Let me take you back to when I first started writing for the Internet.
The year was 1995, and “the Internet” consisted of America On-Line and a sign posted at the edge of AOL that read “Here There Be Monsters”. That was where the rest of the World Wide Web lived, and one didn’t go there. Or at least I didn’t, partly because I was using a dial-up modem that could barely handle the AOL pages and basically lost its shit when trying to look at a web site that was visually rich.
America On-Line at that time was message-board heavy and largely text-based, and that worked just fine for me and my exhausted modem. (I have no idea what AOL looks like now. Does it actually still exist?) I found a corner of it devoted to writing, and soon was granted space to write my own humor columns there, in which I complained at length and in entirely too much detail about my children, who had both come into this world at around
the same time I was trying to get some sleep. (These humor columns later became the basis for Beating Up Daddy, but we’ll talk about that later.)
Then AOL started to stink, and the stink got on everyone’s clothes, and we all left. Or something; I forget exactly why. The important thing is I entered the Internet proper and established the GenePoool.
Two things to note. First: the three O’s are not a typo. I couldn’t get the rights to genepool.com. Second, this was at a time when the emphasis was on creating a site that didn’t look like a personal web page. So, no “Gene Doucette’s Web Page”. The reason: everyone had their own page, or access to creating their own page, and nobody really knew what to do with those pages once they had them. (This is still largely true.) To get web hits– which, before Google, meant submitting your site to hosted search engines– you had to look like a professional site.
I never really got that last part right. Free web design programs weren’t particularly robust, and I was still living a text-based existence. And everything I put together that I thought looked simply great on my Mac looked kind of crappy on a PC.
GenePoool still purred along for a solid decade, essentially without a design change. In that time many dozens of humor columns, opinion pieces, play scripts and other things were posted there, all retrievable on self-archived sub-pages. In 2000 I created an entire section devoted to parodying the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook– later put out as The OTHER Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook— that brought me a little attention, but not a LOT of attention. (I think my “How To Shoplift” page got the most consistent hits, mainly because people thought it was genuine advice.)
And there was the blog. I started blogging in 2001, linking the blog page to my GenePoool site and publishing through Blogger.com. It was… crude. Visually, I mean. It took me four years to figure out how to post a photo, the archiving broke sometime in 2007, and the comment system didn’t exist until sometime in 2006. Despite this I blogged roughly 5 days a week for a solid seven years.
I had readers, but not a huge number of them. I could name any number of reasons for this: I wasn’t a niche blogger; I was using a blog page that looked like it was designed by a seven year old; the blog was attached to a website that was itself comically outdated; I was perhaps not all that interesting.
Update or die
Around 2008 I realized I could no longer update GenePoool; the software I had been using was so old it was no longer supported by any computer I owned. And Blogger.com was sending me emails explaining that the way I published to the site was no longer going to be supported either. (Don’t ask me what that way was; I have no clue.) And my blog comments pages had been taken over by squatters.
I needed to either upgrade the entire website– we’re talking over 200 fixed pages of writing– or let it die. Since I had no idea how to fix it, I let it die.
But that was okay, because by then I had found Facebook, as had roughly every other person on the planet. And more recently I found Twitter. And I started looking at what other people were doing in this brave new world. I had treated my old blog like an extension of my fixed site, but that’s exactly backwards in today’s media. Now the blog is the thing, and Twitter and Facebook and whatever’s next are the new traffic drivers. And blog interfaces can easily handle non-text media.
I know these are all things you probably already understood. But I’m coming from the age of dial-ups and gated Internet communities. I’m still getting caught up.