One of the first pages I ever visited in the fall of 1994 was the National Center for Supercomputing Applications' "What's New" page. Every time someone added a new homepage to the web, the NCSA would publish it on this page. In hindsight, that was the first blog -- published reverse-chronologically, colloquial, and full of links. It was the family encyclopedia with velocity.
"Pleased and proud" is a slight understatement. I first ran across Wired at college. A friend had an early issue and I had never seen anything like it. (He also had a copy of 2600...the pairing of the two was irresistible to a culturally isolated midwestern kid raised on Time and Newsweek.) When I got on the web in 1994, HotWired was the coolest site out there. HotWired begat Suck and became the nexus of a bunch of the coolest online writing, culture, and design. The way people discuss the cultural and technical influence of Facebook and Twitter today, that position was occupied by Wired and HotWired back in the mid-1990s.
After I dropped out of grad school to teach myself web design, I applied for an internship at HotWired but never heard back. I wanted to work there so bad, to be at the center of all the excitement of the web, but I'm sure it was an easy decision for them to pass over an unemployed grad school drop-out living with his dad on a farm in rural Wisconsin in favor of any one of the thousands of other applicants who had likely taken more than zero design, programming, or even art classes. So yeah, to have written an article for the 20th anniversary issue of Wired about a project I created...well, 1995 Jason's head would have exploded.
I write like I talk. Or at least I thought I did. But after listening to the first 10 minutes of this episode of Unprofessional I did with Lex Friedman and Dave Wiskus, that is untrue. Because I, you know, actually talk, like, like this, basically. You know. Yeah. Gonna have to, um, work on that if, basically, you know, I'm gonna keep doing, like, podcasts. Basically. But Lex and Dave sound so silky smooth so you should give it a listen in spite of, you know, me.
The Internet's Jason Kottke joins Lex and Dave to talk digital friendships, the future of keeping in touch, and what life would be like without connectivity.
So this is fun. Back in February 2000, I wrote a post about Amazon being awarded a patent for their affiliates program. In it, I wondered about a world where Apple was the largest company in the world:
And that brings us to Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft is perhaps the largest target of this sort of "boycott", organized or otherwise. People hate Microsoft. Companies hate Microsoft. It's the company you love to hate. Apple, on the other hand, is one of the most beloved companies in the world. People love Apple.
But what if Apple were Microsoft? What if Apple had won the battle of the PC and was the largest company in the world? People would hate them. Why? Because they would be using the same tactics as Microsoft to stay ahead and keep every bit of that advantage in anyway that they could. Apple is the way it is because they are the underdog.
I'll even argue that life would be worse under Apple's rein. Apple controls the OS *and* the hardware: if we were under Apple's boot instead of Microsoft's, we'd be paying too much for hardware as well as the software.
Nailed it! Or not. That third paragraph is pretty wrong...one of the things that contributed greatly to Apple's rise is their commitment to pricing their products competitively. And software is cheap.
As for Apple being the underdog, I've always thought one of the interesting things about Daring Fireball, even from the beginning, is that John Gruber never treated Apple as an underdog. In his esteem, Apple was the best company making the best software and hardware, and the DF attitude with respect to Microsoft was very much like that of Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis in a debate with Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush on SNL: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy". Gruber proved correct...what looked like an underdog proved to be a powerhouse in the making. (thx, greg & andy)
But before the party, Robin will be interviewing a variety of people over a 24-hour period and streaming the whole thing online. I am one of the scheduled interviewees and I have no idea what we'll talk about. But because my slot is right before the party starts, after almost 20 non-stop hours of Robin interviewing people, it's possible we'll just change into our sweatpants, split a pint of Cherry Garcia, and spoon on the couch.
I'm switching to a new default web browser today (i.e. the browser I use the most on my computer) and that put me in a reminiscing mood. So here are some screenshots of all of the browsers I've used as my default for the past 18 years.
Using NCSA Mosaic to surf the World Wide Web for the very first time in the basement physics lab at college was as close to a religious experience as I've ever had. It was a thunderbolt that completely changed my life.
When Marc Andreessen left NCSA and formed a company to build web browsers, it was clear that their browser was the future. The first version was called Mosaic Netscape:
NCSA didn't appreciate the new company's use of the Mosaic name so they changed it to Netscape Navigator. This is a screenshot of Netscape 3, still my favorite web browser.
I continued to use Netscape 3 even after the release of Netscape 4, which was a such pile of junk that I eventually decamped for the sweaty embrace of Gates and Ballmer. You may not remember, but IE 4 was a pretty good browser. Microsoft won the browser wars, in part, because their browser was better than the other guy's.
