Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Wisdom of Robots

In an uncharacteristic moment of periodical lust, I bought the newest copy of Wired, most likely because Downs now works for it. It's a decent publication, but I found myself especially intrigued by a short article on Jorn Barger.

He invented the blog.

I suppose Jorn Barger is the latest in a series of "cool people worth knowing about" posts that I've been posting more and more frequently lately. But this guy is most definitely worth the time it would take to read this words. Barger first rose to quasi-popularity during the early days of the internet. According to the article, he was a Usenet junkie and frequented sites where people discussed anything and everything. "He was the unstoppable Unsenet poster who could carry on simultaneous debates about Ibsen, Chomsky, artificial intelligence and Kate Bush." In other words, this guy was using the internet for its noblest purposes. He even was the keeper of the web's first James Joyce FAQ. I can't find it, except in clunky Usenet fragments, but I did find a sort of walkthrough Barger wrote for Finnegan's Wake, which literary types often peg as Joyce's most difficult work.

The article continues that Barger eventually snagged a piece of web real estate that he dubbed the "Robot Wisdom Weblog." This was the first instance of anybody using the term "weblog," the word that we later drunkenly slurred into "blog." For Barger, "weblog" made sense, since he was literally compiling a log of interesting places he had been to on the web.

After a financially spawned hiatus, Barger is posting at Robot Wisdom again. It's terse. Paul Boutin calls Barger's blogging style almost haiku-like in its simplicity. But what wows me more than anything about this story is that Barger is now running his blog despite the considerable handicap of being homeless. He's broke. The man invented a cultural phenomenon and he didn't get a penny from it. Boutin learned that Barger presently lives on less than a dollar a day — probably what he can scrounge from his homemade sign that reads "Coined term 'weblog,' never made a dime."

I'm surprised I'd never heard of Barger before. I'm glad I did, because I owe him a debt, as do millions of other people who now have a means of publicly prattling about any subject they choose.

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