out of the gate. It's over time. it's over 10,000 articles or whatever that you find your voice.
Chris: Yeah. Yep. This is probably just a very basic opinion, but I'm just going to say it. [Laughter] Controversial-esque, I think John Gruber is a god-dang fantastic blogger. He's got a very good voice. He's got a very distinct style. He mostly links to other people's stuff but indicates when he's writing something long-form.
I've been reading him forever and I still find him an extremely compelling blogger to read. Now, you may think he gets it wrong too much or is an Apple fanboy or whatever. The reason you probably have those opinions is because of how prolific he is and because of how much attention other people pay to him. Perhaps that isn't a reflection of his writing style but just his popularity, in a sense.
But just as damn good at it and I don't think he's emulated enough. I feel almost like there are people that a way into blogging is to blog like him, which at the masterful level is -- you know, because I've just praised him so much, it might feel like, well, how can you emulate somebody who is so good at it? The basic stuff he does where he's just like, "Here is X person writing for X publication. Here is the most important paragraph they just wrote and here's one additional sentence of context to that in my own personality or why I think you should care about that." So few blogs are just like link posts with light commentary around it, and I think that's a powerful entry point to blogging that is just weirdly not emulated enough.
Dave: Jeremy Keith, who we'll hear from later, has his Adactio links like feed, and you should subscribe to that. The same thing: It's just like a pull quote from the article, a link to the article, and just some, "I agree with this," is like 90% of them.
Chris: I know and he's just amazing at it. Just a gold star blogger. Just love Jeremey for that reason. Emulate Jeremy.
Dave: He's putting that into his blog, not on Twitter. You know what I mean?
Dave: He's not just like farting on Twitter. He's putting it into his blog and I think that's cool and that's kind of where I want to be.
Chris: Me too!
Dave: I'm actually working on a post, that links to a post, right now. I'm just like, you know, I want to add why I think this is cool, but I'm like, "Oh, I'm adding way too much." But I think it's through practice of, like, "I'm sharing this link. Here's actually what I think is cool about it." You know?
It's a challenge. I think it, again, is a skill you learn how to add commentary without overindulging, or something. But you build that practice. Then when you're ready to do the long pieces, you don't have to explain every article or every thought you've ever had about every article. You can just link to those articles you've already written. That's so cool.
Chris: Yeah. It really is cool.
Chris: I've been thinking of this for years and I think CSS-Tricks has moved slightly, trying to get there, but hasn't gotten there yet. I wish it was easier for me to publish one sentence on something. You know how it'd be one sentence is fine on Jeremy's blog or Daring Fireball, but it doesn't feel good on CSS-Tricks. It's like the design for it is too overwhelming for it and I think I need to keep that in mind as I move on because I very much want to blog like that for the rest of my life.
Dave: Just casual, almost.
Chris: Yeah. It supports a small thought and a big thought.
Dave: Yeah. No, my coworker Trend Walton, who shamefully has just fallen off the blogging train, but whatever. He's making music. It's on Spotify. He has this notes concept. I think Robin Rendall has that too, like different category post types, like a blog post and then a note. The notes are kind of for the little thoughts. Maybe that's an option too. That's not something I'm currently embracing.
Dave: I have post types, but I don't treat them as little post-it notes about this one thing I saw.
[Banjo music starts]
Chris: This episode of ShopTalk Show is brought to you in part by Jetpack.
Let's talk Jetpack Backup for a minute. I just used it this week. This is pretty sweet. In fact, I'm always using it because, of course, I have it on, but it's kind of a reinvented VaultPress. If you've never heard of that word, just forget it. But a long-time WordPress user like me remembers that too.
WordPress has been backing up my site, literally, for like a decade. But Jetpack Backup has been totally redone and is way, way, way, way nicer now. For one, it's all a-la-carte. You know you have to pay for this, right? It's backups that are either daily or real-time. Daily probably works for most people. If your site is pretty active, lots of comments, activity, lots of people are writing stuff, working on the site a lot, you'll want to go for the real-time backup.
Any kind of significant event happens--someone leaves a comment, updates a post, or something--it'll trigger a backup and that backup is then ready to go. You can browse. Basically, you're browsing an activity log of the site, which is useful anyway, and then can download or restore your site to any one of those events. It's really impressive and really nice.
I literally corrupted some production data the other day and used it to restore to the point that it wasn't corrupted anymore and it totally saved my butt. True story. Love that.
Check out Jetpack Backup. Super useful for that. Thanks for the sponsorship. You all know what backups are, right? Do it. Back up your site. You've got to do it.
[Banjo music stops]
Chris: Good luck, Million. That was a nice little ... cathartic for me.
Chris: I want to hear about the shed a little bit. You teased us in the last show that you're going L-desk and crazy fourth shed.
Dave: It's been a long time. I've been in this house almost 2.5 years.
Chris: It makes me sad. I've only been to your old house. I've never even seen your new house.
Dave: Oh, really? You have never seen my new house. Well, that's fine because a lot of people haven't, even neighbors, which is totally embarrassing. Long story, we just were never in a place to have a housewarming or whatever.
Chris: Yeah, I get it.
Dave: Anyway, we were -- in my old place, I had a 12-foot by 16-foot shed. It was from Kanga Room Systems. It is a fine product but it was not a fun company to work with, so I said I'm not going to do that again, exactly, because it was a bad enough experience for me that I didn't want to do that.
Dave: We moved to this place and we were like, okay. Cool. We have this shed, but we have also a front room I can work from. It's kind of like a guest room kind of thing. We put a murphy bed. It's in behind me, but then it'll eventually be a playroom/guestroom kind of thing.
Dave: When I move out.