I used IE on Windows until I bought a iBook in 2002. The default browser for OS X was IE for Mac:
From IE for Mac, I moved to Chimera. I loved Chimera...it was fast and was the first browser I used that supported tabbed browsing.
Chimera soon changed its name to Camino for legal reasons and I switched along with them.
Eventually, the team and resources for Camino dried up, the release schedule slowed down, and the other browser makers caught up. At this point, I can't quite remember what I switched to. I might have gone to Firebird (which was renamed Firefox), but I probably just went straight to Safari.
I used Safari for a long time until switching to Firefox a couple of years ago.
And today I'm making Chrome my main browser. I'll still use Safari and Firefox for some stuff but links will open up on Chrome by default.
Chrome will probably be my last default browser on a non-mobile computer. Many of you use Mobile Safari much more than any desktop web browser; I'm not quite there but will be soon enough.
Gawker has rebranded their new commenting system...it's now called Kinja. The name is recycled from a project that Nick Denton worked on with Meg Hourihan starting in 2003. Kinja 1 was an attempt to build a blog aggregator without relying solely on RSS, which was not then ubiquitous. Here's a mockup of the site I did for them in late 2003:
Luckily they got some real designers to finish the job...here's a version that 37signals did that was closer to how it looked at launch.
Where is the team that worked on that Kinja? Nick's still hammering away at Gawker, Meg is raising two great children (a more difficult and rewarding task than building software), programmer Mark Wilkie is director of technology at Buzzfeed, programmer Matt Hamer still works for Gawker (I think?), intern Gina Trapani is running her own publishing/development empire & is cofounder of ThinkUp, and 37signals (they worked on the design of the site) is flying high.
Quarterly is a hybrid of a magazine and an online store...you subscribe to people and receive items in the mail. It's a fun idea and I'm pleased to announce that you can now subscribe to me on Quarterly. Here's what I'm planning on sending out, very generally:
Each day on kottke.org, I attempt to find the interesting in everything. Part of that is casting a wide net and looking for connections between seemingly unrelated things. I hope that -- for instance -- a sports freak can appreciate something about how the human brain works, a book editor is enticed to read about the history of the American automobile industry, or a startup CEO can find business lessons in fashion. In that vein, I'll be sending you things that you didn't know you wanted to see until you saw them.
Price is $25 per quarter with the first mailing shipping in about two months. Sign up!
If you're actually reading this on the site and not in RSS (guys, come on in from the cold, don't be shy), you'll already have noticed that I changed the "look and feel" of the site. In doing the design, I focused on three things: simplicity, the reading/viewing experience, and sharing.
Simplicity. kottke.org has always been relatively spare, but this time around I left in only what was necessary. Posts have a title, a publish date, text, and some sharing buttons (more on those in a bit). Tags got pushed to the individual archive page and posts are uncredited (just like the Economist!). In the sidebar that appears on every page, there are three navigation links (home, about, and archives), other ways to follow the site (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and an ad and job board posting, to pay the bills. There isn't even really a title on the page...that's what the <title> is for, right? Gone also is the blue border, which I liked but was always a bit of a pain in the ass.
Reading/viewing experience. I made the reading column wider (640px) for bigger photos & video embeds and increased the type size for easier reading. But the biggest and most exciting change is using Whitney ScreenSmart for the display font, provided by Hoefler & Frere-Jones' long-awaited web font service, which is currently in private beta. Whitney SSm is designed especially for display in web browsers and really pushes the site's design & readability to a higher level. Many thanks to Jonathan and his web fonts team for letting me kick their tires. I believe that kottke.org is one of only two sites on the entire Internet currently using H&FJ's web fonts...the other is by some guy who currently lives in a white house near Maryland. Barnaby something...
The reading experience on mobile devices has also been improved. The text was formerly too small to read, the blue border was a pain in the ass (especially since the upgrade to iOS 5 on the iPhone & iPad changed how the border was displayed when zoomed), and the mobile version was poorly advertised. The site now uses the same HTML and CSS to serve appropriate versions to different browsers on different hardware using some very rudimentary responsive design techniques. Whitney ScreenSmart helps out here too...it looks freaking AMAZING on the iPhone 4S's retina display. Really, you should go look. And then zoom in a bunch on some text. Crazy, right?
Sharing. I've always thought of kottke.org as a place where people come to find interesting things to read and look at, and design has always been crafted with that as the priority. A few months ago, I read an interview with Jonah Peretti about what BuzzFeed is up to and he said something that stuck with me: people don't just come to BuzzFeed to look at things, they come to find stuff to share with their friends. As I thought about it, I realized that's true of kottke.org as well...and I haven't been doing a good enough job of making it easy for people to do.
