It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Lullaby Pit Celebrates Two Decades

Lullaby Pit, one of the world’s oldest Web sites, marks its 20th anniversary today.

LullabyPitAs of this moment, there are more than 930 million Web sites in the world, and we’re projected to hit a billion by the end of the year. 20 years ago today, though, there were roughly 2,000.

20 years ago today – that would have been April 1, 1994, the day Lullaby Pit was launched. Those were heady times on the wild frontier. We’re talking all-text, no images, no streaming media, no colors for text or background. Nothing. I didn’t have a WYSIWYG editor – I hard-coded the html using a basic text editor. I didn’t have a content management system – I edited the site in UNIX using arcane commands like MPUT and MGET.

History

The first iteration of the Pit was about what you’d imagine – a collection of links. Or, as I have come to describe it, a “proto-portal.” I’d scour the Net for things that were somehow related to my interests and those of my colleagues – music, culture, pop culture, communication, etc. – and the result was a sort of hub for things we might find useful.

Later I began posting my own writing (including poetry and fiction) and, once I got my hands on Photoshop, some really bad digital art. In the early 2000s I converted to a blog (who didn’t, right?) and that’s what it is today – plus some archived scholarly articles, interviews, journalism and the occasional photograph (although most of that work now lives over on the Samuel Smith Photography site).

For the better part of the past seven years, a vast majority of my original writing has landed on Scholars & Rogues, and I have ported that work over here for archival purposes.

Where did the name come from?

Periodically I have been asked about the name – “Lullaby Pit” – I think it strikes people as a bit odd. I have tried to remember exactly what sparked the idea and honestly I can’t. I know I wanted something dark and romantic, which was in keeping with how I saw myself. Back then I used the handle “Road Angel” (which I pilfered from a band I heard back in the late ’70s) when I was online, and in some respects I think I saw myself as a sort of populist Internet hero of the people. Or something. Ask any of my friends from the CU doc program and they’ll tell you that I was deeply concerned with how what I was doing might be put in service of the greater good, and if there was an opportunity to raise hell on behalf of those that the power elite had forgotten, by god I was on it.

So from this idealized and altogether self-involved construction I had made out of myself emerged this name, the slamming together of something pretty – lullaby – and something ominous – pit. And there was no debate whatsoever. That was going to be the name of the place, and I don’t recall a second’s doubt about it.

The logo has evolved a bit, but the Spike Angel/lunar eclipse concept has been with me since … well, I guess since I first figured out how to develop graphics and post a logo to the site. As you can see, my photo site logo is an iteration of the Spike Angel design. It’s more than a Web brand mark, too – I have a tattoo with a stylized Spike Angel design on my shoulder.

Acknowledgments

I owe a debt of thanks to Kristina Ross, a colleague in my CU PhD program, who took me down to the Mac lab in the basement of Macky one day in early 1994 and clicked on this icon for something called “Mosaic.” She was the ringleader of a small cadre of students in the program – and by small, I mean there were maybe five of us – who realized early on that this Internet thing was for real. I know this seems obvious as hell today, but at that point probably not one person in a hundred had even heard the word “Internet” yet.

I also owe a big thanks to my roommate at the time, John Weiss. John was a Physics doc student and knew the hell out of anything computer or Net-related, and he taught me what I needed to know about UNIX and the basics of html.

What’s next?

I’m not sure I have anything earth-shattering to say about the anniversary. Obviously I’m proud – it’s nice to be able to say that in a world with nearly a billion Web sites I’m responsible for one of the couple thousand oldest. The subject comes up in the course of my job search from time to time, and I’m not sure recruiters always believe me.

I’m also not sure what to expect about the future. I don’t know that S&R will last forever – truth is, it’s already lived longer than I think some of my co-founders expected – and if those doors ever close then this will once again become your one-stop shop for whatever insight (or silliness) occurs to me. And technological innovation being what it is, it’s entirely possible that in another five years it won’t be a blog anymore at all. Something newerer and betterer may come along, right? Whatever form it takes, though, the Pit will live as long as I do.

I wanted to mark the moment and say thanks first to those who helped me get started, and also to those of you who have, at some point in the past couple of decades, wandered the Information Highway with me.

May the next 20 years be as interesting as the last 20….

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6 thoughts on “It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Lullaby Pit Celebrates Two Decades”

  1. What a great story.

    How odd that the internet is only really twenty or so years old. I’ve argued that the last invention to so dramatically shrink the world was the internal combustion engine, and before that, the telegraph. Maybe the printing press before that. At any rate, you were in on one of the biggies, one that (for the record) I looked at and shrugged. So much for prescience.

    Best and congratulations again

    Otherwise

  2. The Pit is a remarkable document in its entirety. It redefined the role of the public intellectual because it allowed the public far greater and more immediate access to the intellectual.

    It presaged all that is good about the Internet and avoided all that is bad.

    In fact, this anniversary post is an opportunity to take note of the changing posture and civic of the public intellectual.

    That is what I have seen you become through the Pit — one of the first, most prolific, smartest of a new breed of public intellectual.

    Sadly, as we both have learned, the audience of public intellectuals has shrunken considerably.

    I’m proud to have witnessed the Pit’s birth … or, rather, been drinking beer in the kitchen while various profanities emanated from our living room during your early coding forays …

  3. Ah – you remember that, do you? Yes, I had to learn a bit of UNIX, but doing so didn’t make me Bill Gates any more than memorizing the prologue to Canterbury Tales made me Chaucer. There were moments of frustration.

    Thanks for the kind words. You’ve certain described what I think I was trying to do, but your observation about the audience for public intellectuals – hell, intellectuals of ANY sort – is tastefully understated.

    I feel like I have done the right things. I sometimes wish I’d had a little better world in which to do them….

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