My first website — or one of them, anyway

I was looking through some files I had stashed in a backup folder on an old hard drive, and I came across an almost complete reproduction of one of my first websites, which I hand-coded in an HTML editor around 2003 or so. It was called “A Complete Waste of Time,” and most of what it contained was links to weird Internet sites and pages that I collected at the time (and still do, in case you come across any). But it also had indexes of useful pages as well, including a lot of media-related links, and a lot of financial links — stock-quote sites, etc. — because at the time I was the business columnist for the website of the Globe and Mail, a daily national newspaper based in Toronto.

The first “live” version of the Globe‘s website had just launched in 2000, and I was one of a team of about seven or eight people who worked for it, in a separate area on the third floor. This was around the time I discovered “blogs,” and started my own, which would gradually evolve into the site you’re on now. At the time, the Globe had put all of its columnists behind a paywall, which cut my readership by about 90 percent, but at some point it dawned on me that a blog could be like a column — but with more interactivity — and it wasn’t behind a paywall!

Thus began my career as a “blogger,” which ultimately led to a job doing social media for the Globe (imagine explaining to a senior executive that people should be “tweeting”), and then a job at my friend Om Malik’s site GigaOM, a technology blog network based in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the site ran out of money and shut down rather suddenly in 2015 (someone bought the domain name and kept running a kind of zombie version), and then I joined Fortune magazine, and finally joined the Columbia Journalism Review.

Anyway, this is the version of my site from 2003, which I’ve recreated more or less accurately (the original was only 600 pixels wide, since not a lot of graphics cards or monitors could display anything wider, so I widened it a bit). This was actually an upgrade from my first site, which I called “World Wide Weirdness.” As far as I can recall, I created that one in the mid-1990s, but I can’t find any record of it. It was very much like the one I’ve linked to here, but more of a hodge-podge of links to weird things and odd news items. In the intro, I wrote: “Here’s a picture of me at work,” but it was actually a screenshot taken from the game DOOM.

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The consumer web was still relatively young in 2003, but it was old enough that I included a bunch of humorous elements at the bottom making fun of various web and blog standards — including badges making fun of the awards and other ephemera that some sites displayed (“Top 10 Sites on the Web” etc.) and a counter that just rotates randomly, poking fun at sites that actually kept track of the thousands who had visited them. Later versions included links to a “web-ring,” which was a way of linking to other blogs you liked, and links to sites like Del.icio.us, which I used to keep track of interesting things (I use Instapaper now for much the same thing).

One of the fascinating things about putting my old site back together is seeing how many of the links are still around — most of them have disappeared, not surprisingly, due to “link rot” and other phenomena, and I haven’t really tried to update them. But some of the weirder sites remain, which is hilarious to me. I mean, it’s not a surprise that Bert Is Evil or Hillbilly Hercules no longer exist, but I definitely didn’t expect the Church of the Blind Chihuahua to still be around. And yet, there it is (the blind dog is a metaphor, in case you were wondering). The Smoking Gun is still around too, although it’s not as relevant as it used to be, since everyone just posts dirt about celebrities etc. to Twitter.

I have corrected some of the links — including one of the first weird sites I ran across in my earliest days on the web, Strawberry Pop-Tart Blowtorches, which was created in 1994 by a university student named Patrick Michaud and built around testing a single premise: namely, that “toasters which fail to eject Pop Tarts cause the Pop Tarts to emit flames 10-18 inches in height.” Based on the video evidence, this appears to be accurate. Another was a site that contained video of the indescribable moment when a bunch of engineers decided to blow up a whale carcass using half a ton of dynamite. I remember showing people in the Globe newsroom this video in 1994, because at that time I was one of the few reporters with Internet access at their desk.

In many ways, the site is like a time capsule — a glimpse of a simpler time on the Internet, before the invention of social media and the dominance of trillion-dollar platforms like Google and Facebook, and the disinformation maelstrom we’ve lived in for the past several years. I often wish we could go back to the days of link-blogs, when all I cared about was trolling through the web looking for interesting sites like Strawberry Pop-Tart Blowtorches. Are we better off now? I honestly don’t know. Things have definitely gotten more complicated! But here we are.

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