So this new design has a few more sharing options. Accompanying each post is a Twitter tweet button and a Facebook like button. Links to posts are pushed out to Twitter, Facebook, and RSS where they can be easily shared with friends, followers, and spambots. I've also created a mirror of kottke.org on Tumblr so you can read and share posts right in your dashboard. I've chosen just these few options because I don't want a pile of sharing crap attached to each post and I know that kottke.org readers actually use and like Twitter, Tumblr, and even Facebook.
In computer science parlance, Kottke doesn't scale. That's a shame. While services that collect popular stuff online are useful, they lack any editorial sensibility. The links on Techmeme and Summify represent a horde's view of the Web. The material on Kottke represents one guy's indispensible take. The Web ought to have both kinds of aggregators, but I'd love to see more people starting link blogs that offer a clear editorial vision. But how do you get more of something so hard to do?
Enter Robottke. Over the last few weeks, Chris Wilson has been building a machine that aims to automatically generate links you might find on Kottke.org. Robottke isn't meant to replace flesh-and-blood Kottke; we just want to come up with a list of items that Jason Kottke might link to each day.
You can check out Robbotke here. How does it work? We began by crawling all the sources that Jason Kottke is likely to look at every day -- we look at all the sites he links to, and all the stuff that people he follows on Twitter are sharing. The hard part is choosing the best, most Kottke-like links from Robottke's collection. It's helpful that the human Kottke meticulously tags all of his posts with keywords. When Robottke finds a link, it searches for topics that it knows Kottke likes -- the more it finds, the higher the article ranks.
Hey, that riderless bike link at the top of Robottke actually looks pretty interesting...
Jason asked me to fill in this week as he bunkers in an undisclosed location pursuing interpretive dance training. He'll chime in with some posts here and there, though, along with some videos of his training.
I've been here before, but if you don't remember I write Unlikely Words. I'm hoping for a good week on the internet, and if you find any gems, buzz me on Twitter.
For the past several months, I've been working on a new web app/site called Stellar. Stellar helps you discover and keep track of your favorite things online. If you like playing around on Twitter or Flickr, you'll probably enjoy Stellar. There are a few dozen people using Stellar right now and some of them seem pretty enthusiastic about it, so I'm encouraged to open the site up a bit more. As of just this minute, you'll be able to do a few things with Stellar:
With all the buzz around the new Gawker design, I figured I'd dig out the first design I ever showed Nick for the site back in October of 2002:
Nick didn't like it too much. Background too dark, masthead text not logo-y enough. Two weeks later, I sent him this, with a half-assed technicolor logo that I'd dashed off in Photoshop in like 30 minutes:
Today's competitors have cooked up a little something different for you today; they have suggested that we go Iron Chef style for this match. So, I have chosen a "secret ingredient" for today's match in the form of a design element that will need to be used in each volley.
If either of the competitors wants to know the ingredient before match-time tomorrow, it'll cost you $500...or $1200 for exclusive knowledge. Personal checks accepted.
An improvised toy: Old Fashioned Quaker Oats canister ($4). You know, the big can. Buy it, eat oatmeal for months, and then give it to your kid when you're done with it. It's a drum, a car garage, a cave, a shaker, a block carrier, a hat, an echo chamber, a steam roller, a doll's bed, and flower pot. Basically the perfect cheap, replaceable, recyclable, open-ended toy.
They discuss blogging for a living, general vs. niche blogs, content longevity, making the transition to full-time blogging, how taking a break (even for a week) can affect traffic, finding links, guest bloggers, the good and bad of comments, and more.
(Christ, is that my voice? I *was* just getting over a cold...)
Despite the media hype, the biggest story about the Y2K computer bug is that nothing happened. Trains didn't spontaneously derail. McDonald's didn't roll back to turn-of-the-century pricing (no Happy Meals for a ha'penny). And the banks didn't lose all of our money; we'd have to wait another eight years for that.
Hello everyone. I'd like you to meet Ollie's little sister, Minna Kottke.
Big yawn! She was born at home (on purpose!) early this morning; mother and baby are resting comfortably. I am weakened by an unrelated sickness but proud and happy. Ollie can't stop talking about her. "Minna! Minna!" He's going to be a great big brother.
So, things are going to be a little slow around here for a bit, especially the rest of this week. Starting next Monday, I'll be joined by a part-time guest editor for a couple weeks. But more on that later. Now: sleep.
