I have been involved with some form of technology since 1980. This is my return to a “home page.” Seems to make sense after nearly 25 years.
About this site
This site redirects from “paxtonland.com, now defunct, which redirects from “Dean’s Homepage,” also defunct as well. paxtonland was an early, once active, and eventually neglected weblog and catch-all sandbox for whatever web application development stuff that I was working on at the time.
paxtonland started in 1994 as a links page. I moved it from a gopher site to a web server and into HTML as soon as we setup the web server at the University of Michigan Computing Club (Arbor Information Society). I started it just to learn HTML but, like many at the time, I was enthralled with the web. It stayed there until 1998 when it got its own domain name (paxtonland.com). I hosted several very early internet projects there such as; Perl experiments, an extensive list of bookmarks, a DIY computer system builders guide, a voting guide for local and national elections, a couple of “zines,” software reviews, and more. I would like to go back to some of that sort of content and when I have time, I probably will.
In 1998, it still functioned as a landing page for my browser and had several visitors as well. Since 1996, I was writing monthly “posts” in chronological order. The systems guide had really taken off at this point, but I’d stopped all the other projects I’d taken a lot of inspiration from Jakob Nielsen’s useit.com and still do. However, the more that I learned about the web, the more I was struggling with the transition from a systems engineering driven web to a design and content driven web.
in 1998-99, I was an avid project cool reader, which was a site-of-the-day list. I hung on the words of Glenn Davis, I couldn’t wait to see what was posted for that day. There, I’d learned about a concept called a weblog and I realized that I was already doing that in my own way. Though, really it was more of a once monthly (zine style) link list, than a blog and I certainly didn’t call it a blog, nor did I know what one was. Project Cool closed and metafilter became my window into the daily “cool sites.”was
So, after look around at other people’s work, I decided why not? I read Jeffrey Zeldman, The Misanthropic Bitch, Metafilter, Tnkgrl The Scripting News, and many more…. I was very much in awe and inspired. Pyra Labs had started up in San Francisco to develop web-based project management software. Out of that, blogger was born and I used it from the beginning, I was among the first blogger users. At that time, blogger provided an editing interface and published individual posts via FTP to a remote server. It really was the first form of push-button web publishing that was functional and cool. I was a proud blogger user. From that platform, I was able to exponentially expand monthly posts into multiple posts per day. By December 1999, I had 300+ hand coded entries.
In 2001, there was well over 3500 entries and but, very few comments, blogger did not support comments until 2004 under Google’s eventual ownership. I moved from blogger to movable type and paxtonland continued but, it was now more functional and standards and database driven, I had the files and database back on my servers again. More importantly, it had the same functionality as so many of the better weblogs out there that were hand coded by their authors and publishers. It looked real and professional. Movable Type also achieved the goal of separating content from design. They brought commenting, trackbacks, and much more… until… they started charging. Which I was okay with paying them and helping out Six Apart but, I was waiting patiently for MySQL support. Back then, they only supported BerkeleyDB and there were so many posts and comments it made the site was terribly slow. WordPress supported MySQL so, off I went. WordPress was also very smart in offering a migration tool, but the migration script failed (too much data). I had to do it manually. Anyway, WordPress still powers this site.
Once established as a weblog, paxtonland’s content was really all over the map. I focused on technology and politics, for the most part. I referenced memes, followed the dotcom fall very closely, and reported about local items of interest to Flint. In 2003-4, I stopped posting as often as I used to. The site took a lot of time to run at that point. My professional life had changed significantly and I had little time to post as often as I used to. I think that this also happened to a lot of the “early adopter” bloggers… we all kind of burned out as our lives changed, just as the rest of the world was blogging. Now the guy who ran the hardware store down the street had a blog… As it should be. Besides that, paxtonland was really a place for individuals to banter back and forth politically. Which may have amused me and a very few others but, not very interesting to the rest of the world.
The Death of the Weblogs
From my vantage point, the weblog died from three separate directions, all having the same ultimate end goal, the demonetization of original content. Google purchased Blogger. Myspace, twitter, and Facebook siphoned original content. Finally, Google ended Google Reader, essentially killing off an elegant and effective network of RSS feeds. We were surprised, back then, to know that Google wanted Blogger. It was exciting news, at that time. I would have wished that the original development team was compensated for their time, risk taking, and effort. Here we are (at the time of this writing) in 2020 and Blogger carries on. Though, I’ve only rarely encountered a blogspot site and nearly never in a search result, if at all. So, why did they even want it? If the effective outcome was to literally bury those sites into obscurity? I don’t really think that was their plan, but I believe it was the outcome. I think they were literally buying high-visibility projects and Blogger was one. I don’t really think they had a concept of what they would actually do with it, beyond ads.
Myspace, then twitter, then Facebook all happened and in fairly rapid succession. We took our opinions to their platforms, to further their agendas, and developed content for their benefit. The weblog, once a real and important alternative source of news and information, became essentially extinct. I’m not sure, in retrospect, why we didn’t see this coming. Google indexed weblogs with a higher priority, ranked them higher than normal static sites, and subsequently drove more traffic as to them as well. As so many people started publishing content covering just about every current event, subject matter, or object on earth, they became the top results and stayed there for a long time. See above… Lastly, in 2013 Google killed Google Reader, a very important RSS aggregate for blog content. It not only killed reader, it effectively killed RSS. While RSS lives on, Google grows and continues to be the primary catalyst for news and most all subjects, for that matter. Regardless, weblogs lost an important source of traffic, RSS lost a major implementation, and Google still controls the narrative. For what it’s worth, Google, Facebook, and twitter make up almost all of my referrers to date.
I suspect that, given time, they will own much of the publicly published content from individuals and small groups.
The Dawn of the Era of Fake News
In 2016, all news become embattled. No longer trusted, no longer trustworthy, and no longer endowed with the sentiment of integrity, the news became fake. Not only because one political party declared it, but because a great lot of it is actually fake. But, this is an era where if advertisers pay Facebook, they publish the ads. If the ads are monetized with the ad networks, Facebook, among others, is more than happy to cash in as well. What we have now is many people’s primary news source is either Facebook, or twitter… both primary aggregates of monetized news.
Only now, particularly Facebook, has built a reality distortion field of users who are grouped together in like-minded fashion, share articles and sources that confirm their beliefs, and Facebook stacks the decks to keep those users happy, reward them for validating Facebook’s assumptions, and feed them advertisement that benefits Facebook the most. Worse, we aren’t even reading the articles… just headlines. I’ll try to expand this later. It’s still developing.
Now, after being hauled before a shockingly ignorant U.S. Senate, Facebook after helping to mislead the world, now thinks that users should be able to fend for themselves. Rather, they should not be so gullible as to believe what they see and hear, should not be held responsible for misleading advertisement, thus relieving them of guilt and permitting them to continue to cash checks at our expense.
Yet, and still. Here we are, you and I, alone reading and writing.