The Founding Father of Blogging
I ended up falling down a rabbit hole in the morning, messily capturing notes on Justin Hall. He was once deemed "the Founding Father of Blogging." These days, he's focused on being a husband and father. Now, he has a YouTube channel with 500 subscribers, and a Twitter account with 5,000 followers.
He's an unsuspecting founding father of writing online. But when everyone first jumped onto the Internet around 1993-1995, his personal website served as Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, porn... everything. His site was www.links.net, and it launched at a time when there was no way to curate what was going on around the web. So Justin did it manually. As he "surfed," sometimes for around 8 hours a day, he wrote about what he found, and left breadcrumbs.
His website was referenced by someone as an "On the Road" of the Internet Age. In addition to being the go-to link aggregator, he documented every detail of his personal life on his web page. His site is a deep HTML maze if you care to dive into it. You'll find detailed logs of his days, and the secret thoughts of the people in his life.
Fighting Kurt Vonnegut
Justin viewed the Internet as a radical tool that would liberate humanity. His vision was so strong on it, that he even got beat up by Kurt Vonnegut over it. Vonnegut was nostalgic for the tactility of paper, but Justin was persistent about the potential of computers. A heated argument led to Vonnegut pulling his hair and shaking him around the room, yelling, "Can you feel THIS on the Internet!?" before he stormed off.
A Forgotten Influence
He was the first to "overshare," inspiring the "escribitionists" (1993-1998) to do the same. His personal website was the first signal that gave others the confidence to be "vulnerable" on the Internet. Justin triggered a movement of online diarists, who triggered the launch of "Open Diary" type platforms, which triggered Twitter, which triggered the President tweeting his thoughts every 30 minutes.
Synthesizing Authenticity and Distribution
I've been spending a lot of time on Justin's site. I think there is something we can learn from the early days of personal websites. I think it can re-calibrate our motivations for writing online.
In our modern era, we have new language around the WHY we write online:
- Thought leader
- Audience Building
All of these terms are hugely important, especially if you're interested in making a living online, which there's never been a better time to do. While all of these terms are centered around markets of social capital, Justin's site felt like an un-optimized expression of the self.
Justin actually had a hard anti-monetization stance. I don't agree with it, but I think it's largely a product of his times. One of the only ways to monetize your online writing in 1993 was to host ads on your personal site. There wasn't an easy way to exchange value through the Internet at the time (he was writing about digital cash 15 years before Bitcoin).
The real problem worth solving is figuring out the synthesis of these two impulses:
- The idea to authentically freeze our consciousness online, regardless of what markets want, dedicated to our grandchildren
- Utilizing the internet as the greatest ever distribution machine, to get paid doing what you love
There are perils involved with falling too far to either side of this spectrum. The artist can learn from the growth hacker, and vice versa. The artist needs to wrap their head around distribution, and raw originality might be one of the most effective market signals.
Both camps share an appreciation of volume / quantity / consistency.
Justin Hall Links
- Here's his OG site.
- A 1991 article he wrote, pre WWW, but about the Internet, when it was a series of USENET chat groups.
- 1996 MSNBC interview
- Here's a 15 minute interview from 1998 of him in Sweden.
- In 2015 (?), he made a 40 minute movie to reflect on his life, but here's a 4-minute video showing what writing on the Internet was like in 1994.
- An interview from 2020.