5/24/2007

The Original Point of the Internet

Waldo Jaquith posted a neat article today about the early history of the Internet, back in the days when you would find out what's new in the world by clicking What's New here and there. At the height of the dot-com boom, I was the editor of an online What's New page that kept people up to date on the latest changes in government positions across the U.S. I worked for a publishing company that maintained directories of local, state and federal officials. They still keep the page up to date.

This was my first real job after college. I went from an intern at WVTF to an intern at New Hampshire Public Radio, and then surfed around in restaurants up there for a while, as well as a stint where I worked in Lynchburg for my father's company, trying to learn how to become a manufacturing kind of guy. When I was there, I used the web to surf for music, as this was in the days before WNRN took over Sweet Briar's radio station. You could get great concerts intact, like I'm sure you can now.

But, it seemed less connected. You would surf more because it was harder to do. You would find yourself finding all kinds of great stuff. I created my own journal page, and felt a lot more free because it didn't really feel like the entire world knew how to access the thing, even though all it ever took back then was one link.

The difference, though, is that links didn't count like they do now. There wasn't quite the same interconnectivity that there was now. I would create each new page in notepad using HTML, and would have to change all of the other frames. I didn't really know what I was doing. All I wanted to do was write and publish. As I've written about before, Geocities helped me attract other similar minded people. It was a great little organic community in which you could meet folks from all over the world.

And then it changed. Geocities got bought by Yahoo!, which destroyed the sense of community, as they added inconveniences to the user experience in the name of branding. They changed their rules in order to claim ownership of content, driving away a lot of people. What seemed like the forming of a real community collided with other people's desire to make untold riches in the Gold Rush of '99.

Now, everyone is on the Internet. People even know what podcasts are now, and the audience is definitely growing. I'm glad I live in a community where something like cvilleblogs.com has been introduced. I'm also glad that I have recently made the decision to leave radio behind almost completely in favor of being an online-only journalist.

One of my job's at Carroll's was to phone up city governments and ask them if there had been any changes in the main staff and legislative positions in city government. I think when I phoned Charlottesville, Blake Caravati was Mayor. I learned a lot through osmosis about how city governments worked. Two key positions that our clients wanted to know: budget analyst and purchasing agent.

And now, I'm suddenly faced with the need to assimilate a lot of intricate data about how our city and county governments work. As a reporter for WVTF, I never had to deal with this level of detail. Broadcast writing is about giving broad sketches. The writing I'm doing now is much more involved, and it's exhilarating.

When I started at WNRN a year ago, I was similarly exhilarated. I'd never done live radio before, and suddenly I was thrust onto the airwaves in a way that my canned-radio self had never had to deal with before.

Sadly, I can't continue on at WNRN, but now the challenge is how to work in a medium that is new to me professionally. I've been online since the late 80's. Should I really expect to be in any other field?

Now, for an odd fun-fact: On the same day I step down as news director at WNRN, I will go and have my first beer at the new Court Square Tavern!

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