Over the weekend I was searching for something at Google and, in a slip, I searched under the name of a site I used to run years ago: Groksoup.
Now, for most people reading this site the name Groksoup will deservedly mean nothing. Matter of fact, I forget increasingly that I used to run a site of that name. But I did, as I was reminded when I did the above-mentioned search.
My search turned up an article by Rebecca Blood purporting to be a history of blogging tools. As her article reminded me, back in July and August of 1999 — five years ago — the first hosted blogging tools were launched, including, Pitas, Pyra (now Blogger) and, as I had nearly forgotten, Groksoup; Dave Winer’s Edit This Page came along later that year.
Here is the short history: As a diversion while a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, I coded a hosted blogging site running in ASP on top of SQL Server. I wrote it largely for me. I was originally using it to run a blog of my own, so the features were what I wanted, not, for better or worse, what some carefully surveyed market somewhere wanted.
For example, I had all the usual blogging features from RSS on down, but I also had GUI editing, point-and-click CSS editing for templates, a browser bookmarklet, graphical story sorting, mailing list support, and more. As far as I know, many of these features still don’t exist in current products, including Movable Type, especially the graphical story sorting and the GUI editing. It was, as I said above, a hobby, so I invested time in fixing the things that bugged me most, and those features were the ones.
Groksoup ran happily for a few years, with new users finding the site daily (by word of mouth), subscribing, and setting up blogs. This was well before blogging entered the mainstream, even though I thought blogging was already about as big as it was ever going to be. Hey, who could have been bigger than Jorn Barger?
(Note that I have a habit of thinking things are mainstream long before they become mainstream. As another VC told me not long ago, “VCs have no business getting involved in consumer products. They have absolutely no idea what real people want, nor how long it takes for non-VC consumers to adopt stuff.” Case in point: Back in 1993 when I was an equity analyst at a brokerage firm I recommended to a portfolio manager I knew that he short AOL. My drop-dead simple rationale? What right-thinking person would pay for dopey AOL when they could get a raw Internet connection for less. I was right, I think, but at least a decade early.)
By early 2001 the Groksoup site had a few thousand users. I’m not sure, because there is no hard data, but at the time it was certainly right up there among the very largest hosted blogging tool sites. I didn’t have concrete plans for the site, and I was fishing around for ways to begin charging money for it, but I hadn’t quite worked it out — and then the decision was made for me.
In late 2001 my travel obligations and other commitments were growing, so I was running low on time to do much on the Groksoup site. One day someone emailed me asking if I had been on the site lately, and I had to confess I hadn’t been there for a week. I checked it out, and I discovered that some hacking group (German, as I recall) had defaced it by wiping out the root directory and, along the way, nuking some of the database. I’m sure it was a known bug in ASP or SQL server, but it was a giant pain in the ass for me.
I thought about fixing Groksoup — I had backups of most of the site — but time constraints meant I never got around to it. Instead, about a month later, I shut Groksoup down fairly unceremoniously (sorry about that folks). I still have a copy of the ASP code here, but that’s about it. Matter of fact, I don’t even own the Groksoup.com domain anymore.
So why the long story? Mostly because I hadn’t written about Groksoup before, so I thought it was worth getting this little piece of history out there. After all, blogging is now in the mainstream, and I like to think my Groksoup tool played at least a small part making that happen in the blogging market’s very early days.