Jason Scott, creator of Textfiles.com, has created an archive that is constantly growing and changing. There are always people sending in new files for him to place into the massive collection he started from nothing. Work of this quality is only found in labors of love. Part of the reason the archive is so huge, and continues to grow, is that the people contributing to it were at one time a part of a community much larger than themselves and welcome, very much so, when a person comes along and sets up a place for that community, or the shadow of it, to reside again. It feels a little like home.
For someone such as myself, who loves interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick, I was pretty much in heaven while I watched his first set of films, BBS: The Documentary, in which he speaks to over 200 people about their involvement in BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems). He’s a journeyman historian, yes, but not just that. He has a wonderful and insightful way of getting people to open up and talk about something that is, or was, so important to them, to their lives. He then puts the stories together in a way that makes sense, even for someone like me that had very limited knowledge of what having a modem meant prior to the Internet. I suspected that I would enjoy viewing it, but I had no idea that I would heart it so much. I eagerly anticipate the next two films he is simultaneously working on, Get Lamp and Arcade, even if they also take twice as long to create as he first thought. It’ll be well worth the wait.
I kept a weblog before a lot of people, over here. So December 17, 1997!
Why do you blog?
These days, it’s several factors. For one, I have essays that don’t really fit anywhere. I used to have a “thoughts” page on textfiles.com, but it limited me to discussing the direct files on textfiles.com, and that got a little weird. Then I became a “guest blogger” on boingboing and got such a wildly positive response from people, I decided it was time to get myself a separate site, and ascii.textfiles.com came in.
What do you talk about?
Computer history, life lessons I’ve learned, things that amaze me, my own history, things that make me sad.
What don’t you talk about? Why?
I avoid politics discussions when I can because all it does right now is foster conflict and hate without any resolution. I keep my political actions elsewhere.
Worst/best experience regarding something you wrote in your blog or put out on the net?
All of my entries criticizing Wikipedia have caused enormous crap-storms that make me sometimes wish I’d never opened my goddamned mouth in public. It also confuses people to have this historian guy “against” something, which is how it’s usually interpreted, that I’m “against” Wikipedia. In fact, I’m against implementation choices in Wikipedia, choices that they themselves are starting to undo. It’s been a great time studying it, but jeez, come on, I’m more than a Wikicritic.
Favorite/worst thing about living where you live?
I live in the Boston area. I enjoy the access to the wonders of New England, but I hate freezing. I would live in a warmer climate if I didn’t know it would basically cut me off from my family, who are very important to me.
When I first went in to look around textfiles, I initially felt overwhelmed. Is that a normal first reaction?
The site is kind of intended to be overwhelming. But it’s also an accurate reflection of what it is, a massive collection of files. I wanted to ensure it was all saved as well as possible. I created the “top 100” so most people could just browse that and get the idea.
Did artscene come after the initial compilation of textfiles? Some of those files are the most interesting to me, coming from an art background.
Everything after www.textfiles.com came later, between 2 and 5 years later. The most recent is digitize.textfiles.com, which is scanned in ads and brochures. So it’s always growing.
Is there one thing that stands out regarding textfiles that you are most proud of?
I think it’s the best thing I ever did. It’s brought nothing but wonder for me.
What actor would play you in the movie of your life?
Do you think that your Wikipedia page speaks of you accurately and fairly?
Depends on the time of day, right?
A lot of it came from my own website. Some of it is incomplete, or inaccurate. Some is correct, and accurate. Whenever I get in the news about my wikipedia criticism, it gets modified a lot.
What do you do to stay sane and healthy?
Well, I try and eat right and read a lot. And make documentaries.
Did creating the BBS documentary take longer than you anticipated?
Yes, when I first started it, I thought it would be 2 years and it ended up being 4. So double my money. I wanted it to be 9 hours, and it was 5.5. But I thought it’d be 2 DVDs and it was 3.
Did it turn out how you hoped?
It came out even better than I’d hoped. When you work on something like this, you never know what’s coming out at the end, but this was a great final work, and it was all worth it.
How has it been received?
It’s done well, with thousands sold and many more downloaded. I paid off the costs of the film within its first month of release. But hey, buy more. www.bbsdocumentary.com.
The best things I’m doing differently with the next two is to film it in HD and be more focused with interviews. I’m less worried about being the one and only source on these subjects. With the BBS one, I was often that very thing.
As for how it ends up, why guess? I hope it’s good. It all depends on who I can get to sit down with me.
Why do you make documentaries?
I make documentaries because I feel like I’m doing amazing good talking to these people. It never gets old.
In your opinion, what is the best application/widget/program or helpful-bit-o-code to come out over the past year?
A program to make my HVX-200 High Definition video camera work with Sony Vegas (my favorite editing program) because the Sony people are too bull-headed to make their software work directly yet. So this other guy went out and created Raylight, which does this work. That’s great. It was worth the $200.
Do you miss TinyTIM?
I miss TinyTIM as it was up to about 1997. Very much so. I wouldn’t trade those first seven years for anything.
When you were 10, what did you want to do when you grew up?
What do you hate?
Little tiny kings ruling in little tiny kingdoms that they think you’re standing in.
What do you love?
Making a difference.
What are you thankful for?
I have had the same well-paying job for a decade, allowing me the freedom to do all the rest of these things.
What do you want to tell other bloggers, if anything?
If you’re not generating original content and just regurgitating other links, then machines are going to replace you.
Astounding facts about you:
Are you Windows or Mac? Why?
I’ve been windows and mac at various times, as well as Atari, Commodore, and Apple II. It’s whatever worked for me. Right now, I run Windows XP with a collection of UNIX boxes doing the heavy lifting downstairs. I work best with PCs.
Do you cook?
If scrambled eggs count, hell yeah.
What are you working on right now?
Your own favorite post or essay you have written or contributed to?
I was very very happy with the Creative Commons post as mentioned above, but I’m also amused how a recent one about a lonely childhood called “The Best and the Interesting” got some nice response from the world.
What will you being doing next year?
Still filming my two documentaries, doing talks, travelling.
Tell me a secret?
I lost one of my best friends over a stupid thing, but I’m not sorry.
What do you wish I had asked you that I didn’t?
What I was doing for dinner sometime.
Thanks, Jason! (and what are you doing for dinner sometime?)