[NOTE: Formerly, the SM Global Report, this column has interviewed people all over the world who have extended social media in interesting or useful directions. For the next several months it will focus exclusively on people who will be covered in my next book, Social Media Pioneers.
Your feedback will influence how extensively I cover people. If you can think of someone who I should include, please let me know as well.]
Justin Hall did one of those little things that would make a big difference in 1994. He started a personal diary and he posted it online where everyone could see it. It was called Justin’s Notes from the Underground .
No one had ever done such a thing–although others had been inching in the same direction for a few years. There were no blog authoring tools yet so you had to be fairly geeky to create such a thing–or follow it for that matter.
The diary started to be called a “web log” probably because it resembled ship’s logs that sea captains had maintained for centuries. Everything gets shortened on the internet so it was soon just being called a “blog.”
In college, Justin played around on the internet with an interest in how links connected people. He also spent a lot of time writing. These two converged in his nascent blog. Justin built a significant following–up to 25,000 visitors a day–perhaps because some of his links directed people to sex sites.
I was surprised that I couldn’t find a sample of his writing through Google and Bing searches. Justin had to point me to archived samples. This is a memorable one here and a full archive here. It struck me because his style in 1994 was very much the style I wrote as a college kid in the 60s. In fact, it was a style of most liberal arts college kids in the 60s.
One of the sub-themes of my book is that the 60s shaped many of the founding fathers of social media and this piece has Justin meeting and talking with Howard Rheingold and Dave Winer [l.] two pioneers who were very much shaped by the 60s and went on to be among the most generous contributors to what we now call social media..
Justin, however, is not of the 60s. Perhaps his parents were. He came of age in the 90s. Growing up in Chicago, he attended the Francis W. Parker School, a respected independent school, whose charter talks about instilling ”the joy of learning” into students and emphasizes the importance of community and citizenship.
From there, he went on to Swarthmore, one of the most respected of all liberal arts colleges.
From college days until now his passion and focus has remained online games. He created the first blog, not as a technologist, but as a gamer who wanted to share his personal experiences with others who shared his interests.
Since college, he has applied himself to social and mobile games. In 2006, he co-founded GameLayers, an online social games company where he and his team made PMOG/The Nethernet – a game played by surfing the web. They also made social games for Facebook and Firefox.
He’s now independent again, producing mobile internet games with independent game label ngmoco/DeNA. His first title for the company was Touch Pets Cats a 2010 pet simulator for the iPhone that has sustained popularity and fans.
My Q&A with him focused of course on what he did and why he did it back in 1994.
Q. Your first blog, Justin’s Notes from the Underground seems to paraphrase one of the great Russian authors. What did Dostoyevsky have to do with you starting a blog in 1994?
Dostoyevsky inspired a friend of mine who started an underground newspaper at St. John’s College in New Mexico – notes from the underground. I thought my friend was cool, I thought his underground newspaper was cool, and I thought “from the underground” was an appropriate suffix for the type of content I was serving in 1994, when I was 19 🙂
Q. Who and what else influenced you? How so?
Great question! These folks / cultural products taught me:
Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 – writing the surreal as a lived experience.
Coppola’s Apocalypse Now – making media that pushes through boundaries of commentary into participation.
WB Yeats’ “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop” – an abiding belief that the sacred and the profane are close neighbors.
The music of Jane’s Addiction – record and share screaming when you’re upset, it makes for potent media.
Q. What inspired you to start an online personal diary?
January 1996, these guys: http://links.net/vita/web/suck/ inspired me, I wrote about it here: http://links.net/vita/hw/third.html – I had been writing frequently before, just not organized in a blog-type format.
Q. What sort of content did you start with? How did that evolve over time?
I wrote my personal web publishing journey up on this page:http://links.net/vita/web/ 🙂
Q. What happened after you posted it? Could people post comments? What tools did you use to author it?
Writing explicit content about my life generated a lot of attention! Emails, conversations, encounters. Lively stuff! I wrote in text editors, eMacs mostly, publishing onto a shared server run by my friends. It was all plain HTML with server-side includes for headers and footers from 1994-2002.
In 2002, I started experimenting with Movable Type, which allowed me to add comments. Comments escalated the drama around my extremely personal posts, and I stopped blogging from 2005 until 2010. Then when I started writing online again, I used Movable Type because MT can readily write HTML files into my 1994-era file structure.
Q. Why did you stop?
I stopped because I entered into a relationship that seemed incompatible with the type of personal online writing that motivated me.
Q. How do you feel that blogs changed you and your life?
I started when I was 19 and found an enormous amount of validation by connecting with like-minded souls across the web. It was a wild personal experiment, challenging and testing my personal relationships. Also it was a chance to insinuate myself with a community of early, active web lovers.Today I work as an entertainment software producer in San Francisco; my work today proceeds from 1994-era experiments entertaining people online with my self-presentation.
Q. How do you feel it influenced the blogstorm that would follow you a few years later?
When I first saw Mosaic [the first browser] and browsed the web I had a strong feeling that the web is a fantastic place for people to connect. It’s been cheering to see so many folks participate over the years!
Q. What did your Justin’s Underground have to do with gaming–if anything?
Only that I was a life-long computer game lover :-)http://links.net/dox/warez/games/
Q Additional comments
Fun to think about the past! I look forward to making more future.