Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe. Follow @RianVDM
Daring Fireball, App.net, and admitting who our heroes are
It’s not fashionable any more to have heroes. In fact, I’m scared to admit that I like anything, because I just never know if maybe, for some reason, we’re supposed to complain about that thing instead. Look at the response to App.net, for example. Much of it has been positive, but there is also an awful lot of snark and sarcasm out there — much of it from people I like and admire. So I’ve resisted the urge to confess that I backed the project, and that I like the Alpha product so far.
It’s become really hard to know what we’re allowed to like online.
I don’t remember exactly when I started to read John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, but I do remember that it had an immediate and profound effect on my view of online publishing. His efficiency with words gave me an appreciation for what web writing could be, and I started to dissect every post to try to learn as much as I could. Gruber and Merlin Mann did a talk about blogging at SXSW 2009 where they discussed the idea of Obsession times Voice:
Topic times voice. Or, if you’re a little bit more of a maverick, obsession times voice. So what does that mean? I think all of the best nonfiction that has ever been made comes from the result of someone who can’t stop thinking about a certain topic — a very specific aspect of a certain topic in some cases. And second, they got really good at figuring out what they had to say about it.
That talk — along with Gruber’s site — got me thinking: I wonder if I could do something like that? I have so many Obsessions. Could I maybe find a hidden Voice somewhere in those obsessions? It’s after hearing that talk that I decided to start taking this site more seriously. And even though Daring Fireball probably gets the equivalent of my monthly traffic in about an hour, this has still been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It has opened so many doors and enabled me to meet some wonderful people.
Why is it that we reach for the comforts of collective cynicism whenever someone who is not in our inner circle of coolness tries to do something new or different? In the case of App.net, someone just raised more than $500,000 from end users to build a product that’s trying to compete with Twitter. Why can’t we just, for a few moments, look past everything that might be wrong with the idea, and appreciate what an enormous accomplishment that is?
You don’t have to like Dalton Caldwell or App.net. You don’t even have to be quiet about not liking them. Really — it’s ok to not like things. But don’t be a dick about it.
Gruber linked to me once on Daring Fireball. Hey, so what if I printed out his post and framed it? I still remember opening my RSS reader on the morning of Thanksgiving 2011, and falling out of bed when I saw my name on Daring Fireball. I was floating on air for weeks. It wasn’t about the traffic — it was Thanksgiving so there was pretty much no one online. The reason I was so happy is that John Gruber — someone I decided I want to impress with my writing — noticed something I wrote, and put it on his site. Since I really want to make this thing work long term, that was the biggest encouragement I could have received.
I took the opportunity to write to John to thank him not just for the link, but for the impact he has on my writing. Here’s one part of what I said:
I appreciate and learn so much from your approach to writing — you’re authentic and to the point, which is in such contrast to much of the web. Thank you for showing so many of us aspiring writers that we don’t have to sell our souls to have an audience.
He emailed back:
Great note. Thanks!
The response couldn’t have been more Gruber. Even in a short email, a regular dash just isn’t good enough. It’s em dashes all the way for the guy whose Obsession times Voice is about the quest for perfection in everything we do.
I know it’s not fashionable any more to have heroes. But this week App.net got funded, and Daring Fireball turned 10 years old. So roll your eyes if you must, but I’m just going to say it.
I backed App.net, and John Gruber is one of my heroes.