Monday, February 06, 2012

Here's to 1000 more years!

I've been using the moniker RealGrouchy online since at least 2003, and I didn't get the gmail account until 2005, but I consider the real RealGrouchy epoch to be when I started contributing to the interweboscape. This would be when I started contributing on Wikipedia, and that first contribution was on February 6, 2004, exactly eight years ago.

Eight years is scary. XKCD comic 647 scary:

Back then, Wikipedia only had a quarter million articles in English, whereas now it's approaching four million.

I first learned about Wikipedia from an article in the Ottawa Citizen the day before. The article talks about how user-generated content engenders community, and other fine stuff that made me think "wow, this is cool! I want to do this!"

I distinctly remember reading a similar article in the Citizen's Technology section a few months later that inspired me to start blogging, though I can't find it. I remember it talking about the "local blogging community", and I remember trying to find this "local blogging community". In what looks mighty foolish in retrospect, I did this by looking for other Blogger accounts that mentioned "Ottawa" in their location in the profile, and following their blogs. There was nothing particularly interesting.

I'd been writing Letters to the Editor in the Citizen for a few years, but over time the number of things printed in the paper that I wanted to write in and bitch about grew to a point where I knew most of them wouldn't be printed in order to leave space for others. Still wanting to share these opinions, I started my blog intending to publish my objections there instead.

I don't think that worked so well, because the first few years of my blog posts were mostly about how little I was doing. Some were specifically empty, because I didn't realize at the time that you could back-date posts (or maybe you couldn't yet... I remember tagging didn't come along for another couple of years) and I wanted to have a few entries I could write over for more reference-style posts (which I never bothered to do, and now "pages" lets you do that, which I haven't used either).

I know it sounds ironic, a person with the handle RealGrouchy going out in search of community, but there are rationalizations that I'll leave you to hypothesize. I'd picked the name some time prior as a handle for some online game, since RealGrouchy was one that was easily available (who would ever want to call themselves that!?).

Through it all, I have written primarily for myself, in what I can imagine is sometimes agonizing detail for my readers (but details I nevertheless want to record for my own reference). When I have written for others, it is primarily so they can see how wonderfully awesome I am. I have also written about other year-increment milestones, such as my McDonald's Fiveniversary (still going strong), and my annual holiday posts on topics like Earth Hour and National Grouch Day.

I've gotten a lot more busy in meatspace, doing things that I prefer to keep separate from here. But around me has grown a local blogging community, and some weeks I write more in the comments of others' blogs than I do in posts on my own. The persona of RealGrouchy grew, largely in the few years I spent on the XKCD forums, starting as user number 48 on the forums, becoming a moderator, and gaining celebrity—and, following my retirement, legendary—status on a site that has had nearly 300,000 user registrations.

But the more things change, the more things stay the same: I don't write so much about local issues as I'd originally planned, and instead write about stuff I've done or made with little reference to the outside world. I do still bitch about stuff, though I've developed a more subtle way of doing it. Not to mention more socially productive ways. I've also thought up many large projects that I never finished, and some I never even started.

I'm proud that I did all this—with a couple rare exceptions that I try not to acknowledge—anonymously. I wanted to link to a blog post picking apart Ken Gray's assault on anonymous bloggers, but I see that I never finished and published it. The gist of it is that he's a bigger coward despite using his real name than I am because I use a pseudonym. I've accomplished all this, made friends (many of whom I've subsequently met), been appointed to positions of power, and earned respect for my opinions, all without most of those people knowing what my name is. They know who I am, insofar as I present myself as RealGrouchy, and the identity of RealGrouchy is as strong as if I'd used my own name (and perhaps even stronger).

I knew from the start that I wanted to be anonymous. I didn't have any particular reason to do so at the time, but I knew that if a good reason were to come along, I'd be unable to put the cat back in the bag. However, it has worked well. It is great at making you think twice before putting something in writing, because you have to think about whether a particular detail will give you away, or if you'll be unable to say something with your real name after you say it with the pseudonym. The challenge of walking this line can be fun.

At the same time that writing under a pseudonym helps with restraint, it is also liberating, because I can say things that would be out of character for me, but are entirely in character for RealGrouchy. There are plenty of people who know RealGrouchy and have met the man behind him (and I thank them for keeping them separate). But for others, when you write as "RealGrouchy," they expect you to sound angry, and don't react as harshly when you are. After enough correspondence that people get to know RealGrouchy, it's nice to hear people say "you're not all that grouchy after all," because generally, mentally healthy people aren't all that grouchy.

So there you have it. Eight years of RealGrouchy. Here's to the next binary millenium!

- RG>