Even though it's a history of the telegraph, this book is always relevant. The rise of the 1830s communication device continues to be a fantastic metaphor for each new Internet technology that comes along, from e-mail to IM to Facebook to Twitter.
Two competitors will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a "volley" and then we post it to the site live. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens. A match lasts for ten volleys.
Curatorial strategies are spilling out of galleries and museums and into our everyday design practices. As emphasis shifts from designer to consumer, the vital role of designer is often that of mediator, shaping ideas and content created by others into another user experience. How have these new pivots changed the role of designer from one of artisan to one of curator? Four lecturers speak to curation as a way of design life, and how their audiences learn from, are inspired by, and gain insights from it.
Come for the Felton, stay for the Bekman, and don't mind me, my talk's only 10 minutes long. (Actually, I just noticed that they're "sold out".)
For the fourth year in a row, a list of all the places I visited in 2008.
New York City, NY*
Cedar Rapids, IA
Las Vegas, NV
One or more nights were spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Note: We didn't actually spend the night in Paris, but we were there all day so I threw it in there. Here are the lists for 2005, 2006, and 2007.
When I was born 35.2 years ago, a light cone started expanding away from Earth out into the rest of the universe (Minkowski space-temporally speaking, of course). Thanks to updates from Matt Webb's fancy RSS tool, I know that my personal light cone is about to envelop the Zeta Herculis binary star system, located 35.2 light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules.
With a mass some 50 percent greater than the Sun, however, and beginning its evolution toward gianthood (its core hydrogen fusion likely shut down), Zeta Her A is 6 times more luminous than the Sun with a radius 2.5 times as large. Nevertheless, the star gives a good idea of what the Sun would look like from a great distance, in Zeta Her's case 35 light years. The companion (Zeta Her B), a cooler class G (G7) hydrogen-fusing dwarf with a luminosity only 65 percent that of the Sun and a mass about 85 percent solar, orbits with a period of 34.5 years at a mean distance of 15 Astronomical Units (over 50 percent farther than Saturn is from the Sun). A rather high eccentricity takes the two as far apart as 21 AU and as close as 8 AU.
Hercules is of course named for the Greek hero, Heracles. Next up is Delta Trianguli, another binary star system, in about two months.
Clusterflock's Deron Bauman did an interview with me the other day over IM and posted an edited transcript. This seems to be the bit that everyone is pulling from the interview so I will as well:
Other times, it's not so fun running a visible site. Some people are determined to deliberately misunderstand much of what they encounter in life. Sometimes I have a hard time realizing that that's their problem, not mine.
Three cities, two serious relationships, one child, 200,000 frequent flier miles, at least seven jobs, 14,500 posts, six designs, and ten years ago, I started "writing things down" and never stopped. That makes kottke.org one of a handful of the longest continually updated weblogs on the web...something to be proud of, I guess. The only thing I've done longer than kottke.org is sported this haircut. (Perhaps not something to be proud of...the hair-in-stasis, I mean.)
Being a digital packrat, I have screenshots of all the past designs the site has had. When I started, the posts were actually hosted on another site of mine, 0sil8, that I'd been doing since 1996. I didn't know at the time that kottke.org would eventually kill 0sil8. This was the first design (full size):
It's a little misleading because there's only one post shown on the page...there were usually more, displayed reverse chronologically. The stars were a rough rating of how well that day had gone called the fun meter.
When I moved the site to its own domain after a few months, I redesigned it to look like this (full size):
The aesthetic was influenced by the pixel grunge style of Finnish designer Miika Saksi...you can see some of his older work here. The font in the navigation is Mini 7...Silkscreen was still several months away at that point. The fun meter is still present as is the all-lowercase text, a house style I thankfully dropped a few months later. The cringeworthy writing took a few more years to iron out...if it ever fully was.
This one's still my favorite; it turned a lot of heads back in the day (full size):
With dozens of spacer gifs and five concentric tables, it was a bitch to code. There was also a capability to modify the look and feel of the site...you could choose between this design, the older design pictured above, and a text-only version. Inline permalinks were introduced on kottke.org in March 2000 and subsequently the idea was spread across the web by Blogger.
But it only lasted for about a year. In late 2000, I swapped it for this one (full size):
The familar burn-your-eyes-out yellow-green makes its first appearance. I never really meant to keep it or for it to become the strongest part of the site's identity. After this design launched, I cycled through a few colors (the old yellow, blue, red) before getting to the yellow-green...and then I just got lazy and left it. For 8 years and counting. The post style underwent several changes with this design. In June 2002, I switched to Movable Type after updating the site by hand for four years. Soon after that, I added titles to my posts. In late 2002, I added a frequently updated list of remaindered links to the sidebar. In late 2003, the remainders moved into the main column and have become an integral part of the site. I also started reviewing movies and books around this time...kottke.org became a bit of a tumblelog.
