square one

“Late to the punch” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s been more than a decade since blogs were in vogue. I wanted to be one of the cool kids so badly: Gruber, Coudal, Fried, Zeldman, Meyer, Marcotte, Kottke, Storey, Veen, Moll, Mall, Molly, and Santa Maria. They were building this amazing web according to their values, and I just wanted to sit close enough to their table that I could eavesdrop.

I went to An Event Apart: Boston in 2007 and felt like I was almost there. Jeffrey Veen bought beers for anyone who wanted to chat after his presentation at the end of the day, and I bolted over there. But what do you say to the giant building TypeKit — solving web fonts! finally! — while you’re a year into your first web dev gig? Not much, and then you get out of the way for the line behind you.

I so vividly remember Santa Maria and Zeldman rolling in and claiming the corner booth with their cadre of speakers. I have never been awed by a rock band the way I wondered how I could even sit next to that table. I think I rejoined the conversation with Veen for a minute — by which I mean I stood in a circle with the people talking while I sipped my beer — then headed back to my room. Besides finally working up the courage to shake Meyer’s hand in 2015 and talk about Hersheypark for three minutes (we’re both fans), that’s the closest I ever got.

Wow, is this a super villain origin story? Nah, not at all; I was just starting my career. I needed idols and they provided me with days of reading via their blogs and Twitter banter that let me peek into their world of magic, and I’m forever grateful for that.

In late 2011, I got a job at a startup that matched the dreams I’d been reading about. In the next six months I adopted a dog, bought a house, and met my future husband. In the years that followed, the company grew, I got promoted repeatedly, we renovated the house, the two boys I’d helped raise finished with high school and moved out, and I got married.

But something weird happened along the way on the web. A growing army of web artisans slowly became industrialized. Monopolies formed and solidified. We followed the money and went enterprise. Maybe it’s just a story I’m making up myself, but this doesn’t feel like the dream we were all working toward.

In late 2019, one of the boys that adopted me as a second dad was killed. Kyle. I’ve already spilled much ink in more private settings to work thru that, so I’ll spare you more of it today. Last month, my position at the company I helped start was eliminated. Somewhere in between, Ethan gave a talk titled The World-Wide Work, as usual many steps ahead of me in articulating the next big challenge. Two days ago, Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race and we all lost.

The web is burning, friends, like the world it mirrors. The future of both are fully entangled, maybe forever. But, I’m burning now, too. And that catches you up to square one.