Daily Illuminator

November 22, 2014: The Daily Illuminator: 20 Years Of Beta

So: The blog you're reading has been running for 20 years. Really. In fact, the Daily Illuminator is far older than the word "blog," or even the descriptive term "weblog" that the net quickly truncated to one syllable. As far as we can tell, the Illuminator is the oldest regularly updated blog on the net. You can read back for Derek Pearcy's account of how it came to be, and, modulo trivial details, that's what I recall, too. Not to put too fine a point on it: Derek invented the blog! He might not have been the first one ever to have the idea, but his was an independent invention, and what he wanted to do was pretty much the feature set that blogs have today. (Except for the comment part, but we'll get to that.)

And he had a dozen other things on his plate, and I thought it was a really great idea and wanted to start doing it right now, because having spent so long doing newspapers, I was all in favor of constant communication. In other words, I like to talk, even if it's type-talking. And I wanted to tell people what was going on! Every day!

So I just sat down and created an HTML page and linked to it and wrote new stuff every day at the top of the file. Derek's version would have been way better. All mine had going for it was "here it is today." I suppose there's an alternate history in which I was patient, and Derek wrote his code, and it was so amazing that we all recognized that this was a Big Thing, and we published the first commercial blog engine long before anyone else got moving. So LiveJournal didn't happen, and eventually Facebook didn't happen either, and we all got filthy rich and moved to California and started more companies and changed the world. Hey, it could have worked out that way. We were running an ISP, after all. We had the tools to go further, but the vision was too limited, and we weren't even really looking in the right direction.

I didn't know how awesome, how world-changing, blogs would become. It seemed to me to be a necessary and valuable sort of technique for writing a column online – and hey, anybody could do this! Lots of people must be doing this already! The important thing is just to keep posting the news, right? But that means, hmm. It means we need to write a queue feature so we can write news one day and post it according to a schedule. It means we need some editing tools because writing raw HTML is slow. So, slowly, the code got stronger and smarter. In 2003 we got it out of flat files and put it into a database, and that was an improvement. But the point was always just "Deliver some news, every day. It's okay if it's not about us. Just tell them something cool." We didn't package it up and offer it to the rest of the net.

So we had fun, and posted every day, and told you about cool things. But we did not come early to one of the biggest ways that the Internet changed the world.

Ah, well. In that alternate history, everything got different sometime in early 1995, SJ Games got subsumed into the net operation about 1996, Munchkin never happened, and I never met some people that I kind of like. You know who you are. So, in the long run, it's all good.

Fast forward to 2014. Blogs are old news now, but they're still a great tool. We're going to keep posting Illuminators. We might switch to a commercial code system; we might keep on improving the homebrew we've got; we might beam it directly into your brains (without ever realizing that particular technology might have other applications). I can't predict.

Well, I can predict that we'll keep tweaking the presentation.  We really need to make it usefully searchable. (It's halfway there. A tag system exists. We can tag posts with keywords but, errrrr, there's no interface yet to let you search for them. And since I can't sit down and write that myself in HTML, it's not done. Yet.)

And we've talked about letting users comment, though the comments would have to be moderated, just like our regular forums are, and I think we might cut off comments after some arbitrary short time so readers could move on. Maybe exactly one day, so comments on November 20, 2034, would end exactly as the post for November 21, 2034 went up.

Or we might do something entirely different.

But definitely we'll keep posting. Thank you for reading. That's why we do it.

-- Steve Jackson

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