(First published on my consulting site)
It was around 2002 and I was sitting in the car of my friend, who had hired me to help him with his Web business. As usual, we had been talking about current trends on the Web.
I was talking about my first blog from 1998, that used a system called Greymatter. It was a very basic blogging engine based on Perl, one of the first of its kind. Since then I had moved my blog to MovableType, but progress was going slow. Back then, MovableType was just another small blogging engine, but it offered more features that came close to building your custom CMS.
We were talking about the reasons why companies put a lot of money in extremely expensive content management systems, which were considered “high end”, but they were not really delivering a great experience. And they were super customized. Compared to today’s experiences like ExpressionEngine, they were very hard to install, run and use.
You Cannot Predict Effect
In retrospective, it is funny what we were thinking back then. It is always funny when you look back and realize, that all your intelligence, all your research on a topic, the knowledge of current technologies, trends and ideas of how things are supposed to work, will be completely different in a few years from now.
In 2002, you couldn’t possibly imagine what happened next. You didn’t know about the effect of the social Web leashing out and changing an entire media landscape. Blogging was in its early stages.
Of course this didn’t stop us from trying. So we came up with an idea for a new type of website service: low cost entry websites for small companies and organizations. We called it uSite. The idea was to use a simple, bare bones content management system (a blogging engine) with a limited set of flexible five navigation points (home, about, products, store, contact), and offer this, including custom Web design within a predefined set, for an all-in price category, divided in small, medium and big packages.
Back then it looked like a Volkswagen idea for websites and we thought it was pretty revolutionary. You have to take in account, that in 2002/03, everything you know about the Web today was in its infant stages. There was no Facebook, no Flickr. Twitter? Instagram? Pinterest? None of it. The most successful community out there was MySpace. There was no WordPress, not to mention Tumblr.
We really thought we were onto something.
But like a lot of things that sound like a huge idea in the beginning, things developed differently. And in hindsight this was probably a good thing.
It Only Works If It Works
What really counts is not so much the idea. Of course it is important to have a really good idea, there is no doubt about it. But what really counts is how this idea is going to work out. Not just for you, but for the people you make it for. Every “next big thing” used to be nowhere in the beginning. It was not even remotely a new thing, it was usually just a bunch of lose ideas. But when you stitch them together and create something awesome, and then run with it for some time until it catches on, you have proven that it is really something you are onto. Not before.
There is no other way than trying things out. We did that with uSite. We invested a lot of time into developing templates. For the beginning, there was no content management system at all, but I learned to code MovableTemplates in the course of these developments. So it was a good lesson for me and my business partner, but the product was never really launched. It didn’t make it beyond a couple of small client projecs we coded by hand.
Again: this was the age of table layouts and empty.gif space holders.
Along Came Tumblr
Today I am running my consulting website on WordPress, on a dedicated installation on the hosting service provided by my friend (YVOD), who was my uSite idea partner back in the days. My first CMS based site on this server used MovableType. I’m also running several Tumblr blogs, among them a new blog dedicated to my writing that isn’t consulting and tech related.
Tumblr has become really big for people. It is used for all kinds of things, from shoeboxing images, tracking notes and ideas, to collecting porn or artwork, to journalists, who use it as their outlet of things they cannot write about in their employer’s media. Almost every entrepreneur and special person I know has a Tumblr these days. It is probably the uSite of our day, with all barriers removed, everyone can use it to start a website and get it running within minutes.
Tumblr was the next big thing, a sleeper that has been running since 2007 and today it is huge. There are a few key elements that make it unique, but the biggest feature is simplicity and accessibility. You can read, post, or repost anything instantly from anywhere, with your phone, your iPad or your laptop. With now 77 million blogs and 120 million users, Tumblr is probably one of the biggest success stories of the Web of all time. At least so far. And why?
Because you can open it, use it instantly and publish yourself. Anything you want.