Dave: The goal was always to build a shed, but then we were like, how do we do this? There's this dream shed. It's called MUJI. Do you know the Japanese company MUJI? They make pencils and stuff, stationary. MUJI.
Dave: There's a MUJI shed. They went into the home shed business.
Dave: It's beautiful, and I was like, I want that. Then I just was like, well, this is cool but I'll have to figure that out. I was looking at other prefabs and stuff like that.
My brother was like, hey, I could build that for you, and so I started talking to my brother. But then him coming down just was never a good time. We missed our windows because there's winter and summer, basically, you know?
Dave: Missed our window. Then I was like, at one point I'm getting desperate, right? Well, I think I talked to -- I was like, I'm going to do this and I talked to my realtor who was like, "Oh, you should talk to this guy. He builds this sort of stuff," like accessory dwelling units.
Chris: Your realtor still talks to you even though they've already made their money off of you?
Dave: We're actually friends with our realtor.
Chris: Okay. Okay.
Dave: It's kind of weird, but she's great. She's trying to solve the problem too. They have a home office with two kids and dogs and cats.
Dave: They're just like, we need this too. Anyway, I talked to this guy and he came out. Then he was like, "Okay. Cool. Well, you know what I would do is extrude the back of your house," basically add on.
Dave: Pull the back of the house out.
Chris: Yeah. Okay.
Dave: Then you'd have this mother-in-law with like an exterior entrance only. We're like, okay, that's cool, but that's also kind of weird.
Dave: I don't know. But then he hit us with the price and it was like $200,000 or something. I just was like, "No! A big NO! I'm not doing that." Then back to square one. But through that process--
Chris: Well, how did the MUJI hut pan out? I Googled it and it looks amazing.
Dave: It looks amazing.
Chris: $26,000, it says. That's 10x on order of magnitude, almost, cheaper.
Dave: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and that's where I'm getting to.
Dave: [Laughter] Then I found another contractor who is like a roofer and he was like, "Oh, I can build you a shed," you know, and I was like, "Oh, really?" He almost came and poured concrete, but we were looking at the map, the plat of your house, you know, like where the build lines are. There was this 20-foot line on the back of my house, so it would have meant the shed had to be 3 feet from my house or something like that to maintain some line.
I was just like, "Dude, what's going on?" I called another architect friend.
Dave: He was like, you know, if it was me, I would go through the process to figure out where you can build it. Talk to the city. Clear all the easements and stuff," because I also had this diagonal easement across my whole house--
Dave: --for a power line that never existed. They just reserve that space.
I go, "Okay. Cool." I go and deal with an architect. Going through all this work. Great guy, but then we kind of scoped out a design and stuff like that. They come back with a price and that was like $170,000 or something.
Chris: [Loud exhale]
Dave: I was like, "No!" [Laughter] I did get the easement cleared, so I technically now own the space above my house, which is cool.
Chris: You could go up or whatever, if you wanted to? That would be even more expensive, I bet.
Dave: It just basically means I can put the shed, the theoretical shed, in a better place than I could have before because there was a big diagonal line across my house.
Chris: Oh, so that's gone now.
Dave: That's gone now. This is not -- we had money left over from the previous house sale. I was willing to spend upwards of $100,000 with a bathroom. It had to have a bathroom for that price. Maybe there's some contingency in there.
Chris: Yeah and some electricity and all that, obviously, right?
Dave: Electricity, Internet, you know.
Chris: If you're going to use it for your computer, yeah.
Dave: But this has to be -- for that kind of money--
Dave: New construction or whatever, I was like, it has to be about that budget. I found another guy who was like, "Well, I could probably build that for that price." I was like, "Okay, cool," and so he kind of went and had to get some things signed off, like engineering plans and stuff like that.
But then in March, he ghosted me. I just was like, "What's going on?" Then COVID hits. It turns out he had COVID, and so he was out for two weeks.
In that time, the city all shut down and the city is totally shut down. No permits are getting submitted and can't because the scanners are back at the office.
I just was like, "Dude, this is tough." In August, I still don't have anything. I was like, "You need to tell me what's going on."
Then the day I'm ready to cut the project, the permit switches to "in review," and I was like, "Okay. How long does that take?" Two weeks. Okay.
Four weeks go by with no answer, and I'm just like, "I'm out." So, I started looking at prefabs again.
Chris: Wow! Okay. Okay.
Dave: Because I just was like, you know, I've given up on this whole getting a bathroom thing. The City of Austin sucks and I'm just tired, you know, and I need an office. It's COVID.
I was looking at another unit and it would have been about $50,000, but then I found -- somebody texted me and was like, "Hey, check out this. They're in Austin." This new company in Austin, it's called Backyard Office. It looks pretty cool, but they have a new unit that is kind of like perfect or very similar to the MUJI style.
Chris: Yeah. These MUJI ones are nice. I have some thoughts on them, but the whole side is glass. You're like, do I really want that?
Dave: Right. Well, so I'll send you a link here. I'll place it in the show notes to basically the thing I'm getting.
Chris: It is prefab or can you customize it a little bit?
Dave: Well, so it's actually built on-site. It's not prefab, so it's built on site -- a little bit different.
Dave: They're going to build it and it's going to have air conditioning, which you need in Texas.
Chris: Right. Which one did you go for? They got the modern office, the farmhouse office, the office pod.
Dave: Office pod, the contemporary minimalist.
Chris: It's south of $20,000. It's cheaper than the MUJI.
Dave: It's cheaper than the MUJI, and I talked to the guy. He was like, "Oh, we've built 15 of these since August." That's a beautiful statement. Here's my money.
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter]
Dave: [Laughter] Because if he could get things done, that's exactly what I want, as opposed to waiting a whole year.
Chris: It's pretty beautiful. Yeah. I didn't like the entirely glass side. It makes a nice photo, but it's a little bit like, eh, what if I'm in my underwear - kind of thing.
