A decade of blogging

Jul 29, 2010

Ten years ago this month, Frank the Beachcomber — my paternal grandfather, Francis C. Zuiker — was dying. He was 90 years old, and he had given the extended Zuiker family much to emulate and celebrate. His was a lifetime of hard work down at the Pullman Car Company, but also one of writing and storytelling, family camping trips and musical jamborees, and loving dedication to his spouse and children and grandchildren.

Grandpa meant the world to me, and I wanted to honor him publicly before he passed on.

I was just back from the South Pacific, where I’d spent my two Peace Corps years on an island without electricity and running water. I had the New Yorker sent to me for hammock reading, but by far the most important words that came in the mail were the Zuiker Chronicles letters that my grandfather wrote to me. He was still sharing tales of his earlier trips to the Outer Banks, and still angling for ‘trade goods’ such as sea shells and shark teeth that he could make into necklaces and earrings. Erin and I boxed up an armful of cone shells and black sand gathered from the beach a hundred yards from our house in Liro Village.

Back home in Ohio, inspired by Frank’s legacy of creativity and inspiration, I decided to create a virtual Zuiker Chronicles, a family newsletter for a new, digital age. To do so, I’d have to learn new skills (HTML programming and website management), write in a new way, and teach the rest of my family how to interact with Zuiker Chronicles Online. I knew Frank would be proud.

With the help of a colleague, I launched the site, at zuikerchronicles.com, in late July 2000. It had a few pictures, some essays about my time in Vanuatu, and an invitation to my aunts and uncles and cousins to contribute their own news. Within days, I was updating the site regularly — updating by hand, editing html files and uploading them to the server over a dial-up connection late into the night. I was blogging, but I didn’t know it.

At some point, my aunt showed Frank the website I’d created. He may not have comprehended the technology — he was just trying to breathe those last few months — but I’m confident he understood that his grandson had done something important to continue the legacy of a man who loved to write and report.

Frank died in September 2000, and with the site in place, there was a way for my family to honor the man. The tribute page to Frank that I put up is still online. (Later, I would edit and publish two books that Frank wrote, about his childhood and about my father’s Peace Corps service in the Dominican Republic.)

Blogger by any other name

Not long after, I encountered Blogger.com and quickly converted the site to that tool, which made it so much easier for me to write, post and publish updates to Zuiker Chronicles Online (by now I also had the site pointed to the domain zuiker.com). Ironically, my first post using Blogger starts with this:

Thanksgiving Day. I’m in my pajamas listening to National Public Radio, working on the computer.

Truth is, I would spend countless nights at the computer, writing on my blog, promising Erin I’d be done in just 15 more minutes, but crawling into bed well into the morning. I would use many blogging tools — Greymatter, MovableType, pMachine, Textpattern, Wordpress, ExpressionEngine, Tumblr — and try any beta that might help me build the online Zuiker community.

In j-school in 2002, I encountered the incomparable and real Paul Jones and eagerly took his class, Making & Living in Online Communities. Justin Watt and Jackson Fox were also in that class, and they helped me form the Tar Heel Bloggers group that began to meet regularly at UNC. (Justin was just back in town this weekend, and we held a brunch for him and Stephanie; they’ll be embarking on a container ship sojourn soon!)

Building community

The report I did for that class was about my Zuiker Chonicles Online efforts and blogging adventures, and the title, Blog Together, would eventually become the abiding concept and umbrella organization (replacing Tar Heel Bloggers) under which I would collaborate with many local and far-flung friends for online community building and offline events. My essay for the News & Observer, When blogging, face the conversation, set out the BlogTogether philosophy: online community building coupled with face-to-face events will strengthen and enrich our conversations everywhere.

Through BlogTogether, we have organized events small and large, from backyard barbecues to Blogging101 tutorial sessions to countless talks before affinity groups. Our major efforts started with the Triangle Bloggers Conference in 2005 — blogging pioneer Dave Winer drove in, and over brunch the next day urged me to ‘bootstrap the community’. Bora Zivkovic sat behind Dave at the conference, and he’s since become my close friend and collaborator on the annual science blogging conferences (we call them ScienceOnline now).

Brian Russell and Ruby Sinreich and Wayne Sutton and Abel Pharmboy are also at the heart of BlogTogether. There are so many others, for the Triangle is awash in talented, tireless individuals eager to participate in the conversation. They are a prime reason I was able to convince my wife, Erin, that North Carolina should be our home for good (Erin finished law school recently, and we could have gone anywhere).

I’m proud of what N&O editor Dan Barkin wrote about me in his article about the second science blogging conference

The Web has evolved into a tribal Internet of passionate bloggers like Zuiker, and he has become a sort-of local brand. He’s a quiet visionary. He’s a low-key doer. He’s a let’s-get-together-and-see-where-this-goes guy. It’s the Zuikers of this new, interwoven world who may play a significant role in determining how far Web 2.0 goes from being a sociable network to a social force.

Among the many ideas I’ve chased through the years, to varying levels of success: food blogging (highlighted by a September 2007 event with Michael Ruhlman — he called me ‘sweet’), medicaljournalism.info, storyblogging.org and narrativesofhiv.org, and the nascent The Long Table.

mistersugar

In December 2004, I separated my personal blog, The Coconut Wireless, from the family-focused Zuiker Chronicles Online and launched mistersugar.com.

If you’ve followed me through the years, you know I’ve had fun building the mistersugar brand and celebrating its roots in my service to the country of Vanuatu. Connecting my present to my past has been a key theme to my blogging — it’s my form of story blogging, and is a manifestation of the Zuiker Chronicles of Frank the Beachcomber and the weekly typewriter reports of my other grandfather, Louis Sisco. (From my N&O essay linked above: “I became a writer because they wrote. And then, with the Web, I became a blogger.”

Read my About page to learn more about the blog name and the pig icon.

I have a busy and full life away from the computer, with an amazing wife and darling children, intense career and important friendships, family gatherings and farmer markets, and stacks and stacks of magazines and books. My entries have slowed considerably over the last few years, but I’m proud that The Coconut Wireless still has a strong signal (and that Zuiker Chronicles Online is still standing). I’m proud to consider myself a blogger, and amazed at where blogging has taken me.

The last six months have been filled with introspection — I’m midstream, don’t you know — and, as you no doubt surmised, this look back on a decade blogging adds to my self-reflection.

At my core, I’m grateful to my family, my friends, my community and my country for giving me so much to experience. In 10 years of blogging, I’ve gotten to express my wonderment and joy at being so lucky.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC