Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post 11 years

Wednesday August 9, 2006

While I searched for a job after graduating from the University of Georgia in 1995, I noticed that the Dawgs didn’t have much of a presence – official or unofficial – on the relatively new World Wide Web. There were several discussion groups on services like Prodigy, UseNet lists, and scattered e-mail distribution lists. But there wasn’t much on the Web, so I started a Dawg site for the hell of it on my personal account. I don’t remember the specific date I started, but I remember working on the site while the news of Jerry Garcia’s death came across the TV. I’m not an especially big Deadhead or anything, but the date stuck with me. It seems as good a date as any for the anniversary of this site.

August 9th, 1995. 11 years ago. We’ve been there for three Georgia football coaches, four basketball coaches, dozens of conference and national titles, and two URLs.

The site grew quickly. We got good behind-the-scenes reports from Jim Donnan’s first spring practices in 1996. We eventually had contributors writing on everything from football to hoops to baseball. We had the Daily Dawg which became the directory of Dawg news sources. It was very crude and very grassroots, but that was the nature of the medium. We were all learning. Several other Dawg sites sprang up, each with their own kind of speciality. The Anti-Orange Page captured perfectly what it meant to be a Georgia fan in a world of rivalries. The DawgVent quickly established itself as the place for discussion. The Grapevine became a must-visit site for Georgia recruitniks.

In 1998, the specialized news services started up. AllianceSports and Rivals (later to morph and twist and reincarnate into Rivals and Scout) started a healthy competition and arms race for the very focused target market of the passionate college sports fan. The role of disorganized grassroots coverage was fading, and I was glad to see this cottage industry established. I dove in myself, contributing frequently to UGASports.com over the years. Those sites take a lot of heat for being "amateurs" among journalists and letting fans run wild on message boards, but other media and even official team sites have been completely transformed in response to the innovations pioneered by companies like Rivals and Scout.

With the online news services establishing themselves, the mission of this site had to change. I bought the dawgsonline.com domain in 2000, and I abandoned the "breaking news" style while keeping the site as a place to write and reprint things I had written elsewhere. A blog, in other words. I had become familiar with the blog concept by reading some of the early pioneers like Dave Winer, but content management tools were so clumsy when I dove in. I tried writing my own system, and then I settled on a system called GrayMatter. It worked well but wasn’t maintained at all. I tried Blogger for a short time, used Moveable Type for a while, and now I’m happy using WordPress. A few things have been lost in the transitions, but some posts as far back as 2001 have been salvaged. I’ve recently found some content that’s older still and may post that again just so it’s not lost.

While I can’t help but be slightly amused by all of the sites congratulating themselves recently over a year or two online, I’m really happy that so many fan sites have been created. Some have become wildly successful in just a year – deservedly so. I’ve read so much good analysis, thought-provoking writing, and humor online over the past couple of years, and several of the writers are as good (if not better) than some who get paid to write about sports.

The one thing that most of us eventually realize is that it’s hard and sometimes even expensive to keep a personal site going over a long time. Motivation can come and go. Priorities and life circumstances change. But if the bug to write is there, you can work through that.

I agree with Stewart Mandel’s opinion here in an interview with HeismanPundit.

It’s another outlet for fans to express themselves, which is always good. I think it’s the next generation of the Rivals/Scout message boards, only now, instead of having to share space with 900 other posters, you can be your own columnist. And just like anything else, the best will rise to the top and gain more credibility.

Without sounding all populist and idealistic, that’s what this is all about – fans love to talk sports, and now they can connect. Someone with something to say now has very few obstacles to getting his thoughts out there. True, there’s a lot of crap out there now as a result, but Mandel’s point is right: the best will separate themselves.

I can’t begin to count the opportunities and personal rewards that have come from starting this site 11 years ago. I’ve been published on the Rivals.com national home page. I used my experience building the site to change careers – one of the best moves I’ve ever made. I’ve met some amazing people and made some great friends. I guess it comes down to one moment – circumstances put me on the sideline at the goalline ten feet away from where Michael Johnson caught the gamewinner against Auburn in 2002. It’s the moment I’ll probably remember most as a Dawg fan, and it probably wouldn’t have been possible had this site never existed.

RIP Jerry Garcia, and here’s to another 11 years.

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