Kottke.org Is 25 Years Old Today and I’m Going to Write About It

I realize how it sounds, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s the truth. When I first clapped eyes on the World Wide Web, I fell in love. Here’s how I described the experience in a 2016 post about Halt and Catch Fire:

When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap — “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” — and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.

My love for the web has ebbed and flowed in the years since, but mainly it’s persisted — so much so that as of today, I’ve been writing kottke.org for 25 years. A little context for just how long that is: kottke.org is older than Google. 25 years is more than half of my life, spanning four decades (the 90s, 00s, 10s, and 20s) and around 40,000 posts — almost cartoonishly long for a medium optimized for impermanence. What follows is my (relatively brief) attempt to explain where kottke.org came from and why it’s still going.

It’s an absurd understatement to say that the web has changed a lot in the nearly 30 years since I experienced that “thunderbolt that completely changed my life” — it’s now a massive, overwhelmingly corporate entity that encompasses and organizes an ever-growing share of human information and activity. As a web designer in the 90s and early 00s, I helped companies figure out how to use the web for business, but the core of my own personal experience of the web has always been self-expression and making websites for individual humans to read & experience.

I started making personal websites shortly after discovering the web, first using Notepad and then a program called HTML Assistant. My first site had an audience of exactly one — it lived on a 3.5” floppy disk and was mostly a jazzed-up version of my bookmarks file that I carried back and forth from my dorm room to the physics lab. When I was finally able to finagle public server access, I launched a site called “some web space” (all lowercase, because 90s)1 that included a hand-drawn graphic of swiss cheese and a bunch of links related to Pulp Fiction. This is me right around that time:

Jason Kottke sitting at a desk in 1996

That tiny baby Jason loved cheese, Quentin Tarantino, and the World Wide Web, bless his little heart.

Anyway, the sites I built then were terrible at first, but I was obsessed and slowly they improved. some web space turned into a site called 0sil8, which became a playground of sorts for my experiments in writing and design. Every few weeks/months, I’d create a new “episode” to put up on 0sil8 and gradually I gained an online following and became part of a community of folks who were likewise experimenting with the web.

Around this time, more and more of what I was reading online were diaries and these things called weblogs.2 The updates on weblogs & diaries were smaller but more frequent than on other personal sites — their velocity felt different, exhilarating. But by the time I actually got interested enough to start my own weblog, there were so many of them — hundreds! maybe thousands! — that I thought I was too late, that no one would be interested. I forged ahead anyway and on March 14, 1998, I started the weblog that would soon become kottke.org. It was called Notes and here’s what it looked like:

the very first design of kottke.org

I’m not gonna go through the whole history of the site, but it eventually took off in a way that I didn’t anticipate. Since 2005, kottke.org has been my full-time job and supports my family. I’ve met so many people from all over the world through my work here, including many life-long friends and my (now ex-) wife. I’ve spoken at conferences and travelled the world. I got to be on TV. I launched a membership program (which you should totally join if you haven’t already) that has given the site an incredible boost as it powers through its third decade.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of kottke.org, I wrote this:

I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about actual real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments — a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” — has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity.

That all still rings incredibly true and I cannot improve upon it as an explanation of why I’m still here doing this moderately anachronistic thing. Thank you all so much for reading.

P.S. You can read my thoughts on past anniversaries and view some previous site designs here: 10 years, 18-ish years, 20 years, and 24 years.

P.P.S. I wrote a separate post about this yesterday, but if you find value in what I do here, I’d appreciate if you’d support the site by purchasing a membership. And to everyone who has supported the site over the years, thank you so much!

P.P.P.S. Last one: I’m gonna write more about this later today, but I’ve turned ordering back on for Kottke Hypertext Tees for the next 24 hours or so. Go get ‘em!

P.P.P.P.S. Ha, I’ve thought of one more thing: I’ve turned comments on for this post! kottke.org used to allow comments on every post, but it’s been almost 8 years since the last time they were on. I figured it would be fun to try them out today. No idea if they’re even going to work or how long they will be available, but let’s try it out. If you’d like to share how long you’ve been reading the site or leave any memories or observations, feel free. My inbox is open as well. Ok, that’s really all for now! Thank you!

Update: A bunch of comments got hung up in a spam filter in my CMS that I didn’t even know was active. They should be all through now…sorry about that!

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2023-03-14 14:26:05