If — among a certain and increasingly geriatric set of bloggers — you say the words, “a little girl was riding her bike,” the response you’ll get will be some combination of wistful nostalgia and the belligerent pride of the old-school. Back in the day, man, when people edited their sites by hand.
Memes have always dropped out of the Web, with the regularity and frequency of fertilizer from a well-fed horse. Witness your Dancing Babies, your Mahirs, your Hamster Dances. But the little girl thing — and only the most obtuse definition of “thing” does it justice — was the first time I’d seen something just… go. By itself. From and among people I knew, and counted (a bit desperately) as peers. Viewed today, it’s infinitely small, undocumented by even the obsessive completists who obsessively complete documentation, but among the tight-knit community of early bloggers (modulo rivalries and jealousies and pettiness; it was still the Internet), it seemed like something new.
From this distance, a billion Web-years later, it’s difficult to fully explain, except in the most rote way possible: Almost a decade and a half ago, a bunch of bloggers copied a post from kottke.org (and megnut.com), spreading it from site to site to site, for no reason whatsoever, except that nobody had bothered before. What started as the smallest conspiratorial joke possible quickly took on a life of its own, moving out of the house and getting drunk and causing trouble. Looking back, this random bit of Command-C, Command-V presaged reblogs and questions of attribution; the coordination of metadata to establish narrative; anonymous, poker-faced net.art; even the public pointlessness of telling the world about your lunch. It was people in a small community in a new medium pushing against the sides of the womb, seeing if there was a way out into a larger world.
That’s an awful lot of half-assed deep-think for a single paragraph about a little girl riding a bike, but this long-lost bit of serendipity is exactly the sort of thing that Jason Kottke has been doing with the Web almost every day, year in and year out and year in and year out and year in and year out: experimenting, playing, refining, honing, perfecting. Jason was the first person I knew to suffer a cease and desist; the first to run a comment thread out to a thousand entires; the first to ask his audience to support him financially.
Blogging has changed a hell of a lot over these past thirteen years — only the most wild-eyed optimists and glower-faced doom-sayers were anywhere close to being right about how things would turn out — but one rock-steady constant has been the work Jason Kottke has done. Early bloggers, dressed in animal skins and flung forward in time, would be dizzy with the technologies and economics of Internet publishing today. But they’d eventually find their footing, load up kottke.org, and discover some small improvement, some new touch, some tiny experiment, another little girl riding another bike, improving blogging and the Web along with it. Still.