Tuesday
Apr242012

« TAPKAE dot com at Ten »

Ten years ago, sometime in the late winter/spring, the first complete incarnation of TAPKAE.com went up. Click the link there and you can see a fairly early version, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine. (Once at the view of the old TAPKAE.com you can click forward in time to see incremental captures of the site as it has evolved, though there are a few versions that don't appear.)

Picking a domain name was never a point of debate or hand-wringing. What else would have made sense for me in 2001-02 when I was thoroughly embracing my moniker, The Artist Presently Known As Ed? Of course, that is a bit of a drain on memory resources for people (and a bitch to type out), so the shorter form, TAPKAE, was a brilliant and available alternative in just six letters. In those days, the .com top level domain was still quite open, and even today, there aren't many TAPKAEs out there, at least in the English speaking world. Mike Thaxton ("Thax"), a major supporter of my movement into the web, reserved the domain name and got me a hosting plan (100 mb!) that lasted from mid 2001 until early 2004 when I really took the reins and tried new stuff.

I was drawn to all this web stuff because of the value it offered to a self produced recording artist such as I was then. As a guy who employed the studio space to capture various instruments and to record things from start to finish, the chance to craft a whole digital presence was alluring. The notion of standardizing what songs were presented in high quality audio was a major lure; this was the promise of not needing to have to dub a cassette or burn a CD and then shove it into a package. There was a cool distance from all that. Putting a bunch of material out for all to hear seemed a great equalizing device when talking up my tunes and asking people to hear them.

HTML Dark Ages

I went to the Art Institute of California during the year from April 2001—April 2002. TAPKAE.com was developed with the help of things I was learning there. It was actually my second HTML website, the first being a project that focused on the eccentric composer Erik Satie. TAPKAE.com was developed in nearly the same way with some additional bits: javascript menu, pop up windows for detailed pages, and a shopping cart system that cost me more than I ever made in sales. This TAPKAE 1.0 version was pretty complex for a first time out. Totally self indulgent. The menu structure was using drop menus with a couple levels to them. My bio was split over three pages—pretty crazy stuff, and it was only my music related profile. An attempt at an image gallery was arduous.

Without CSS, HTML had therefore not evolved into the rather lean language it is now. Without CSS, the thing was a bear to visually inspect and keep styled consistently. All those bolds? All those italics? One by one, page by page. Without the database-driven active pages we have now in most platforms, each page had to be copied to provide the basis for another, or I'd have to use a template (I never did). It was arduous trying to keep it all together. Deciding to change a header style would be an absurd amount of work, even in Dreamweaver—mainly because I didn't use the site caching for years to come.

In 2002, who really knew what social media was? Mp3.com was one site I used that was starting something a bit like Myspace became. Even the word blog seems to have not been on my ears then. Web 2.0? RSS? Podcast? The Cloud? Facebook? Wordpress? Stuff we take for granted now wasn't around then.

The first time I can think of when I knew I was looking at a blog was in late 2003 or early 2004. It provided me the clarity to know that the days of manually updating HTML and moving front page journal entries to "archive" pages was a hopelessly unnecessary act. Somehow I went in search of new hosting solutions and happened upon Startlogic, which I remained on from early 2004 until early 2011. And BAM! there was the B2 blogger platform ready to install. For a while in 2004-2006, the blog was a separate component that was not integrated into the site. And so it was that I had to essentially style the two separate entities so they looks enough alike.

But what the hell was this .php shit? And how in the world was I supposed to edit things when I could not see the whole page at once? Why were these blog sites so damned complex? I guess it took me a while to learn the part about how sites were leaving plain ol' HTML behind in favor of detailed and consistent styles with databases providing the content. My paltry education at Art Institute was made seemingly more so with the advent of all this new blogging technology. I was in over my head. But blogging was cool because it took care of the old entries.

The thing is, I came into this as a guy with some stories to tell, not as someone out to make money and to connect with other blogs. At various times, I disabled pingbacks, trackbacks, comments, and other things. I just wanted to put my stuff up, and all those extras just got in the way. Meanwhile, I heard about people blogging to make money. Journalists blogging to tell their version of the truth, sans editorial review. The rules had not solidified.

B2 & Wordpress: 2004-2010

After discovering B2, I tried out various other blogging platforms but remained on B2 for a while, and eventually in 2006 landed with Wordpress. And then I decided that Wordpress was mature enough in the late summer of 2006 that I found I could make my entire site within the Wordpress environment. But I always had my problems with Wordpress even though for a number of years it was the tidiest platform of all. While the Wordpress era was structurally more solid, the visual aspect was more limited since I didn't then know how to do a local testing server, so to change the graphic or other CSS related details, I painstakingly edited one thing at a time and resaved and uploaded. I got off Wordpress before I ever did a Dreamweaver local site to test and edit upon. The Wordpress years were a time when the major component was the blog itself, during a period of a lot of transformation.

In some way though, turning off all the social options at the blog gave me a needed period to let the TAPKAE online identity reform under new values. In the early days, I sabotaged things with certain newsgroups and music/recording related forums. The stuff is still out there for the looking, but there is now more stuff that bears my name and more of it is worthy material.

