I’ve joined the Daily Dot as Senior Editor-Hacker.
Lewis Carroll once wrote, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
What Carroll failed to capture in that quote is this; Every end is a beginning … of new awesome.
I accepted a position with the Daily Dot because I feel stongly that our team is doing something incredible, exciting, worthwhile and new. Every single person involved has big dreams and together I’m certain we have the talent and drive to make those dreams real.
The story of the web today is inseparable from the story of the people who live online. It’s not just about the venture capital deals, the buyouts, the failures or the features. In our post-web-2.0 world the story is no longer the Internet itself, the story is what modern networked computing facilitates so well; Communities and connections.
When Download Squad was officially shuttered last week, it prompted me to take another look at why I started writing in the first place. The merger of computing and community is still what facinates me about the Internet.
I’ve enjoyed a love affair with computing and the people who make it possible for the better part of three decades. From Ataris to Macbooks, I’ve had some of the most influential moments of my life while sitting directly in front of a keyboard.
Brad Hill — Aol’s Managing Editor – took a chance and handed me the helm of Download Squad in February of 2007. I’ve rarely felt so determined to live up to the potential someone saw within me.
Taking full advantage of my new-found freedom to experiment before a large audience, I began slowly transforming Download Squad from a geeks only clubhouse into a widely accessible hub for exploring life online. I’d like to think that I was successful. The pageviews we grew over the next three years — although impressive — do a wholly incomplete job of explaining why Download Squad will always be a win in my book.
My team and I more than doubled Download Squad’s reach in the first 9 months I was in the Lead chair; From 1.4 million to 3 million views each month.
We continued to grow Download Squad over the following two years. When I left in January of 2010, we were trending towards 5 million pageviews a month. We put the focus on good content, we tossed aside the notion of always being first and insead we promoted the desire to always be best. We put up numbers that other publishers would have killed for, and we did it on a shoestring budget.
In 2009, we were named among the top-ten best written blogs on the planet, alongside personal heroes like Roger Ebert, Nicholas Carr and Dan Lyons. We turned nearly unknown writers into rockstars, and I begged and pleaded with them to unleash the wit and voice they held within. We were irreverant, unaffraid and uncompromising. We taught bloggers to think like journalists, and journalists to think like comedians. Wit, brutal honesty and telling detail were among our favorite tools.
Every Web property in the dead-pool can point to a list of reasons they eventually failed. Ad sales-people who fundamentally misunderstood the product, the inability to adopt and drop features as the blogosphere became a group of new-media empires, no control over our own budget and no ability to promote Download Squad beyond sheer guerilla tactics.
I’ll likely never forgive the Aol bean-counters for denying us the budget to throw even the most modest of parties at SXSW in 2008. Every competitor of ours drowned the crowd in booze and good times. Aol rented and catered the Hilton Ballroom for Open AIM, drawing 25 people. I’ve seen birthday parties with better attendance.
I won’t wager a guess at what the Hilton Ballroom costs per night during SXSW. I will say that we teamed up with friends at B5 Media to throw the best flash-mob party Austin ever saw; For free. We were scrappy, we were motivated, and Aol wasn’t. Call it a misalignment of goals, or just plain ol’ pointy-haired boss logic. Whatever you call it, it was a missed opportunity.
I’m beyond proud of my time at Download Squad, and humbled by the number of people who reached out personally to offer condolences. The connections forged from Download Squad are an important part of my life and I’m grateful to count many of the writers I led and people I covered among my closest friends. More than a few of the writers I worked with while at Aol have gone to incredible new places, feeding the web engaging content and telling the stories that need a voice.
In fact, I’ll soon be calling one of those writers ”wife”.
I was already well versed in online communities and the experience of living online when I joined Weblogs, Inc in early 2006. (AOL bought Weblogs, the publisher of Download Squad, in 2005.) Writing about computers and technology for me started with text file hacker ‘zines and publishing short works of sci-fi on local BBSes for audiences that could be counted on fingers and toes.
Dialup single-session BBSes running Citadel, Telegard and Renegade gave way to multi-line boards and having a second phone line to stay pinned to the digital cosmos. Then came the flood of affordable dialup Internet services and several small lifetimes spent on IRC. Second lines gave way to expensive ISDN connections and hints of connectivity to come.
DSL, cable and wireless became the edge of the envelope and what was once an active pursuit to stay connected became ubiquitous connection to a rapidly shrinking world.
Hacker handles, 2600 meetings and anonymity gave way to using real names. People have become brands unto themselves.
Today I’m only offline when taking the subway or flying, and even those edge cases are adding pathways to the Internet at a rapid pace.
In the ’80s and ’90s the desire to live both on and offline in near equal parts made me a nerd, a geek; Poindexter and member of the rarified order of propeller heads.
In 2011, it hardly differentiates me from my mother.
In ways I only fantasized about while reading novels by Gibson, Card and Stephenson, we’re all connected to this vast public/private space we increasingly call home.
Blogging — before it even had a name attached — expanded the reach of my words.
Podcasting brought me to new audiences and led me to meet hordes of like-minded individuals experimenting with a new creative outlet.
I worked hard to find a crack in the surface I could sneak through to begin the journey of making my dream a reality. That same determination to reach beyond what I know I’m capable of is the same determination I feel among Daily Dot’s growing team.
The die for what we’re embarking on isn’t fully cast yet; and part of me hopes that it never truly will be.
The fluidity and dynamicism of new-journalism is part of what makes it so enticing. The lure of infinite possibilities and the power to alter course; The untethered agility to outwit the chaos of an ever changing sea.
As I sit exploring my future while eulogizing my past I’m reminded, I am but a dwarf, standing on the shoulders of giants.
I’m anxious for this new chapter to begin in earnest. I’m forever grateful to the milestones and foundations that came before.
Grant Robertson – Senior Editor-Hacker, Daily Dot.