An Ode to Themestream: Steemit's Long Forgotten Ancestor

Let's take a journey way back to the ancient internet, during the wild west of the late 90s, when AOL, Geocities, and Angelfire dominated the scene, Google was a mere fledgling of a search engine, and writing about your interests in hot pink Comic Sans alongside pixelated clip art of an animated wizard was perfectly respectable. Those were the days of the Great Dot-Com Bubble. Perfectly situated in this time was Themestream, a two year long experiment in the lucrative potential of blogging in an online community, existing between the years 1999 and 2001. Themestream is the forgotten predecessor of not only Steemit, but social media in general, the ultimate brainchild of that murky phase between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

2001 iMac G3 - source

Themestream was an incredible idea. Bloggers and amateur authors could submit their writing on any topic at all and find like-minded enthusiasts, develop a following of readers, comment on others' work, and earn a few dollars here and there on a pay-per-click basis. When I discovered Themestream, I was only 12 years old. In a way, it was my first job, and somehow, I was good at it. Actually, I'll dial that back--I was surprisingly good at it for my age. I was an unusually precocious middle schooler, and I had ample practice pouring out my deepest thoughts into my diaries. When I received the first paycheck I had ever earned for something along the lines of $50, I was absolutely elated. (My parents, on the other hand, were extremely confused about the origins of this magical internet money that appeared in the mail.) I immediately rode my Razor scooter over to the nearest Clothestime and gleefully bought myself some blue pleather pants and a sparkly peace sign shirt, which I proceeded to wear as often as I could get away with it.

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Cache of the Themestream homepage, courtesy of the Wayback Machine

I wish desperately that I could share what were undoubtedly the embarrassing, typo-riddled rants of a preteen. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to save my writing. I recall that I quickly discovered that the most lucrative posts were about Themestream itself, so my original offering of recipes and book reviews quickly gave way to self-referential commentary. I partially credit Themestream with teaching me how to write, expediting the process by exposing me to the brutal judgment of strangers across the world, for better or worse. I can remember one time retorting to a particularly harsh critic in my comments: "but I'm a GENIOUS!" It didn’t go over well.

Ultimately, Themestream was the perfect victim of the Internet Bubble and subsequent market crash. Themestream gave its authors 24 hours to back up their work when it ran out of its quickly exhausted capital, alongside many other long forgotten tech startups of the late 90s. It was only a year after Themestream went dark that Friendster definitively kicked off the age of online social networking in 2002.

Themestream was formative for me both as a writer and as a human, and in a way, my newfound interest in Steemit is a direct reflection of that nostalgia. 17 years later, I remember that familiar emotional mixture of anxiety, accomplishment, and a genuine love of writing.

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