I know how it sounds, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s the truth. When I first saw the World Wide Web, I fell in love. Here’s how I described the experience in a 2016 post on Halt and Catch Fire:
When I tell people how I first saw the web, I embarrassedly describe it as love at first sight. The first time in my life that I logged on to an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics consultant was the only time in my life that I saw something so clearly and was so absolutely certain of something . It was like a thunderbolt – “the amazing possibility of being able to go anywhere in something great and endless” – and I just knew this was for me and it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the internet is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live in the way I felt when I first saw it.
My love of the web has wavered and wavered in the years since, but for the most part it has stayed—so much so that I have now been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for how long that is: kottke.org predates Google. is 25 years more than half my life, which spans four decades (the ’90s, ’00s, ’10s, and ’20s) and around 40,000 posts – almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for ephemerality. What follows is my (relatively brief) attempt to explain where kottke.org came from and why it still exists.
It’s a preposterous understatement to say that the web has changed a lot in the nearly 30 years since I experienced that “life-changing thunderbolt” — it’s now a massive, overwhelmingly corporate entity that constantly… growing proportion of people includes and organizes information and activities. As a web designer in the 90’s and early 00’s I helped companies use the web for business purposes, but the core of my personal experiences with the web has always been self-expression and creating websites that can be read and read by individual people . Experience.
Shortly after discovering the web, I began creating personal websites, first with Notepad and then with a program called HTML Assistant. My first website had exactly one audience—it lived on a 3.5-inch floppy disk and was mostly a beefed-up version of my bookmark file that I carried back and forth from my dorm room to the physics lab. When I was finally able to hack the public server access, I started a site called “some web space” (all lower case because 90’s)1 This included a hand-drawn graphic of Swiss cheese and a bunch of links to Pulp Fiction. This is me then:
That little baby Jason loved cheese, Quentin Tarantino, and the World Wide Web, thank goodness.
Anyway, the sites I made back then were terrible at first, but I was obsessed and slowly they got better. a certain webspace became a site called 0sil8, which became a kind of playground for my writing and design experiments. Every few weeks/months I would create a new “episode” to upload to 0sil8 and little by little I gained an online following and became part of a community of people also experimenting with the internet.
At that time I was reading more and more of what I was reading online, journals and these things that were called weblogs.2 The updates on weblogs and diaries were smaller but more frequent than on other personal sites – their speed felt different and exciting. But by the time I was actually interested enough to start my own weblog, there were so many of them – hundreds! maybe thousands! – that I thought I was too late, that nobody would care. I continued anyway and on March 14, 1998 I started the weblog that would soon become kottke.org. It was called Notes and looked like this:
I won’t go through the full history of the site, but it ended up evolving in a way I didn’t expect. Since 2005 kottke.org has been my full-time job and supports my family. Working here has allowed me to meet so many people from all over the world including many longtime friends and my (now ex) wife. I have spoken at conferences and traveled the world. I have to be on TV. I started a membership program (which you should definitely join if you haven’t already) which has given the site an incredible boost as it navigates its third decade.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of kottke.org I wrote the following:
I’ve read through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like I’m digging through layers of sediment, following the growth and evolution of the internet, a media format, and most importantly, a person. On March 14, 1998 I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I had learned a lot from books and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are now truly frightening to read: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean. I am ashamed to have written some of them.
But if I hadn’t written all these posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, who hopefully is a slightly wiser person vectoring to a better version of himself. What the site has become at its best – a slightly pompous description from the about page: “[kottke.org] encompasses the essential people, inventions, achievements and ideas that will expand the collective potential of humanity” – has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself in the shoes of all sorts of thinkers and creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends) and exchange ideas with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!) who regularly challenge me and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.
I recently had a personal realization: kottke.org is not so much a thing I do as it is a process I go through. A travel. A journey to knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection and a better view of the world. On the way I found myself and you all. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity.
It all still rings incredibly true and I can’t help but explain why I’m still here doing this moderately anachronistic thing. Thank you for reading. ♥
PS You can read my thoughts on past anniversaries and see some previous website designs here: 10 years, 18 years, 20 years and 24 years.
PPS I wrote a separate post about this yesterday, but if you find value in what I am doing here I would appreciate it if you would support the site by purchasing a membership. And to everyone who has supported the site over the years, thank you!
PPPS Last: I’ll write more about this later today, but I’ve reactivated the order for Kottke Hypertext Tees for the next 24 hours or so. Go and get her!
PPPPS Ha, I remembered something: I activated comments for this post! kottke.org used to allow comments on every post, but it’s been almost 8 years since they were last online. I thought it would be fun to try them today. No idea if they’ll even work or how long they’ll be available, but let’s give it a try. If you want to share how long you’ve been reading the page, or leave any reminders or observations, don’t hesitate. My mailbox is also open. Ok, that’s really it! Thank you very much!
To update: A bunch of comments got stuck in a spam filter in my CMS that I didn’t even know was active. You should be done now… sorry about that!
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