In which our intrepid hero discovers the story of a forgotten pioneer.

I have to admit, when I first picked up a copy of Wired, I did so for the ads. Wired was like nothing else I’d ever seen, approaching Mondo 2000 in the complexity and innovation of layout.

And then I actually got around to reading the articles. Most of the writing didn’t seem entirely special, but there were a few gems like this, the story of Jorn Barger, the man who invented the term "weblog", from Wired‘s latest issue:

A bum in a Google cap. Now there’s a sign of the times, I think as he shambles toward me. He looks pretty much like any other tattered street person in San Francisco—long, windblown dirty-blond hair with a beard to match. Unbuttoned shirttails flapping in the afternoon breeze.

Jorn Barger. It takes me a moment to recognize the name. Barger is an online legend I’ve been following for a decade. He was the unstoppable Usenet poster who could carry on simultaneous debates about Ibsen, Chomsky, artificial intelligence, and Kate Bush. He was the keeper of the James Joyce FAQ. Barger’s prolific posting made him famous, if not popular, in the proto¬≠blogosphere.

Barger crossed over from Usenet to the Web in 1997 and set up his own site, which he dubbed the Robot Wisdom Weblog. He began logging his online discoveries as he stumbled on them—hence "weblog." I barely understood what he was talking about, and still I read him giddily. Barger gave a name to the fledgling phenomenon and set the tone for a million blogs to come. Robot Wisdom bounced unapologetically from high culture to low, from silly to serious, from politics to porn.

A few weeks later, I find out that Barger has recovered his domain—and Robot Wisdom pops back up online. I hunt him down for a pint at a local pub and he tells me he’s moving on, this time to Memphis. He says he avoids the need for a job by living on less than a dollar a day. "I was carrying a cardboard sign when we met that day," he tells me. "I wasn’t sure if I should show it to you. I figured if things didn’t work out with Andrew I could pick up some change." On his panhandler sign, Barger had written:

Coined the term ‘weblog,’ never made a dime.

Some IT revolutionaries make it big; most don’t. They live and die in obscurity, never credited for the profound changes that they bring about. Everyone knows about Bill Gates. A few know about Linus Torvalds. Almost no one knows about Jorn Barger; if not for Wired, I never would’ve.

You rock so hard.

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