In July 2004, I refreshed the design a bit...tightened it up (full size):
After about a year, I changed it again to the current look and feel (full size):
Sorry, that got a little long...there's a lot I didn't remember until I started writing. Anyway, I didn't intend for this to become a design retrospective. Mostly I wanted to thank you very sincerely for reading kottke.org. Over the last ten years, I've poured a lot more of myself than I'd like to admit into this site and it's nice to know that someone out there is paying attention. [Cripes, I'm choking up here. Seriously!] Thanks, and I'll see you in 2018.
Here are all the places I visited last year...much less travel than in previous years. Having a baby will do that to your schedule. For a few months there, I don't think I left a 20-block radius of Manhattan.
New York City, NY*
San Francisco, CA
One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Here are my lists from 2005 and 2006.
Some vital statistics: He was born on July 3 just before 1pm, weighed about 7 lbs., 2 oz., loves to eat (and then sleep), is O.K. (ha!), dislikes sponge baths, unfortunately doesn't have any descenders in his name, both mom and baby are home and doing fine, Ollie is not a particularly popular name right now (and is not short for Oliver), and I've never been quite so content as when he fell asleep on my chest yesterday and we snoozed together on the couch for an hour or so. A little slice of heaven.
Also, I'm going to be taking about two months of paternity leave from working on kottke.org. I'll probably post a few things here and there when I can, but it won't be a priority by any means. I hope you all have a good rest of the summer and that you'll find the site again when I start back up in the fall.
And if that weren't enough excitement for one day, it's also Pi Day. (Whoa, the Pi Day web site uses Silkscreen!) I bet the Pi Dayers are really looking forward to 2015 when they can extend the fun to two additional decimal places.
On Thursday, Google, the Internet search giant, will unveil a package of communications and productivity software aimed at businesses, which overwhelmingly rely on Microsoft products for those functions.
The package, called Google Apps, combines two sets of previously available software bundles. One included programs for e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and Web page creation; the other, called Docs and Spreadsheets, included programs to read and edit documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel, the mainstays of Microsoft Office, an $11 billion annual franchise.
Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.
When you swing a hammer in the vicinity of so many nails, you're bound to hit one on the head every once in awhile. Well, I got it in the general area of the nail, anyway.
New York City, NY*
One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Less travel than last year, thank goodness. Where's your list?
Over the past two weeks, David Jacobs, Anil Dash and I have attempted to reproduce (in some halting way) Jason Kottke, while the actual Jason Kottke was in rehab on his honeymoon. The attempt, on my part at least, has been an abject failure. Or haven't you noticed all the crappy links with "GK" at the end of them? Go-kart magazines? What the hell?
Like most of the disasters I've had a hand in, I've got a theory that both explains what happened and exonerates me. Ducking responsibility sounds better if you put on academic airs about it.
The theory: There are two kinds of bloggers, referential and experiential. Kottke is one. I, now two weeks too late in realizing this, am another.
The referential blogger uses the link as his fundamental unit of currency, building posts around ideas and experiences spawned elsewhere: Look at this. Referential bloggers are reporters, delivering pointers to and snippets of information, insight or entertainment happening out there, on the Intraweb. They can, and do, add their own information, insight and entertainment to the links they unearth -- extrapolations, juxtapositions, even lengthy and personal anecdotes -- but the outward direction of their focus remains their distinguishing feature.
The experiential blogger is inwardly directed, drawing entries from personal experience and opinion: How about this. They are storytellers (and/or bores), drawing whatever they have to offer from their own perspective. They can, and do, add links to supporting or explanatory information, even unique and undercited external sources. But their motivation, their impetus, comes from a desire to supply narrative, not reference it.
There's nothing here to imply that one type of blogger is better than the other. There are literally thousands -- OK, hundreds... OK, at least a dozen -- of both kinds that are valuable additions to the on-going conversation/food-fight/furry-cuddle that is the Internet. My point is that Jason Kottke is a very, very good referential blogger and I am a very, very bad one. And I'm sure I wouldn't have trouble finding a link that expresses this sentiment (many, many times over, with varying degrees of vehemence), but I'd rather say it from my own experience:
New York, NY*
Los Angeles, CA
Las Vegas, NV
One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Somehow, I did a lot more and a lot less traveling last year than I had anticipated. And just for fun, let's make this a meme! Blog your list of cities and get your friends to do the same. It'll be fun.