Things happen because people connect. Or fail to. Luck plays a role, of course, whatever we mean by "luck," exactly. It seems to involve people connecting. Which, as luck would have it, is what this site is all about.
As everything seems to depend on people, I want to kick this off in a very personal way, telling you a bit about myself and some of the people I've met along the way. My name is Chris Locke. There's a bio around here somewhere, but never mind that for now. Instead, I want to tell you a story about how I ended up writing this blog. It may say more about what I think I'm doing here than a more abstract, i.e., people-less, form of explanation. At least that's the plan. The only way to connect with you, Valued Reader, is to risk failing altogether.
Damn, this is scary. Writing is always scary. For me, it gets scarier the more I do it. And writing on the web is the worst. Spooky. Terrifying. Why do I do it then, I ask myself. And the answer always comes back: because you're nuts.
For some reason, I find this comforting. It means I can stop trying to please all the people all the time, knowing there's not a chance in hell of that ever happening. And besides, pleasing people is often anti-connective. If you spend an entire day with a bunch of folks, and the best you can say at the end of it is that you didn't annoy anyone, that they all thought you were, um.... OK, then you might as well have stayed home and watched TV.
The web is not TV. You know it. I know it. We all know it. Sort of. Which is why it bears repeating. The web is not TV.
I met this guy named David Weinberger a long time ago. So long ago that neither of us remembers precisely where and how we met. It could be lost brain cells. Or just the usual ravages of time. (It was more fun losing the brain cells, but maybe I'd better save that story for later.) David, to use a phrase he often uses of others, is wicked smart. And funny. He has a doctorate in philosophy and used to write for Woody Allen. Word. He's going to kill me for telling you that, but it's true, all too true.
Around that same vague time I met David, I met Esther Dyson at an artificial intelligence conference. I was once deeply involved with AI, but I've since recovered. Over many years, Esther has become a good friend, though I hardly ever see her and we rarely talk. However, we do sometimes trade favorite weird-spams-of-the-week. Particularly clever marriage proposals from the Ukraine. Incomprehensible off-planet product offerings. That sort of thing. Anyway, Esther introduced me to Jerry Michalski. I liked Jerry right away. I used to phone him all the time, for years, and bitch about my then-current employer, whoever it happened to be. I haven't spoken or written to him in ages (dude, I know, I suck as a correspondent), but way back when, around ten years ago now I guess, Jerry put on these strange and wonderful little conferences. Though that's too formal sounding. They weren't. People threw paper airplanes during talks. There were various toys for the participants to play with so no one would get too bored with all that tech. Strange rituals evolved, quite harmless, really, but far too bizarre to explain. Esther would show up for these things, not as the MC (as at her big show), but as one of the crowd. It was a small crowd; 100 people invited, no more than 50 accepted. I was working for IBM at the time, and they were paying, so what the hell, why not? A chance to hang with Jerry and Esther, meet some new people... And whoa! What people!
To keep this short(er than it could become), I'll just mention one: Doc Searls. We all went around and introduced ourselves that first night. These were the smartest people I'd ever met. Astounding. But Doc had me in stitches, had the whole room belly laughing inside 10 seconds. Doc. The man is a trip.
Now, as it transpired, Doc and David and I were to foment some unusual badness on the business world. But in 1998, the business world didn't know it yet. And neither did we. Things happen because people connect. We connected, bigtime. Things happened that we couldn't have imagined. Below is a photo of the three of us at a conference in Denver, circa 2002, put on by our mutual pal, Eric Norlin, and his company, Ping Identity. Eric and I once brought up a site called TDCRC -- for Titanic Deck Chair Rearrangement Corporation. But we had to take it down before we got sued for ripping off Fortune 500 logos. And worse. Like an MP3 of a dozen or so extremely drunk Russians singing the love theme from Titanic. Way better than Celine Dion. But I digress.
that's David Weinberger on the left. check the inscrutable expression. the ever ebullient Doc Searls is in the middle. nice shirt. I'm the one looks like he ate a bad fish.
In March '99, we launched a little site -- and it was little, smaller than this one by far -- called cluetrain.com. Three weeks later, it hit the front page of The Wall Street Journal's Marketplace section. A week after that, we had a book contract. The weird thing is, we'd never planned to write a book. We never planned to be in The Wall Street Journal and every other financial publication on the planet -- but within a year, we were. The first talk we gave, in Washington DC, was to an SRO crowd of 2000 totally crazed bipedal hominids. It was like a Pink Floyd concert, only without the killer music. Hello, hello, hello... Is there anybody in there?
Good question. In the sometimes hyper-strange days since those heady times of seemingly imminent Internet revolution, we've all grown up a lot. Become more thoughtful, more balanced in our views. At least Doc and David have. Me, I'm still stuffing M-80s under garbage cans to see how sky-high I can blow them. I thank God every morning that I can still honestly say: I'm an unreconstructed no-good punk. (btw, that link on M-80s is for you youngsters who were deprived of a proper childhood.)
thesis # 3: Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
thesis # 5: People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
I guess I better wrap this up, as it's now 2:30 in the morning and I'm showing definite signs of senile dementia. I know that's not funny. But I'm not kidding. Do you have any idea what it takes out of you to do this sort of thing when you're 119? In Internet years, I'm 3,006.
So after Cluetrain, I met a gajillion people. In a very short time. It was fun. It was great. It was confusing. Then the corporations proved that everything we'd said was wrong. People thronged mass media circus sites. Couldn't get enough advertising. Spent all day everyday buying stuff they didn't even want. How could we have been so wrong? Ashamed of my terrible mistake, I decided to wear a symbolic HazMat suit for penance. Make a novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Product. Supersize everything. Those were dark days indeed.
Then I woke up one day recently and wondered: what's become of me? Why am I having these thoughts? (I'm actually wondering that right now. You too?) Fortunately, the phone rang just then, interrupting my sudden and unsettling brush with insight. It was Billy Bicket. No, really. Billy Bicket. He's an actual person. You can look in those bios if you don't believe me -- or even better, in this short but info-packed blog post from July. I first met him through Dervala (hi, Dervala <waving>) when they both worked at MeetUp in New York. Then Billy moved to Boulder, which is where I live. Turned out his brother lives here too. They helped me move the monster 280-pound TV I drag around like an old dead albatross, but never plug in. And then...? Then I lost track of the guy.
But here he is, unexpectedly, on the telephone. I guess because I wasn't answering email that month. And he's telling me about this cool sounding site his company is planning to launch any day now. It's not selling automatic sock-darning machines or quantum mousetraps or anything like that. I sit up. Can this be? He says he's with this outfit in San Francisco that works with nonprofits and NGOs (I look this up later and discover it means non-governmental organizations). They're launching a site for a whole hidden universe of other nonprofits so they can all share data and information -- even actual knowledge and whatnot. Do I know someone I could recommend to blog about what they're doing?
"Do I know someone?" I say. "Why Billy, hadn't you heard? NGO is practically my middle name!"
And so, on a strictly need-to- know basis, that's how I got the gig. I just wanted to set your mind at ease from the outset that you're in good hands here. Knowledgeable. Been around the block. Self-starter. Management material. Yup, that's me. Pleased ta meetcha.
We'll have other, even more serious matters to discuss as the site unfolds. What you're probably wondering right now is, well... what's actually going to happen here? We're going to connect, that's what. Don't ask how, but trust me: together we'll figure something out.