B is for Blog

(This is one in a series of essays I’m writing about my life. A specific kind of autobiography, I guess. The rest of these essays are here.)

I used to work in the post room at the head office of a national dairy company in England. Due to the nature of the job and the general attitude of a bored twenty-four-year-old, there were periods during the day when the boredom took me out of the post room and off to a little office out of sight of the main working area, where a lone computer with an internet connection stood idle.

I hadn’t much experience of the internet back then. My computer experience had been gained at school, when computing meant writing code or playing Zalaga whilst the computer club supervisor’s back was turned. I don’t remember the first time I used the internet, but I do remember that the stolen time I spent using Compuserve and Altavista to find interesting websites invested me with a life-long passion for the medium.

After a couple of years skiving whenever I got the chance, I got a better job within the same company and was tasked by the head of marketing to find out more about the internet and how it could be used within the business. These early forays only convinced me (and him) that an agency should be engaged to create a website. The process made me interested in making websites too, so I began learning how to use Netscape Navigator Gold to make web pages.

My first creations led me to make friends with a colleague a couple of years later, when I worked in the big call centre of a communications company. We discussed plans for websites over a lunch table in the company restaurant – not much more than fan sites for bands and the like – and collaborated on a couple of simple projects to increase our shared knowledge.

Once he moved on to another job, we drifted out of touch and so I was back to making little websites on my own again. The process required making individual pages by hand and then duplicating them to make further pages. This was naturally a time-consuming process and so I looked for alternatives. The one which caught my eye brought a new term into my online world: Blogger.

A blog was – and remains – a regularly updated journal. The idea behind the original Blogger system used to be that you made a single page template, then used an interface to write your content and add your pictures. Once you were done, you clicked the “Publish” button and the system chugged away to create all of the individual pages and store them on your own web server.

Thus began my love for blogging. The beginning was based entirely on the desire to learn how the technology worked and how to streamline the process of making websites. As time went on, blogging was to become more and more interesting for me; in particular when I began “following” other prominent bloggers like Jeffrey Zeldman and realized, through seeing what they were doing, what opportunities and possibilities were open.

Blogging is, to a greater extent, an exercise in narcissism. Writing posts and publishing them on a website to express your opinion amongst a bunch of strangers, or sharing details of your life with whoever comes across your blog.

During the first few years in Switzerland, I wrote regularly and gained a reasonable number of regular readers; not just family and occasionally friends, but others with similar interests. Although it was flattering to receive attention and comments from people I’d never met, the attention began to become a little over-bearing.

Instead of writing whenever I chose to, I began to receive messages from people asking why I hadn’t updated for a few days. I received questions asking for more personal details than I wanted to share, and as a result of the intrusive situations in which I began finding myself, I chose to hit the metaphoric reset button. I deleted the blog and all of the files, cancelled the domain name, and started a brand-new website under my current address without any back-link to the old site.

The new website was initially just for my photographs, but I missed blogging and so I added a new blog section, in August 2006.

Blogging has affected my life to a huge degree. Without the technical knowledge I gained by finding out how to make dynamic, database-driven websites, I probably wouldn’t be making websites today.

Without my blog, I would probably have a different relationship with the internet and I would definitely have a different relationship with my family. The opportunity for them to see what I’m doing on a regular basis sustained me through several periods of uncertainty about whether to maintain my blog, and writing pieces like the one you’re reading now allows them to read stuff about me which probably wouldn’t come up in normal conversation.

My blog is also a good way to show potential employers what I’m about. Although social media has become much more prevalent in recent years, the blog and website is a much better indicator of how I approach and maintain a project. By being able to provide a real-world example of a website I have conceived, designed, built and maintained over many years, the employer has a perfect example of my capabilities and skills.

However, the most important and positive aspect of running a blog has been that without it, I would never have met my wife. She has a long-standing affiliation with Switzerland and on searching for a recipe for Basler Leckerli whilst living in Scotland, she came across a piece on my website about them. The post is long-since lost to the mists of time, but on finding my blog, Jo wrote to me to ask what it was like to be a British resident of Switzerland. We began exchanging emails and through the course of our exchanges, we decided to meet up. We fell for each other, and the rest is history.