Before the personal blog platforms, like Xanga, or Open Diary, or Blogger, the landscape of personal websites was a wild west. There weren't templates to populate. There wasn't precedent to copy. Writers set the rules from scratch, and linked to each other's work through "web rings."
In this first era of writing online, there was a different ethos.
Nudists of the Written Word
These writers were known as "escribitionists." The word is a fusion of "scribe" and "exhibitionist." They were nudists of the written word, exposing every detail of their life and the culture. Apparently, some digital nudes from a Goth Girl named Tori (?) showed the original online writers how little consequences there were. Justin Hall's original dick-pic on his personal website could accurately be described as the first "shot seen 'round the world."
The Diary History Project
I came across something called "The Diary History Project." It was a retrospective on the "ancient history" of blogging, from 93-98. Ancient? It was written in 2000! It's now been 28 years since the first writers with website. We've completely forgotten the origin era. James Clear made a Tweet this year asking for recommendations from the "early days of blogging circa 2005." (?)
The Diary History Project featured 30 writers who reflected on what it was like to be on the Internet when it was invented, and why they started publishing their writing on their own site. But 21 years later, many of the links are broken. (If anyone can find SAGE, let me know).
The fragile history of online writing is at risk of fading.
The last attempt to rationalize this period was in 2000, five years before Myspace! Jesus. Knowing what we know now, I wonder if there are new insights we could discover. Have we deviated from the original potential of online writing? My gut says there are lessons we can learn from the pioneers: Lessons we've forgotten now that Twitter, Google, and Squarespace are in control.
"We asked people who began keeping online journals before January 1998 to reflect on how and why they began journaling, and how they felt journals and the journaling community had changed over the years. Here they tell the story of the first years of online journals in their own words. The entries are arranged according to when the contributor first started keeping an online journal."
Pioneers of Blogging
I read through every entry in this project. What's interesting is that all of them saw someone else's personal site, and got inspired to do their own: "I could do this." There were a few pivotal figures, who brought originality to a just-born medium. They set the stage for what online writing could be. My gut says to dive into these websites, and see if anything can be revived.