Dave: Right. Right. No, I mean, this will sit in my backyard or whatever. I shouldn't be in my underwear in my backyard, hopefully.
Chris: Well, fair enough.
Dave: It is possible. [Laughter] But I just really need a space and it's not too far off from the MUJI intention.
Chris: Then you hire an electrician to run some crap out, though.
Dave: They will do that.
Chris: They'll do it all? It's included?
Dave: Yeah, they do. That's all included in the price.
Chris: How do they do it?
Dave: I don't know.
Chris: Think of the -- they wanted to charge you $200,000 and you're going to get this for--
Dave: A tenth of the cost, yeah. That's where I'm at now.
Chris: And they know what they're doing.
Dave: Yeah, Andy's built a bunch of them, so it should go pretty quick.
Chris: The website is nice. They didn't cheap out on that either.
Dave: I'm curious whose doing this because it's actually pretty nice.
Chris: It looks like Tailwind.
Dave: Tailwind. Got some Tailwind in there. [Laughter]
Chris: Oh, it literally is. Oh, you can kind of just see it these days, can't you?
Dave: You can. You can. No offense to Tailwind but that middle features block is stereotypical Tailwind there.
Dave: But anyway, hey, whatever, that cost savings is passed onto me. Anyway, I'm just kind of like, finally, I'm on a pathway. I've given another sizeable sum of money to a company, but I feel like they'll be able to execute it.
Chris: What did your last one cost at the old house? Must have been more than that.
Dave: You know the last one, it was kind of pre-pandemic pricing and the situation we're experiencing in Austin is the wood is more expensive and the labor is more expensive now because there are millions of apartments being built now and stuff like that. But back then, I think it was like maybe $25,000 all said and done, too, for what I had.
Dave: Pretty similar pricing, but--
Chris: That was nice for that.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah, so I think it was pretty similarly priced and there were a few flubs here and there. It just rang with me. As good as it was, as nice as it was, I don't want to do that particular company again. So, I'm going to get a new shed and it should fit in my backyard. I'll have Internet and I'll be able to--
Chris: Are you going with the 10x12 or the bigger one?
Dave: I'm going to go big, I think.
Chris: Go all the way big?
Dave: Go all the way big just because I have the space in the backyard. We're not really utilizing our back yard.
Chris: Make a shed out of it.
Dave: Yeah, well, and the kids will use the indoor playroom because, right now, every room in the house is the playroom, so I would like to move all the Legos into one room. You know? That's my ulterior motive. Yeah.
Dave: Anyway, it's a luxury, but again I had money from the house sale. This was something we were always planning on doing. But it should be some relief from the kid grind, so there you go.
Chris: All right. Well, congrats. That's going to be good for you, I think.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: A little less--
Dave: If you are shopping for a shed, I have done so much damn research, so you can just hit me up any time. I have thoughts.
Chris: Yeah. it's not out of the question. When we dream of this, we dream of the mother-in-law suite that's a very livable place. I don't know if this is in that category or not. It doesn't seem like it.
Dave: Well, that's kind of what -- and this is not because it doesn't have a bathroom. But that's sort of what our initial goal was, but that added to the cost considerably.
Chris: Yeah. We have all these dreams and part of our problem at the house is the Gantt charting it, almost. What do you do first?
Chris: We've been a little reactionary so far and we want to be really well considered about it. Also, it's money because you can't just do everything at once, as much as we'd like to, because we just don't have the money for that. Then what do you have to do first?
We want to do some stuff in the backyard, so you wouldn't do the driveway first because, if you did the driveway and then the very next year you're like, "Let's do the whole backyard," I feel like there'll be equipment and crap that's got to go up and down the drive and it'll mess up your brand new driveway. So, you've got to be smart about that type of stuff.
Dave: Well, and we're in that situation because it was like, "Oh, I'm going to compromise on the bathroom. If I'm going to do that, I'm just going to compromise big and get another prefab and go not as cheap but as low as I'm comfortable," because you can even go for a tough shed and that's like $10,000. You put up drywall yourself and kudos to you. I just didn't want to do that.
Now, I've saved $175,000 from the highest quote. [Laughter] Now, we have some extra money to play with, so we can do the landscaping and stuff like that after this. But it's hard to prioritize what you want to do, like the kitchen needs redone. The bathrooms need fixing up. Everything. It's never-ending, homeownership.
Chris: Yeah. Well, that was awesome. We're going to invite our good pal Jeremy back to do Chapter 5 of the Web History Series that we've been doing. Jeremy has been so generously reading these Jay Hoffman written and researched posts for us and they make for great radio. Although, this will probably be our last one. I think Jay's series might continue. I'm not sure, actually, if it is or not, but we won't subject you to this forever. I think it just has been tremendously fun.
What I'd like to do is show off more voices on more topics. If you are interested in having your voice debut on radio, feel free to get in touch with us. I'm easy: [email protected], or whatever, if you want to talk to me about it. I want to hear your favorite blog post about Web technology of all time. Read it and maybe we'll play it on the show. I think it makes a perfect thing for a show like ours.
Jeremy Keith: Not long after HotWired launched on the Web in 1994, Josh Quittner wrote an article entitled "Way New Journalism" for the publication. He was enthusiastic about the birth of a new medium.
I'm talking about a sea change in journalism itself, in the way we do the work of reporting and presenting information. The change that's coming will be more significant than anything we've seen since the birth of New Journalism; it may be even more revolutionary than that. It has to be: Look at all the new tools we're getting.
The title and the quote was a nod to the last major revolution in journalism, what writer Tom Wolfe would often refer to as "New Journalism" in the 1960s and 1970s. Wolfe believed that journalism was shifting in the second half of the 20th Century. Writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, and Joan Didion incorporated the methods and techniques of fiction into nonfiction storytelling to derive more personal narrative stories.
