Ten Years of Soapbox Essays

A little while ago I made my Soapboxes available again. I had made them private and had removed some posts because my unit commander while we were deployed to Iraq did not approve of my posting information about my experiences in Iraq.

But I decided to make them public again (offending posts removed and operational security taken into account) because to be quite frank, it is an extensive history of where I’ve come from since I started writing regularly on my site in 1995.

I had been using the web a little earlier than that and had started posting some small news tidbits on my web page, but the Soapbox became a formalized weekly rant on different topics.

Once PHP and mySQL became standardized, I was able to convert my individual essays into a database and template format. This shift towards databases on the internet fundamentally changed the way we use the web. Data became easier to manipulate and to display. Tools such as blog software and stat trackers came out that let people with absolutely no design or coding skills start to write on their own within minutes, while allowing designers to perfect the design templates. This was huge.

So I had to hand-convert about 250 essays into a database format. I didn’t quite finish doing the same with all the Soapboxes, which ended up being 373 total. It was highly labor-intensive. It was one of several complete site upgrades I had to do, since web standards were changing so rapidly.

For the statistics I have on the 250ish posts, as displayed on the Soapbox homepage, I wrote over 360,000 words. I wrote about the early days of the web, about life in college, about the 2000 elections, about the dotcom bubble and its subsequent collapse, and about post-9/11 and eventually about deciding to enlist in the Army. I was very young. And in over my head. But the fact that kids were able to use such advanced (but crude) tech was pretty fucking hot.

I find it interesting that my very first post was about the Telecom Decency Act of 1995. Obviously I didn’t know how to dissect the policy issues the way I could now, but for a kid of the digital age, even then I was thinking about the future of the internet.  As it turned out, amidst all the controversy about this act, Section 230 was added, and still exists to this day, absolving content providers of liability for third-party user content.  That meant that ISPs couldn’t be sued because John Doe decides he wants to post something defamatory or illegal on his blog.  This in part led to the explosion of user-generated content and blogging, a large influence in my life online.

At the end of the first year, I wrote a Christmas wishlist for things I’d like to see on the internet. There were plenty of problems online back then, but no one had any clue that we’d see things like cloud computing, blogs, wifi (which is still a significant obstacle), advanced spam filtering, and social networking. It’s just awesome to see how far things have come since just 1995.

Anyway, check the Soapbox out. I spent a lot of my time writing instead of socializing during high school and college and it shows. But it’s a large corpus and one I’m rather proud of, even if it’s led to some pretty embarrassing moments of naivete and ignorance.

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