In 2010, after slipping away from publishing much to the web but for blog posts and pages, I found myself drawn toward helping Jubilee Economics Ministries, a small non profit that was in need of new methods to move their message. I had proposed podcasting, not even knowing much about the medium, and then to support that, I found it necessary to reacquaint myself with some things and to plunge into many others. What started as a podcast became a new website for JEM (using Squarespace, which I had just learned about as I was starting to actually learn Wordpress for JEM), and the typical social media accounts, and then organizational things like Google Apps and Mailchimp... It was all exasperating to me, and even more so to the others, who, being folks my parents' age, were blindsided by all the changeup, but grateful since they never would have unpacked it all.

Certainly I can't deny that several years of publishing to the web was handy, but as I have spent a couple years now with JEM and an ever-unfolding map of possibilities, I have read a lot of material about best practices for blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and all that. And sometimes it makes me feel pretty low. In some ways, I seem to have gotten it all wrong. I know that's a bit much to take on and that I'll never master the stuff.

The mind that generated this site probably does not connect with all but about four people out there in web land. My stats are shit at this site. Who but a few friends and curious onlookers are interested in this story? (Craig Z.?) Certainly this is just a labor of love, and a way to keep from seeing my own handwriting! My methods and approaches, a more-is-more kind of expression, is so counter to the prevailing winds of web publishing where blogging is supposed to be pithy and succinct. It's supposed to be nearly mathematically derived to squeeze every ounce of SEO value it can. No long paragraphs. Lists are always winners. Connect with readers and give them a reason to come back. Incentivize. Laser focus on a topic. In 2004, it was the wild west in blogging. I guess I wandered down one dirt road, maybe into a box canyon, while others built a freeway system.

The Squarespace Era: 2010-present

I pay for web hosting with Squarespace now that I moved this site over some months after finding I liked it for JEM. The rate was $240 for the first year, and thanks to a rate change, it's $180 now. It has allowed me a chance to be more visually creative than anything I did in the Wordpress years. I don't have to worry about that sick feeling associated with managing my own database at the MySql level. So I have been willing to pay for that. I've never run an ad here. This is just my channel to tell a story; a labor of love is all this is, a way to help untangle the spaghetti of life. Some people spend that kind of money on their booze or gambling in a few hours. Or in driving their car for fun. Or to go to Disneyland. None of that appeals to me. And, here, about a decade after my first foray into the web, the rate is perhaps twice what I used to pay, or less, but the potential to put up so much content makes all that a moot point.

I like that for once, I've managed to create an online album that reflects a mix of experiences, good and bad, and a mix of media to tell the story. Keeping busy with JEM such as I have, trying to find new things to move that message, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to take some "me time" here at this site. Never mind there are just a few subscribers (thanks!). Never mind there are no casual users stumbling upon this site and bringing it to Facebook. Certainly there is more that I want to put up. More pictures, more scans, more audio. More video. There is only one of me though, and it happens that I allocate more time to JEM, sensing that promoting or even building this self-indulgent site is not as responsible a thing to do as developing the JEM platform. Last summer, I did plug in a good deal of content here that was never on any previous version of the site. Were it not for the bottleneck of the scanning process, I might have done more. The other bottleneck is that I am a loquacious, captioning freak, and it takes time to narrate things, particularly when a new photo gallery is put up! And since I got this site (and a new camera at about the same time), I've had a lot more photographic material to process. It's easy to get distracted.

Netizenship & Transparency

The web has changed a lot since 2002. I've changed a lot too. When I first got into it and didn't know about netiquette I went overboard and offended people, some of which were in-person relationships too. But overall, I've put that away and tried to become a better netizen. Blogging at least gives me the chance to soapbox in my own space rather than on other sites. And even that has sort of waned for me. The futility of trying to argue a point online is pretty clear. I feel this site got more interesting when I went inside and unpacked this person I've had to deal with all this time. Maybe no one else gives a shit. A few cheer on the sidelines, saying I'm doing something that takes guts. Others cringe. Others slip away nearly unnoticed. And then there are about seven billion others who don't even know this site is here. Sure, it might be a self-indulgent site, but it doesn't mean I am important. But who else will tell the story?

And that brings me to the matter of my approach to sharing information here. Presently I am looking for work, same as I've been doing for a year and more. (Unless I am applying to a web job that might call on certain aspects or technology or aesthetics that demonstrated at this site, I don't usually give away TAPKAE.com or social media links. I use a personal Gmail address.) I know no HR person is going to write me a courtesy note saying that they read a handful of posts on TAPKAE.com and decided to pass me over because they didn't think my family situation was going to lead me to be a good employee. Or that a post said I have struggled with depression. Or Wordpress. (There is some overlap at times.) The fact is, I don't really know how thoroughly I am disqualifying myself from jobs. And I sort of don't care. The places that won't have me won't have me. This site is a tool to help me feel that I know myself. And in the process, I might find that truck driving is not really my calling, and that while it could be an entry into an industry, I don't awaken each day, licking my lips at the prospect of piloting a few tons of steel down streets and alleys. Somewhere along the line, I embraced transparency in the hopes that it would win me more than it lost. Shutting doors to paths that I have no business on should be a better thing than not. I can say I've applied to jobs that I know I'm not interested in, and then it should be no surprise, website or not, that I don't get them.

Nothing is stopping me from making a go at a commercial site, doing things by formula and metrics, and leaving out the personal stuff for the most part. I don't exactly feel I have anything to share that warrants that, but I would like to develop community around JEM and when possible, other orgs or groups that have shared interest. I may or may not ever get that right. It may or may not ever be my thing. Lurking at the edges is TAPKAE.com, where it's okay to get it wrong, to experiment, to be transparent and unpretentious.

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