Many people in the Six Apart community know Michael Sippey from his work as our VP of Products — when you see something like Amazon’s new widgets for TypePad, it’s Michael’s tireless advocacy and leadership that makes those sorts of features happen. But unless you’ve been watching the social web for a long time, you might not know that Michael’s sites like Stating The Obvious helped influence some of the fundamental thinking about blogging. We’re lucky enough to get to work with Michael, so we stole some of his time to ask a few questions.
- First, how did you get started writing Stating the Obvious? What were your influences?
You expect me to remember that far back? Sheesh, Anil. Well, in the early ’90s I was working for Advent Software in San Francisco, and in my spare time would use the PC and modem I had there to connect up to The Well. I was your classic Well lurker: not having been a BBS kid, I was fascinated by the social dynamics and the community that was being built there. Around that time that Wired launched; the first couple of years of that magazine had a big impact on me. As an English Lit major in undergrad, I guess it was inevitable that all that reading turned into writing; I sent a few emails around to unsuspecting friends in the early summer of 1995, and decided to find a web home for it in August.
- StO has a long-form essay format, as did many sites of that era, such as the sites by Dave Winer and Leslie Harpold that we talked about earlier this week. But today almost nobody regularly publishes longer essays online on personal sites. How did you start doing a shorter link/filter blog?
You know, I kind of miss the long-form essay format. I used it to work out what I actually thought about a particular topic, and I’d draft a piece over the course of the week for posting on Mondays. I’d love to find that rhythm again. Sometime in ‘98 I started running “Filtered for Purity,” which was essentially a link blog on the front page of the site. As new ones were posted, old ones would disappear. Since Ben and Mena were still years away from shipping Movable Type, and not being a programmer myself, I didn’t have tools to automatically archive those links. So now I can just claim that the lack of permanent homes for those Filtered entries was “by design.”
- It was five years ago that you and I were first talking about “Stories and Tools” — the idea that we’d have to adapt the document-centric nature of the web to support richer applications. And Jesse James Garrett kind of neatly encapsulated this idea in his Ajax essay. Did you think five or ten years ago that we would be where we are today?
I had no idea we’d end up here. Hoped, sure. What’s amazing is how quickly it all happened. When my parents came online their whole experience was through the AOL client. I told my Dad, who called it “Americans Online,” that he would be off that service and connecting directly within five years. It took three. And now they’re both sending me private messages on Vox.
I wrote a toss-off piece in 1995 called “The Three C’s of Computing,” which argued that these tools (connected PCs) are good for Creating, Consuming and Connecting. At the time we had OK tools for creation (think MS Office), a growing set of tools for consumption (think AOL), and a very nascent set of connection that wasn’t being covered by the mainstream press (boards, listservs, USENET, etc.). I wrote back then that the dream would be combining the three “into one, glorious future: creating, consuming and connecting all at once.” I think we’re starting to realize that dream with blogs, social networks, photo sharing, presence broadcasting, etc.
- What do you think are the big-picture trends for technologies like blogging? Is blogging a solved problem, like email, or are there more big leaps to be made?
Blogging is definitely not a solved problem. Go back to the three C’s. We’re getting to the point where normal people can start to use the “creation” tools…but we still have a long way to go to make it easier. If today’s RSS reading experience is the end of the line for “consumption” then someone should take our industry out back for a beating. And “connecting” is only starting to get interesting — every application is becoming social, and as a industry we’ll find more interesting ways to traverse and use the network graphs. Then take all of that and tear it away from the desktop. Here in the US we’re still remarkably PC-centric; the mobile and ambient modes have yet to be leveraged effectively. (Look, I used the words “leveraged” and “ambient” in the same sentence. Drink!)
- You influenced a lot of us, myself included, to start blogging and to really invest our lives and careers in helping this medium grow. What are some of the sites that have inspired you along the way? What sites do you love reading today?
Oh, great — so you’ll blame me when this is all over with? I guess that’s OK, because I blame Carl Steadman. From Rats to Cats to Kid A in Alphabet Land to Suck.com to 99 Secrets to Diana Bear to Placing to his backpage column in The Industry Standard, Carl was waaaaay before his time. IMHO (as the kids say), this is all his fault.
And lately? Well, lately I’m really inspired by this guy Anil…oh, wait. Never mind.
- What are you looking at next? What excites you right now?
What excites me right now is the idea of applying all of this bleeding edge tech to the real world, to people who don’t live within 100 miles of Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley. (Do they still call it that?) Bringing things like privacy and presence and syndication to people who don’t even care to know what all of it means, they just want to connect with their friends or run their business.
Thank you to Michael for taking the time to offer his perspective on the history of blogging. You can always keep up with Michael’s latest thoughts on his blog at sippey.typepad.com. This post is part of our ongoing series of posts about weblog history and its pioneers as the medium reaches its tenth year — earlier posts highlighted Leslie Harpold and Dave Winer.