part archive, part trowel

Very quietly, Rudolf Ammann is doing meticulous and assiduously-sourced work that sets up narratives of online history that engage with their protagonists but also test accepted narratives. This post from last year is a great example, and the comments from Dave Winer, Scott Rosenberg and others set up a fascinating dance of narratives.

I’m going to take very slight issue with the analysis: while I think the spare, link-based weblog set up a contrast to the long-form personal narrative that had previously held a certain amount of sway, my own recollection is close to Rosenberg’s: the distinction between the two forms was never as contentious or as zero-sum as the exchanges at SXSW 2000 made it out to be. That’s perhaps because of underlying personal relationships and a sense of common cause that transcended formal boundaries — what Heather* and Derek or Lance and Leslie were doing didn’t feel that dissimilar from Peter or Judith were doing around the same time. You could play around with the weblog format and maintain a zine/narrative site, perhaps in a subdirectory, perhaps a separate domain, and not feel like a traitor to the cause — or you could mix it up, because that’s what Justin Hall did, and everybody knew Justin’s site.

By 2000, there was, perhaps, a certain wistful regret that the hand-coded custom layouts and experimental design of {fray} and Colors and AfterDinner and 0sil8 were giving way to lower-maintenance templated sites, reflecting an era of browser messiness and dot-com craziness and increased demands on site creators’ time. (I’ll use this post to deliver my annual nudge at Kottke’s expense.) What appears in retrospect as conflict can also be read, perhaps more accurately, as a desire to give a proper send-off to the surfeit of effort in a craft superseded by production, even if subsequent production demands a new kind of craftsmanship.

Terms like ‘spirit’ don’t really suit analytical frameworks, but that’s where you find the continuity of the weblog era, in a group of people who have been engaged at the leading edge of the web for as long as I can remember, adapting to (and adapting) the forms that emerge.

*Heather’s non-bloggy is no longer in, perhaps on account of its current owners. This makes me sad.