Quittner believed that the Web was bringing us a change no less bold. "Way New Journalism" would use the tools of the Web -- intertextual links, concise narratives, interactive media -- to find a new voice. Quittner believed that the voice that writers used on the Web would become more authentic and direct.
"Voice becomes more intimate and immediate online. You expect your reporter (or your newspaper or magazine) to be an intelligent agent, a voice you recognize and trust."
Revolutions, as it were, do not happen overnight, and they don't happen predictably. Quittner would not be the last to forecast, as he describes it, the sea-change in publishing that followed the birth of the Web.
Some of his predictions never fully come to fruition. But he was correct about voice. The writers of the Web would come to define the voice of publishing in a truly fundamental way.
In 1993, Wired included an article in their Fall issue by fiction writer William Gibson called "Disneyland with a Death Penalty." The now well-known article is ruthlessly critical of Singapore, what Gibson describes as a conformist government structure designed to paper over the systemic issues of the city-state that undermine its culture.
It was a strong denunciation of Singaporean policy, and coincidentally, it was not well-received by its government. Wired, which had only just recently published its fourth issue, was suddenly banned from Singapore, a move that to some appeared to incriminate rather than refute the central thesis of Gibson's column.
This would not be Wired's last venture into the controversial. Its creators, Louis Rosetto and Jane Metcalfe, spent years trying to sell their countercultural take on the digital revolution -- the "Rolling Stone" of the Internet age. When its first issue was released, The New York Times called it "inscrutable and nearly hostile to its readers." Wired, and Rosetto in particular, cultivated a reputation for edgy content, radical design, and contentious drama.
In any case, the Singapore ban was little more than a temporary inconvenience for two driven citizens who lived there. They began manually converting each issue of Wired into HTML, making them available for download on a website.
The first Wired website, therefore, has a unique distinction of being an unofficial, amateur project led by two people from a different country uploading copyrighted content they didn't own to a site that lacked any of the panache, glitz, or unconventional charm that had made Wired famous. That would drive most publications mad. Not Wired. For them, it was motivation.
Wired had one eye on the Web already, well aware of its influence and potential. Within a few months, they had an official website up and running, with uploaded back issues of the magazine. But even that was just a placeholder. Around the corner, they had something much more ambitious in mind.
The job of figuring out what to do with the web fell to Andrew Anker. Anker was used to occupying two worlds at once. His background was in engineering, and he spent a bit of time writing software before spending years as a banker on Wall Street. When he became the CTO of Wired, he acted to balance out Rosetto and bring a more measured strategy to the magazine. Rosetto would often lean on his experience in the finance world as much as his training in technology.
Anker assembled a small team and began drawing up plans for a Wired website. One thing was clear: a carbon copy digital version of the magazine tossed up on the Web wasn't going to work. Wired had captured a perfect moment in time, launched just before the crescendo of the digital revolution.
Its voice was distinct and earned; the kind of voice that might get you banned from a country or two. Finding a new voice for the Web and writing the rules of web publishing in the process, would once again place Anker on the knife's edge of two worlds. In the one corner, community. And in the other, control.
Pulling influence from its magazine roots, the team decided that the Wired website would be organized into content "channels," each focusing on a different aspect of digital culture. The homepage would be a launching pad into each of these channels. Some, such as Kino (film and movies) or Signal (tech news) would be carefully organized editorial channels, with columns that reflected a Wired tone and were sourced from the magazine's writers. Other channels, like Piazza, were scenes of chaos, including chat rooms and message boards hosted on the site, filled with comments from ordinary people on the Web.
The channels would be set against a bold aesthetic that cut against the noise of the plain and simple homepages and academic sites that were little more than a bit of black text on a white background. All of this would be packaged under a new brand, one derived from Wired but very much its own thing. In October of 1994, HotWired officially launched.
Even against a backdrop of commercial web pioneers like GNN, HotWired stood out. They published dynamic stories about the tech world that you couldn't find anywhere else, both from outside the Web and within it. It soon made them among the most popular destinations on the Web.
The HotWired team -- holed up in a corner of the Wired office -- frenetically jumped from one challenge to another, "inventing a new medium," as Rosetto would later declare. Some of what they faced were technical challenges, building Web servers that could scale to thousands of views a day or designing user interfaces read exclusively on a screen.
Others were more strategic. HotWired was among the first to build a dedicated email list, for instance. They had a lot of conversations about what to say and how often to say it.
By virtue of being among the first major publications online, HotWired paved more than a few cow paths. They are often cited as the first website to feature banner ads. Anker's business plan included advertising revenue from the very beginning. Each ad that went up on their site was accompanied by a landing page built specifically for the advertiser by the HotWired team.
In launching Web commercialization, they also launched some of the first-ever corporate websites. "On the same day, the first magazine, the first automobile site, the first travel site, the first commercial consumer telephone company sites all went up online, as well as the first advertising model," HotWired marketer Jonathan Nelson would later say.
Most days, however, they would find themselves debating more philosophical questions. Rosetto had an aphorism he liked to toss around, "Wired covers the digital revolution. HotWired is the digital revolution." And in the public eye, HotWired liked to position themselves as the heart of a pulsing new medium. But internally, there was a much larger conflict taking place.
Some of the first HotWired recruits were from inside of the storm of the so-called revolution taking place on the Internet. Among them was Howard Rheingold, who had created a massive, networked community known as the WELL, along with his intern Justin Hall who, as a previous chapter discussed, was already making a name for himself for a certain brand of personal homepage. They were joined by the likes of Jonathan Steur, finishing up his academic work on Internet communities for his Ph.D. at Stanford, and Brian Behlendorf who would later be one of the creators of the Apache server. This was a very specific team, with a very specific plan.
