[star]The American Mind[star]

December 12, 2004

Five Years of TAM

Before Power Line helped take down Dan Rather, before James Lileks showed people beyond the Twin Cities how funny he was, before Michele made lists, before Kos said, "Screw 'em," before Andrew Sullivan begged his readers for money, and before Glenn Reynolds first wrote, "Indeed" on Instapundit, there was The American Mind. Five years ago yesterday, TAM started with this post (scroll all the way down):

Jill Stewart of the New Times Los Angeles has a interesting story of how the LA school district is ignoring Prop. 227 which was supposed end bilingual education.


The link is dead, but with that post a weblog was born.

I have no idea what was the first weblog that caught my eye. Back in 1999, I "wasted" hours on the internet filling up on the latest news. I had bookmarks to oodles of news sites. Then I stumbled upon weblogs. Maybe it was an article about the "fad" on Wired News or News.com. However I came upon them I found these running online commentaries to be fascinating. They helped me find new items to read, plus they had interesting commentary.

I seem to recall being inspired by Michael Wasylik who started What's On It for Me? back in 11.99. (WOIFM appears to be on a long-term hiatus; too bad.) I figured if he could write a conservative/libertarian weblog so could I. Really, it was my way of forcing myself to write on a daily basis. My dream job would be to get paid to write books, essays, articles, etc. There's something very heady about crafting a string of words that pursuades people. The initial idea was to write on TAM then turn some of those posts into more extensive pieces. Well, it's been five years, but that hasn't happened. Part of the problem is ignorance. Even with the internet it's tough finding the right person to contact in a publishing operation. The greater problem is just plain personal insecurity. I don't know if my writing is that good. I dread hearing the word "no," thus I take few risks.

If you look carefully, the first year of TAM was hard coded. No permalinks, no trackbacks, and no comments. I handmade archive pages at the beginning of each month.It was just me, a simple text editor, and Angelfire. But that was enough to satisfy my writing itch.

Despite my inability to sell my writing I did get some media attention. During the summer of 2000 I was obsessed with the Elian Gonzalez story. I did not want that child to go back to Cuba. I was especially appalled Janet Reno's decision to used armed troops to remove the boy from his Miami relatives. So I created ElianWatch to cover the story. A reporter for CNBC spotted the weblog and interviewed me for one of the programs Geraldo Rivera had on that network back then.

Another media highlight was this summer when CNN linked to my poll asking: Who's hotter, the Bush Twins or the Kerry Sisters?

What I learned about the blogosphere is it's a meritocracy. Traffic, readers, and now ad dollars go to those who write well, are entertaining, and add value in peoples' lives. However, this lesson is a double-edged sword. If you're not getting as much traffic and readers the only one you can blame is yourself. There have been times I whined publically about not getting credit or a link. There have been even more times I've grumbled privately about young weblogs grabbling attention. It didn't seem "fair" these newbies were jumping ahead of a weblogging veteran like myself.

An example is the 2004 Weblog Awards. TAM's gotten some votes in the category it's nominated for (thank you very much), but it's not winning. I'm also confident TAM is the longest running weblog on that list. It proves age means nothing in the blogosphere. That's painful to me. The final blame must rest with me. Other people are better marketers, writers, and attention grabbers. More power to them.

Despite my occasional frustration with the "unfairness" of a meritocratic blogosphere I don't regret diving into the personal publishing pool. I consume more news than I ever have in my life, I write about what interests me, and I know people read and respond to my thoughts. I've met new people, found allies in common causes, and learned more than I would have without weblogging.

Five years from now, I can see myself still posting, still commenting on political economy, sports, music, and whatever catches my eye. To me, TAM is my version of talk radio only I type instead of yap. (No, I don't see myself podcasting. Maybe once or twice just to see what I'd sound like.) I'd love to have a bigger audience that comments more, sends me e-mail (unlike some webloggers, I get little because of TAM), and bugs Glenn Reynolds to put me on his blogroll. Even if that doesn't happen I'll still write TAM. I need TAM. It's an outlet for griping or arguing or trying to make people laugh. Since I like to write why not do it someplace where someone will read it? Weblogging is still fun, and I can't imagine it not being so.

UPDATE: Darn Floor has proof James Lileks was doing the whole internet thing way back in 1997. I remember he had a website back then because of his pages devoted to the Gobbler. (I've driven past this place, but never stepped inside.)

Posted by Sean Hackbarth in Weblogging at 02:12 AM | Comments (18)