One Man’s Communication Journey Through the Internet

I saw recently that a buddy had celebrated his fifth year of blogging.  Very cool but it made me, of course, start to wonder when I started blogging.  Now, so much depends on what you mean by blogging.  Because blogs didn’t come out of nowhere, they evolved out of prior technologies.  For example, before I had a blog I had a threaded discussion that was part blog, part comments and part conversation.

Before the threaded discussion I had a number of variants, and before that I had a Bulletin Board System (remember BBS’s?)  Actually, I had quite a few, as I contributed to or wrote at least four such systems. 

Before having a BBS I participated in both Internet news groups and Compuserve groups (remember Compuserve? I was, if I remember correctly, 72241,72). These numbers were called PPNs and that stood for Programmer/Program numbers. They were, little did most realize, in octal.

As part of my work on Compuserve, I was eventually made “WizOp” of PCMagNet which was Ziff Davis’ first foray into internet communication (followed later by Interchange, which I helped to write and then by ZDNet; later CNet if I have that right).

The early days were, of course, before commercial sites were allowed on the net, and before the “new”  .com addressing.  My personal email address was something like …uunet!foo!bar!skipnyc!atpal  – where the elipses meant “you know how to get to uunet” and the rest meant, from the uunet backbone, go to foo then go to bar then go to skipnyc then get to me (atpal stood for Atlantic Palisades and was the name of most of my bulleting boards and email for a while).  The interim sites (foo, bar, skipnyc) had to know how to pass along the messages to the next link in the chain.

I can trace my first postings on the internet back to 1984 for certain, and by 1986 or 1987 creating such postings was part of my work.  It has been ever since.  So in some bizarre interpretation I’ve been blogging for… too damn long Smile

What stands out is not only how much better, richer and more pervasive blogging is today, but also what we gave up.  Missing now is (often) the real opportunity for conversation.  We had that in Magpie, in Learning Link, in Interchange (all previous ventures that I was at least tangentially associated with).  The technology may have been more primitive back then, but we had a better sense of conversation than I think we have today.  Especially with “threaded discussions” that allowed you to follow who was replying to which message. 

One of my prouder achievements was a threaded discussion that was created on Unix boxes and updated across Learning Link (PBS) sites at night on the Fido Network. Every morning all the threads on all the discussions were synchronized, allowing transcontinental conversations with regional divergence.

We had endless charming discussions when creating Interchange about whether threaded discussions contributed to understanding or caused confusion. Later, with other sites I built or used, threaded discussions proved immensely useful for targeting the back and forth which is the essence of communication.

In short, I  wonder if we haven’t lost something along the way. We’ve gone from a relatively small number of folks in a virtual room, to a very large number of folks in a virtual lecture hall. 

Given my job, my blog has become less about conversational exchange and more about publishing short articles; it is closer to a specialized narrow-channel magazine than it is to a soap box in a rowdy meeting hall. 

That is fine and good when the goal is to impart useful information, but the truth is that there is a lot of dispersed knowledge out there that would be better expressed in a more open forum.  I’ll be looking for ways to open the blog up to richer conversations over the coming months.

About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. He was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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