"The biggest draw for me," Behlendorf recalls, "was the idea of community, the idea of being able to pull people together to the content and provide context through their contributions and to make people feel like they were empowered to actually be in control." The group believed deeply that the voice of the Web would be one of contribution. That the users of the Web would come together, and converse and collaborate, and create publishing themselves. To that end, they developed features that would be forward-thinking even a decade later: user-generated art galleries and multi-threaded chatrooms. They dreamed big.
Rosetto preferred a more cultivated approach. His background was as a publisher and he had spent years refining the Wired style. He found user participation would muddy the waters and detract from the site's vision. He believed that the role of writers and editors on the Web was to provide a strong point of view.
The Web, after all, lacked clear purpose and utility. It needed a steady voice to guide it. People, in Rosetto's view, came to the Web for entertainment and fun. Web visitors did not want to contribute; they wanted to read.
One early conflict perfectly illustrates the tension between the two camps. Rosetto wanted the site to add registration, so that users would need to create a profile to read the content. This would give HotWired further control over their user experience and open up the possibility of content personalization tailored to each reader's preferences. Rheingold and his team were adamantly against the idea. The Web was open by design and registration as a requirement flew in the face of that.
The idea was scrapped, though not necessarily on ideological grounds. Registration meant less eyeballs and less eyeballs meant less revenue from advertising.
The ongoing tension yielded something new in the form of compromise. Anker, at the helm, made the final decision. HotWired would ultimately function as a magazine -- Anker understood better than most that the language of editorial direction was one advertisers understood -- but it would allow community-driven elements.
Rheingold and several others left the project soon after it launched, but not before leaving an impression on the site. The unique blend of Wired's point of view and a community-driven ethos would give way to a new style on the website. The Wired tone was adopted to a more conversational style. Readers were invited in to be part of discussions on the site through comments and emails. Humor became an important tool to cut through a staid medium. And a new voice on the Web was born.
The Web would soon see experiments from two sides. From above, from the largest media conglomerates, and from below, writers working out of basements and garages and one-bedroom apartments. But it would all branch off from HotWired.
A few months before HotWired launched, Rosetto was at the National Magazine Awards. Wired had garnered a lot of attention and was the recipient of the award for General Excellence at the event. While he was there, he struck up a conversation with Walter Isaacson, then New Media Editor for Time magazine. Isaacson was already an accomplished author and biographer -- his 900-page tome Kissinger was a critical and commercial success -- and a journalist. At Time, he cultivated a reputation for exceptional journalism and business acumen, a rare combination in the media world.
Isaacson had become something of a legend at Time, a towering personality with an accomplished record and the ear of the highest levels of the magazine. He had been placed on the fast track to the top of the ranks and given enough freedom to try his hand at something having to do with cyberspace. Inside of the organization, Isaacson and marketing executive Bruce Judson had formed the Online Steering Committee, a collection of editors, marketers, and outside consultants tasked with making a few well-placed bets on the future of publishing.
The committee had a Gopher site and something do with Telnet in the works, not to mention a partnership with AOL that had begun to go sour. At the award ceremony, Isaacson was eager to talk to Rosetto a bit about how far Time Warner had managed to go. He was likely one of the few people in the room who might understand the scope of the work, and the promise of the Internet for the media world.
During their conversation, Isaacson asked what part of the Internet had Rosetto, who had already begun work on HotWired, excited him most. His response was simple: the Web.
Isaacson shifted focus at Time Warner. He wanted to talk to people who knew the Web, few in number as they were. He brought in some people from the outside. But inside of Time Warner there was really only one person trying his hand at the Web. His name was Chan Suh, and he had managed to create a website for the hip-hop and R&B magazine Vibe, hiding out in plain sight.
Suh was not the rising star that Isaacson was. Just a few years out of college and very early in his career, he was flying under the radar. Suh had a knack for prescient predictions and saw early on how publishing could fit with the Web. He would impact the Web's trajectory in a number of ways, but he became known for the way in which he brought others up alongside him. His future business partner Kyle Shannon was a theater actor when Suh pulled him in to create one of the first digital agencies, Agency.com. He brought Omar Wasow -- the future creator of social network Black Planet -- into the Vibe Web operation.
At Vibe, Suh had a bit of a shell game going. Shannon would later recall how it all worked. Suh would talk to the magazine's advertisers and say "'For an extra $10,000, I'll give you an advertisement deal on the website,' and they're like, 'That's great, but we don't have a website to put there,' and he said, 'Well, we could build it for you.' So, he built a couple of websites that became content for Vibe Online." Through clever sleight of hand, Suh learned how to build websites on his advertisers' dimes and used each success to leverage his next deal.
By the time Isaacson found Suh, he was already out the door with a business plan and financial backers. Before he left, he agreed to consult while Isaacson gathered together a team and figured out how he was going to bring Time to the Web.
Suh's work had answered two open questions. Number one, it had proven that advertising worked as a business model on the Web, at least until they could start charging online subscribers for content. Number two, Web readers were ready for content written by established publications.
The Web, at the time, was all promise and potential, and Time Warner could have had any kind of website. Yet, inside the organization, total dominance -- control of the web's audience -- became the articulated goal. Rather than focus on developing each publication individually, the steering committee decided to roll up all of Time Warner's properties into a single destination on the Web. In October of 1994, Pathfinder launched, a site with each major magazine split up and spit out into separate feeds.
At launch, Pathfinder pieced together a vibrant collection. Organized into discrete channels were articles from Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, Time, and others. They were streamed together in a package that, though not as striking as HotWired or GNN, was at the very least clear and attractive. In their first week, they had 200,00 visitors. There were only a few million people using the Web at this point. It wouldn't be long before they were the most popular site on the Web.
