26 February 2006

The First Blogger - and His Chaos

Wandering around the Net (as one does) I came across this: certainly one of the least-attractive sites that I've seen in a long time. But as soon as I noticed that familiar face in the top left-hand corner, I knew where I was: back in Chaos Manor.

Now, for younger readers, those two words might not mean much, but for anyone privileged enough to have lived through the early years of the microcomputing revolution, as chronicled in Byte magazine (now a rather anonymous Web site), they call forth a strange kind of appalled awe.

For Pournelle's columns - which still seem to exist in cyber-versions if you are a subscriber - consisted of the most mind-numbingly precise descriptions of his struggles to install software or add an upgrade board to one of his computers, all of which were endowed with names like "Anastasia" and "Alex".

Along the way he'd invariably drop in references to what he was doing while conducting this epic struggle, the latest goings-on in space exploration (one of his enthusiasms) plus the science-fiction book he was writing at the time (he always seemed to be writing new ones each month - impressive).

The net effect was that his articles ran to pages and pages of utterly irrelevant - but compulsively fascinating - detail about his daily and working life. I half-dreaded and half-longed for the monthly delivery of Byte, since I knew that I would soon be swept away on this irresistible and unstoppable torrent of high-tech logorrhea.

Visiting the site, I noticed the line "The Original Blog", linked to the following text:

I can make some claim to this being The Original Blog and Daybook. I certainly started keeping a day book well before most, and long before the term "blog" or Web Log was invented. BIX, the Byte exchange, preceeded the Web by a lot, and I also had a daily journal on GE Genie.

And in a flash, I realised why I had been mesmerised by but ambivalent about Pournelle's outpourings all those years ago. They did indeed form a proto-blog, with all the blog's virtues - a captivating first-person voice weaving a story over time - and all of its vices - a level of information way beyond what any sane person should really want to know, given the subject-matter.

Pournelle is right: he probably was the first blogger, but working on pre-Internet time - one posting a month, not one a day. However, it is hard to tell whether what we now know as blogs took off all those years later because of his pioneering example - or in spite of it.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps that's why so many blogs look so Jerry-built -- they carry on his Manorisms?

Giving machines, even microcomputers, pet names doesn't seem strange anymore in this TCP/IP era where assigning a hostname is a required part of bringing up a box. Now the challenge is to come up with a good consistent naming scheme for your LAN so you're not embarrassed for somebody to see /etc/hosts for your subnet. Maybe I should name my remaining CP/M box after all...

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, that's a good point about hostnames - shows Pournelle was a pioneer here, too....