As a freshman in high school, in the year of our lord 2002, I made a website called âJasonâs Site.â While a website named after myself and devoted to updates about my own life was unspeakably vain for the time, it was also quite forward looking: The site has a news feed, an âabout meâ page, and an email mailing list for people to receive updates. I intended for it to be funded by reader donations. It had a section for Flash videos and photos, a guestbook, and a âfriendsâ page that was literally a list of my friends. It had an ill-advised but nonetheless prescient âhot or notâ section that featured photos of my friends and acquaintances and predated both Facebook and Mark Zuckerbergâs original idea for the social network, called âFaceMash.â
I updated the site regularly and obsessively for about three months, and then never returned to it. The site was embarrassing then and is embarrassing now, but abandoning it was a terrible mistake.
When I stopped updating my website, I didnât stop posting online. I just found other places to do it. I made a Xanga, and then a LiveJournal, and then a MySpace. So did all my friends. We posted every dayâphotos from trips, friend and relationship drama, complaints about teachers, inside jokes. We were conditioned to post because only the weird kids did not post. There were rarely any consequences for posting the intimate details of our lives; the only consequences came from not participating in the online conversation.
None of Xanga, LiveJournal, or MySpace managed to figure out how to monetize the stuff we posted in any meaningful sense. There were no targeted advertisements, and none of us ever thought about âpersonal dataâ or what could be done with it.
I remember the day that the University of Maryland gave incoming freshmen â@umd.eduâ email addresses. This was a monumental day not because we were going to be in college soonâit was important because the e...