Robert Hampton

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12th March 2013

Setting the scene

It’s March 2003. I am 20 years old and living in a semi-detached house with my family in a dodgy part of Liverpool (Dingle), and I’m at home, staring at my computer screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard waiting for inspiration.

At this time I had no presence on the web to speak of, after shutting down my old web site in January 2001 becuase I was bored with it. That was all about to change.

In February 2002 I registered, out of vanity and a fear of something called “cybersquatting”. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, until one day, when I was idly surfing the web and discovered that former Star Trek actor and soon-to-be geek icon Wil Wheaton had an entertaining blog. I decided I wanted to do what he did – a blog, that is; not piloting the USS Enterprise.

The Web 2.0 revolution hadn’t quite exploded yet. MySpace was six months away from launching and Facebook would not exist for another year – and even then it was restricted to students of certain American universities. However, one concept which had started to catch on by this point was blogging. Lots of blogs were springing up on services such as LiveJournal and Blogger.

I investigated the possibility of using Blogger, but I decided I was too important to exist on a third-party service (even one which had just been acquired by Google), so I made things difficult for myself by signing up for web hosting and installing Movable Type. My old web site had a CGI script on it to run a multiple-choice quiz… how much harder could it be to set up a blog system?

Setting up was a fraught process for two reasons. Firstly, I only had dial-up internet (Telewest Broadband having decided that south Liverpool was not worthy of digital cable) so uploading the files took forever. Secondly, I insisted on designing my own page templates rather than accepting the default Movable Type ones. I knew HTML but not CSS – I created the style sheets by looking at what other web sites did, copying it, and hoping it worked. However, after a lot of tweaking and some frustration, I eventually got this very basic web site online.

Robert Hampton web site from 2003

To be honest, if I were setting up now, I would probably have used Blogger (despite its foibles) as keeping a self-hosted blog has occasionally proved to be a hassle.

A few friends from my old school looked in (given the circumstances under which I quit school, I think they wanted to make sure I wasn’t dead) and left some nice comments, but that was about it. I wasn’t sure initially if I would keep it up for long, but it soon became addictive, and I was quickly into the habit of dashing off a post or two most nights. When out and about, or when I saw or did something, the first thought in my head became, “can I get a blog out of this?”

What did the world look like in March 2003? Well:-

  • Harry Hill’s TV Burp was being flung out by ITV at 11pm on a weeknight, watched by almost no-one
  • Elsewhere on television, BBC Three was just over a month old.
  • On the railways, Arriva Trains was running the Merseyrail network. Virgin were phasing in their Pendolino trains, but the majority of trains on the Liverpool route were still formed of the old InterCity rolling stock.
  • Internet Explorer 6 was the web browser of choice, with over 90% of the market share
  • Doctor Who was still, in the eyes of most of the British public, a naff 70s sci-fi show featuring Tom Baker and wobbly sets
  • A talented young footballer named Wayne Rooney was scoring some amazing goals for Everton
  • It was legal to discriminate against gay people in almost every area of life
  • Britain is about to join America in launching a catastrophically misjudged invasion of Iraq – but more on that later

One thing that strikes me immediately at reading some of the early entries: a lot of them are very short. Check out the April 2003 archives, for example: most of the posts are one or two paragraphs. Some are only a sentence each. Back then I was quick to blog without thinking too much about it. I self-censor more these days – only posting when I’m sure I have something useful to say, so you get fewer posts, but longer and (hopefully) better ones. The short one-liners are now reserved for Twitter.

Even in those early blog posts, it’s possible to spot emerging themes which would run through the blog right through to the present day. Over the coming days I will look at some of them, starting with some “insightful” political commentary.

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