Scripting News: Launched on 1 February 1997

In December 1997, Dave Winer checked his archives to determine the launch date of Scripting News, a news-oriented feature on his site’s home page that is now widely regarded as one of the first weblogs. He found that Scripting News had made its “debut in April 1997” (Winer, 1997). Winer has since frequently repeated the claim, and the press has repeated it after him without any fact checking (Berlind, 2005; Johnson, 2007; McCullagh & Broache, 2007; Shedden, 2010). However, a closer look at the archives reveals that the claim is incorrect. For example, read the Scripting News edition of 19 February 1997 courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Scripting News launched on 1 February 1997, and proof can be furnished from the archives.

In May 1996, Winer’s main software product was Frontier, a scripting environment for the Mac that had been locked in a losing battle with Apple’s competing product, Applescript, for a couple of years (Winer, 1997). The Frontier 4.0 release of May 1996 amounted to a make-over of the software, as Frontier’s new Web framework redefined it as a multi-user content management system (Winer, 1996). To mark the occasion of the release, as well as to showcase Frontier’s Web building capabilities, Winer pulled all of his Web archives from their previous location on Hotwired.com and implemented Scripting.com as a Frontier site (Winer, 1996).

In an inconspicuous corner of the new site, Winer started a little feature named Frontier News. Via this list of annotated hyperlinks to newsworthy items from all over the Web, presented reverse-chronologically in daily, date-stamped batches, Winer pointed to anything he deemed relevant to Frontier development: release announcements of his own software, announcements by developers building on Frontier, general industry news, and, of course, new editions of the DaveNet newsletter, now archived on Scripting.com too (Winer, 1996).

Running his own Web server, Winer became an avid student of the server’s access logs, and by December 1996 he was aware that Frontier News was a big success and had, in fact, become the most popular destination on his site, followed by the awkwardly conventional home page. The latter was an embarrassment to him: he never visited it himself, and he didn’t know what to do with. Looking at the number of page hits it attracted, he had an idea, however. On 23 January 1997, he announced that he knew what he was going to do with it (Winer, 1997) – and then implemented his plan within a week:

On 2/1/97 we changed the structure of this website.

The home page of www.scripting.com became the News page for the site. It replaces the Frontier news page, and we are redirecting all accesses from the old News. (Winer, 1997)

Frontier News, now prominently perched on the site’s home page, had its name changed to Scripting News. Editorially, the feature remained unchanged, however: it was still the product of a single editor serving up the same eclectic mix of lightly annotated pointers to product updates and industry news.

What didn’t change for a while, either, was the archiving. During the second half of 1996, Winer had got into the habit of archiving Frontier News in monthly instalments, simply by wiping the front page clean, transferring the month’s worth of postings to a new archival page, then starting from scratch. Winer continued this practice after elevating Frontier News to the Scripting.com home page on 1 February 1997, hence the Scripting News archives for February and March that are still in the old Frontier News mode.

Yet towards the end of April 1997, Winer felt he didn’t want to wipe his site’s front page for the beginning of May:

It’s getting close to the end of the month, and a roll-over on the Scripting News page.

It’s always bothered me that it gets so full towards the end of the month, and then becomes empty at the beginning of the next month.

So, I changed the way the home page works, and also build a smoother editing system for the home page.

Ten days of news, every day of the month

The home page now displays news for the last ten days. The end of a month isn’t significant. If I take time off, that doesn’t count – so it’s the last ten days with any news.

All news is archived, one page per month, there’s a pointer to the archive page at the bottom of the Scripting News. As the month goes by this page fills up. (Winer, 1997)

This adjustment accounts for the fact that the Scripting News archives seem to go back only to April 1997, creating the illusion that Scripting News launched on 1 April 1997.

Only, it didn’t launch then. Scripting News launched on 1 February 1997.

Happy belated birthday, Scripting News, and thanks for the sharing!