As Pathfinder's success hung in the air, it appeared as if their bet had paid off. The grown-ups had finally arrived to button up the rowdy Web and make it palatable to a mainstream audience. Within a year, they'd have 14 million visitors to their site every week. Content was refreshed, and was often up to date with publications, and they were experimenting with new formats. Lucrative advertising deals marked, though not quite profitability, at the very least steady revenue. Their moment of glory would not last long.
There were problems even in the beginning, of course. Negotiating publication schedules among editors and publishers at nationally syndicated magazines proved difficult. There were some executives who had a not unfounded fear that their digital play would cannibalize their print business. Content on the Web for free which required a subscription in print did not feel responsible or sustainable. And many believed -- rightfully so -- that the Web was little more than a passing fad. As a result, content wasn't always available and the website was treated as an afterthought, a chore to be checked off the list once the real work had been complete.
In the end, however, their failure would boil down to doing too much while doing too little at the same time. Attempting to assert control over an untested medium -- and the Web was still wary of outsiders -- led to a strategy of consolidation. But Pathfinder was not a brand that anybody knew. Sports Illustrated was. People was. Time was. On their own, each of these sites may have had some success adapting to the Web. When they were combined, all of these vibrant publications were made faceless and faded into obscurity.
Pathfinder was never able to find a dedicated audience. Isaacson left the project to become editor at Time, and his vacancy was never fully filled. Pathfinder was left to die on the vine. It continued publishing regularly, but other, more niche publications began to fill the space.
During that time, Time Warner was spending a rumored $15 million a year on the venture. They'd always planned to eventually charge subscribers for access. But as Wired learned, Web users did not want that. Public sentiment turned. A successful gamble started to look like an overplayed hand.
"It began being used by the industry as an example of how not to do it. People pointed to Pathfinder and said it hadn't taken off," research analyst Melissa Bane noted when the site closed its doors in April of 1999, "It's kind of been an albatross around Time Warner's neck." Pathfinder properties got split up among a few different websites and unceremoniously shut down, buried under the rubble of history as little more than rounding error on Time Warner's balance sheet for a few years.
Throughout Pathfinder's lifespan, it had one original outlet, a place that published regular, exclusively online content. It was called Netly News, founded by Noah Robischon and Josh Quittner -- the same Josh Quittner who wrote the "Way New Journalism" article for HotWired when it launched. Netly News dealt in short, concise pieces and commentary rather than editorially driven magazine content. They were a webzine, hidden behind a corporate veneer, and the second half of the decade would come to be defined by webzines.
Reading back through the data of Web use in the mid-'90s reveals a simple conclusion. People didn't use it all that much. Even early adopters. The average Web user at the time surfed for less than 30 minutes a day. And when they were online, most stuck to a handful of central portals, like AOL or Yahoo!. You'd log on, check your email, read a few headlines, and log off.
There was, however, a second group of statistical outliers. They spent hours on the Web every day, pouring over their favorite sites, collecting links into buckets of lists to share with friends. They cruised on the long tail of the Web, venturing far deeper than what could be found on the front-page of Yahoo!. They read content on websites all day -- tiny text on low-res screens -- until their eyes hurt. These were a special group of individuals. These were the webzine readers.
Carl Steadman was a Rheingold disciple. He had joined HotWired in 1994 to try and put a stop to user registration on the site. He was instrumental in convincing Anker and Rosetto to do so via data he harvested from their server logs. Steadman was young, barely in his mid-20s, but already spoke as if he were a weathered old-timer of the Web, a seasoned expert in decoding its language and promise. Steadman approached his work with resolute deliberateness, his eye on the prize as it were.
At HotWired, Steadman had found a philosophical ally in the charismatic and outgoing Joey Anuff, who Steadman had hired as his production assistant. Anuff was often the center of attention -- he had a way of commanding the room -- but he was often following Steadman's more silent lead. They would sometimes clash on details, but they were in agreement about one thing. "Ultimately the one thing [Carl and I] have in common is a love for the Web," Anuff would later say.
If you worked at HotWired, you got free access to their servers to run your personal site -- a perk attached to long days and heated discussions cramped in the corner of the Wired offices. Together, Anuff and Steadman hatched an idea. Under the cloak of night, once everyone had gone home, they began working on a new website, hosted on the HotWired servers. A website that cast off the aesthetic excess and rosy view of technology from their day jobs and focused on engaging and humorous critique of the status quo in a simple format. Each day, the site would publish one new article (under pseudonyms to conceal author identities). And to make sure no one thought they were taking themselves too seriously, they called their website Suck.
Suck would soon be part of a new movement of webzines, as they were often called at the time. Within a decade, we'd be calling them blogs. Webzines published frequently, daily, or several times a day from a collection of mostly young writers. They offered their takes on the daily news in politics and pop culture, almost always with a tech slant. Rarely reporting on breaking stories themselves, webzines cast themselves as critics of the mainstream. The writing was personal, bordering on conversational, filled to the brim with wit and fresh perspective.
Generation X -- the latchkey generation -- entered the job market in the early '90s amidst a recession. Would-be writers gravitated to elite institutions in big cities, set against a backdrop of over a decade of conservative politics and in the wake of the Gulf War. They concentrated their studies on liberal arts degrees in rhetoric and semiotics and comparative literature. That made for an exceptional grasp of postmodern and literary theory, but little in the way of job prospects.
The journalism jobs of their dreams had suddenly vanished; the traditional journalism job for a major publication that was enough to support a modest lifestyle, replaced by freelance work that paid scraps. With little to lose and a strong point of view, a group of writers taught themselves some HTML, recruited their friends, and launched a website. "I was part of something new and subversive and interesting," writer Rebecca Schuman would later write, "a democratization of the widely-published word in a world that had heretofore limited its purview to a small and insular group of rich New Yorkers."
