Flipping through the scrapbook as a great ride comes to an end
Special to The Seattle Times
Sometimes a voice that starts as a whisper, turns into a murmur and finally becomes a shout.
So after 16½ years, more than 700 columns and about 600,000 words, this is my final technology column. It's time to try something new. It's been a great ride, starting as User Friendly on June 13, 1989, with the dubious observation, "I like computers. Unlike plumbers, teenagers and cats, they do exactly what you tell them to do." In the command-driven DOS world back then, the statement was accurate. Today, it seems ludicrous.
Yes, it was a long time ago in computer years. Thinking back, I feel privileged and fortunate to have lived through so many breakthroughs. It was like being in the maternity ward of one of history's momentous eras.
With technology, things never get dull. But if there's a difference that for me separates the current from the previous landscape, it's that technology's tools have become far more compelling to use than to write about.
When the hammers and saws were BASIC and C and Java, and the buildings were DOS and Unix and Windows, I could marvel at the artifacts without feeling a need to try my hand.
But the evolution of the Web offers journalists a veritable machine shop of implements. Mailing lists, forums, HTML, blogging, RSS feeds, tagging — the list is long and deep and keeps growing with each flip of the calendar.
So it's not like I'll be dropping from sight. Just changing venues.
I wish I could thank everyone by name for their support over the years — my Times editors, my friends and colleagues, my trusted sources. But you know who you are.
As for my readers, no matter how tiny the subject or ephemeral the theme, they stuck with me, fed me ideas and gave me inspiration. I can think of no higher expression of gratitude or respect than to join their ranks.
One cannot turn a new page without flipping through the scrapbook. Recounting all my favorite moments would take a tome akin to a Victorian memoir. But had I a grandchild to sit on my knee, a few would spring to mind.
The World Wide Web (1989). The Web was a little-noticed white paper when it was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, but its implications were gaining notice by 1991. While Apple Computer Chief Executive John Sculley talked about a Knowledge Navigator and Bill Gates extolled Information At Your Fingertips, it took a humble British hypertext evangelist to actually do the thing — made all the more remarkable by the fact that Berners-Lee, unlike industry visionaries, had no interest in making a pile of lucre.
The Internet (1992). The Net had been around for more than two decades, but by 1992 it was expanding to public use around the world. Suddenly all the bulletin boards and information services got connected under one roof, and the world changed forever.
The Web browser (1993). No one who called up Mosaic, the first popular browser, could fail to see its transformational powers. Yes, it was slow, clunky and temperamental, but time would cure its ills.
Netscape (1994). Its browser took the Web to the masses, but Netscape, the company, was a childhood movie actor who never made the transition to adult stardom. Still, Netscape was the most exciting phenomenon of the emerging Web.
Windows 95 (1995). The most hyped and acclaimed piece of software ever also was the pinnacle of Windows upgrades before and since (alas). No visionary foresaw the global ravages of spyware, adware, viruses and spam when Microsoft built convenient but hackable sharing technologies into Windows, and one often yearns (pointlessly) for the naïve simplicity of those times.
Google (1998). My wife's affiliation with Stanford University led her to a new search engine that seemed like it could read your mind. Time and again she urged me to try it, but I'd been there and done that. Only when she sat me down to help her with a project did Google's apocalyptic brilliance hit this donkey like a two-by-four on the forehead.
Broadband (1998). My North Seattle neighborhood was one of the first in the nation to have access both to DSL and cable Internet. You didn't need to hook up to both (as I did) to discover that broadband was the future of online communications.
Napster (1999). This one came from my daughter. Dad, there's this thing on the Internet where you can download any song you want. Within days I had more or less duplicated my entire vinyl and CD library and then some; it never occurred to me that I was doing anything illegal. Especially since I already had paid for and owned two or three copies of the songs already.
Today the original Napster is dead and all my downloading is legal. But the peer-networking-technology Napster leveraged provided a model for much of the social networking and content sharing on today's Web.
Blogs (2000). At dinner in Palo Alto, the irrepressible Dave Winer, one of the tech world's programming lumniaries, mentioned a thing called a Web log, available courtesy his company UserLand's software and server. I tried it out and was blown away. For a career journalist, blogging was like dropping a newsroom, printing press and fleet of trucks in my lap.
Today blogging is both overhyped and undercredited. It's mischaracterized as a threat to journalism when it actually is the foundation of new Web journalism.
It does threaten (while also presenting opportunities for) journalism's traditional business model. As far as I know, I was the second daily newspaper journalist, behind Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News, to become a regular blogger. As for Winer, the godfather of blogging, his Scripting News (scripting.com) is still the gold standard.
Craigslist (2001). I discovered Craigslist a bit late — it was founded in San Francisco in 1995 but didn't gain real traction till it began expanding to other cities in 2000. Craigslist doesn't do anything revolutionary but makes my list because it's one of the least greedy commerce sites on the Web.
That's my short list. The well-versed and curious will wonder why noteworthies such as eBay, cellphones, Wi-Fi, TiVo, the iPod, podcasting, Wikipedia, RSS and other standouts missed the cut.
I admit arbitrariness. My "greatest hits" just grab me more.
As far as my columns go, I can't even begin to pick favorites. I do know which was the hardest to write. Goodbye, all. See you on the Web!
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company