By the mid-'90s, there were dozens of webzines to choose from, backed by powerful personalities at their helm, often in pairs like Steadman and Anuff. Cyber-punk digital artist Jamie Levy launched Word with Marissa Bowe as her editor, a bookish BBS aficionado with early Web bona fides. Yale-educated Stephanie Syman paired up with semiotics major Steven Johnson to launch a slightly more heady take on the zine format called Feed. Salacious webzine Nerve was run by Rufus Griscom and Genevieve Field, a romantic couple unafraid to peel back the curtain of their love life. Suh joined with Shannon to launch UrbanDesires. The Swanson sisters launched ChickClick and became instant legends to their band of followers. And the list goes on and on.
Each site was defined by their enigmatic creators, with a unique riff on the webzine concept. They were, however, powered by a similar voice and tone. Driven by their college experience, they published entries that bordered on show-off intellectualism, laced with navel-gazing and cultural reference. Writer Heather Havrilesky, who began her career at Suck, described reading its content as "like finding an eye-rolling teenager with a Lit Theory degree at an IPO party and smoking clove cigarettes with him until you vomited all over your shoes." It was not at all unusual to find a reference to Walter Benjamin or Jean Baudrillard dropped into a critique of the latest Cameron Crowe flick.
Webzine creators turned to the tools of the Web with what Havrilesky would also call a "coy, ironic kind of style" and Schuman has called "weaponized sarcasm." They turned to short, digestible formats for posts, tailored to a screen rather than the page. They were not tied to regular publishing schedules, wanting instead to create a site readers could come back to day after day with new posts. And Word magazine, in particular, experimented with unique page layouts and, at one point, an extremely popular chatbot named Fred.
The content often redefined how Web technologies were used. Hyperlinks, for instance, could be used to undercut or emphasize a point, linking for instance, to the homepage of a cigarette company in a quote about deceptive advertising practices. Or, in a more playful manner, when Suck would always link to themselves whenever they used the word "sell-out."
Steven Johnson, co-founder of Feed, would spend an entire chapter in his book about user interfaces outlining the ways in which the hyperlink was used almost as punctuation, a new grammatical tool for online writers. "What made the link interesting was not the information on the other end -- there was no 'other end' -- but rather the way the link insulated itself into the sentence."
With their new style and unique edge, webzine writers positioned themselves as sideline critics of what they considered to be corporate interests and inauthentic influence from large media companies like Time Warner. Yet, the most enthusiastic Web surfers were as young and jaded as the webzine writers. In rallying readers against the forces of the mainstream, webzines became among the most popular destinations on the Web for a loyal audience with nowhere else to go. As they tore down the culture of old, webzines became part of the new culture they mocked.
In the generation that followed -- and each generation in Internet time lasted only a few years -- the tone and style of webzines would be packaged, commoditized, and broadcast out to a wider audience. Analysts and consultants would be paid untold amounts to teach slow to move companies how to emulate the webzines.
The sites themselves would turn to advertising as they tried to keep up with demand and keep their writers paid, writers that would go off to the start their own now-called blogs or become editors of larger media websites. The webzine creators would trade in their punk rock creds for a monkey suit and an IPO. Some would get their 15 minutes. Few sites would last, and many of the names would be forgotten. But their moment in the spotlight was enough to shine a light on a new voice and define a style that has now become as familiar as a well-wielded hyperlink.
Many of the greatest newspaper and magazine properties are defined by a legacy passed down within a family for generations. The Meyer-Graham family navigated The Washington Post from the time Eugene Meyer took over in 1933 until it was sold to Jeff Bezos in 2013. Advance Publications, the owners of Condé Nast and a string of local newspapers, has been privately controlled by the Newhouse family since the 1920s. Even the relative newcomer, News Corp, has the Murdochs at its head.
In 1896, Adolph Ochs bought and resurrected The New York Times and began one of the most enduring media dynasties in modern history. Since then, members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family have served as the newspaper's publisher. In 1992, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. took over as the publisher from his father who had, in turn, taken over from his father.
Sulzberger, Jr., despite his name, had paid his dues. He had worked as a correspondent in the Washington Bureau before making his way through various departments of the newspaper. He put his finger on the pulse of the company and took years to learn how the machine kept moving. And yet, decades of experience backed by a hundred-year dynasty wasn't enough to prepare him for what crossed his desk upon his succession. Almost as soon as he took over, the Web had arrived.
In the early 1990s, several newspapers began experimenting with the Web. One of the first examples came from an unlikely source. M.I.T. student-run newspaper The Tech launched their site in 1993, the earliest example we have on record of an online newspaper. The San Jose Mercury Times, covering the Silicon Valley region and known for their technological foresight, set up their website at the end of 1994, around the time Pathfinder and HotWired launched.
Pockets of local newspapers trying their hands at the Web were soon joined by larger regional outlets attempting the same. By the end of 1995, dozens of newspapers had a website, including the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. Readers went from being excited to see a Web address at the bottom of their favorite newspaper, to expecting it.
1995 was also the year that The New York Times brought in someone from the outside, former Ogilvy staffer Martin Nisenholtz, to lead the new digital wing of the newspaper. Nisenholtz was older than his webzine creator peers, already an Internet industry veteran. He had cut his teeth in computing as early as the late '70s and had a hand in an early prototype for Prodigy.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Nisenholtz did not need to experiment with the Web. He was not unsure about the future. "He saw and predicted things that were going to happen on the media scene before any of us even knew about them," one of his colleagues would later say about him. He knew exactly what the Web could do for The New York Times.
Nisenholtz also boasted a particular skill set that made him well-suited for his task. On several occasions, he had come into a traditional media organization to transition them into tech. He was used to skeptical reproaches and hard sells.
"Many of our colleagues way back then thought that digital was getting in the way of the mission," Sulzberger would later recall. The New York Times had a strong editorial legacy a century in the making. By contrast, the commercial Web was two years old; a blip on someone else's radar.
Years of experience had led Nisenholtz to adopt a different approach. He embedded himself in The New York Times newsroom. He learned the language of news and spoke with journalists and editors and executives to try and understand how an enduring newspaper operation fits into a new medium. Slowly, he got to work.
In 1990, Frank Daniels III was named executive editor of the Raleigh area newspaper News & Observer, which his great-grandfather had bought and salvaged in the 1890s. Daniels was an unlikely tech luminary, the printed word a part of his bloodline, but he could see the way the winds were shifting. It made him very excited. Within a few years of taking over, he had wired up his newsroom to the Internet to give his reporters next-generation tools and network research feeds and launched an ISP to the greater Raleigh area for would-be computer geeks to buy Internet access (and browse N&O content, of course) called NandO.net.
As the Web began its climb into the commercial world, the paper launched the Nando Times, a website that syndicated news and sports from newswires converted into HTML, alongside articles from the N&O. It is the earliest example we have on the Web of a news aggregator, a nationally recognized source for news launched from the newsroom of a local paper and bundled directly alongside an ISP.
Each day they would stream stories from around the country to the site, updating regularly throughout the day. They would not be the only organization to dream of content and access merged into a distinctly singular package, your digital home on the Web.
Money being a driving factor for many of the strategic angles, The Wall Street Journal was among the first to turn to a paywall. The Interactive Edition of the Journal has been for paid subscribers since it launched. It had the effect of standing out in a crowded field and worked well for the subscribers of that publication.
It was largely a success, and the new media team at the WSJ was not shy about boasting. But their unique subscriber base was willing to pay for financially driven news content. Plenty would try their hand at a paywall, and few would succeed. The steady drum of advertising would need to work for most online publications, as it had been in the print era.
Back at The New York Times, Nisenholtz quickly recognized a split. "That was the big fork in the road," he would later say. "Not whether, in my view, you charged for content. The big fork in the road was publishing the content of The Times versus doing something else." In this case, "doing something else" meant adopting the aggregator model, much like News & Observer had done, or erecting a paywall like The Wall Street Journal.
There was even room in the market for a strong editorial voice to establish a foothold in the online portal race. There is an alternate universe in which The New York Times went head to head with Yahoo! and AOL. Nisenholtz and The Times, however, went a different way. They would use the same voice on the Web that they had been speaking to their readers with for over a hundred years. When The New York Times website launched in January of 1996, it mirrored the day's print edition almost exactly, rendered in HTML instead of with ink.
Just after launch, the website held a contest to pick a new slogan for the website. Ochs had done the same thing with his readers when he took over the paper in 1896, and the Web team was using it to drum up a bit of press. The winner, "All the News That's Fit to Print," the very same slogan the paper's readers had originally selected. For Nisenholtz, it was confirmation that what the readers wanted from The New York Times website was exactly the same thing they wanted when they opened the paper each day: strong editorial direction, reliable reporting, and all the news.
In the future, The Times would not be competing simply with other newspapers. "The News" would be big business on the Web, and The New York Times would be competing for attention from newswire services like Reuters, cable TV channels like CNN and tech-influenced media like CNet and MSNBC. The landscape would be covered with careful choices or soaring ambition. The success of the website of The New York Times is in demonstrating that the Web is not always a place of reinvention. It is, on occasion, just one more place to speak.
The mid to late '90s swept up Silicon Valley fervor and dropped it in the middle of Wall Street. A surge of investment in tech companies would drive the media and publishing industry to the Web as they struggled to capture a market they didn't fully understand. In a bid for competition, many of the largest tech companies would do the opposite and try their hand at publishing.
In 1995, Apple, and later Adobe, funded an online magazine from San Francisco Examiner alumni David Talbot called Salon. The following year, Microsoft hired New Republic writer Michael Kinsley for a similar venture called Slate. Despite their difference in tone and direction, the sites would often be pitted against one another specifically because of their origins. Both sites began as the media venture of some of the biggest players in tech, started by print industry professionals to live solely online. These were webzine-inspired magazines with print traditions in their DNA.
When Slate first launched, Kinsley pushed for each structured issue on the website to have page numbers despite how meaningless that was on the screen. Of course, both the concept of "issues" and the attached page numbers were gone within weeks, but it served as a reminder that Kinsley believed the legacy of print deserved its place on the Web.
The second iteration of webzines, backed by investment from tech giants or venture capital, would shift the timbre of the Web's voice. They would present as a little more grown-up. Less webzine, more online magazine. Something a little more "serious," as it were.
This would have the effect of pulling together the old world of print and the new world of the Web. The posts were still written from Generation X outsiders, the sites still hosted essays and hit pieces rather than straight investigative reporting. And the Web provided plenty of snark to go around. But it would be underscored with fully developed subject matter and a print sensibility.
On Salon, that blend became evident immediately. Their first article was a roundtable discussion about race relations and the trial of O.J. Simpson. It had the counter-cultural take, critical lens, and conversational tone of webzines. But it brought in the voice of experts tackling one of the most important issues of the day. Something more serious.
The second half of the 1990s would come to define publishing on the Web. Most would be forced to reimagine themselves in the wake of the dot-com crash. But the voice and tone of the Web would give way to something new at the turn of the century. An independent Web, run by writers and editors and creators that got their start when the Web did.
Dave: All right. Well, thank you, Jeremy. Thank you, Jay.
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