Hung Truong: The Blog!

Extremely Online: a Book Review and a Retrospective on My Blog!

December 27, 2023 | 7 Minute Read

Was this book written for me?

I recently found out about a book called: “Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet” by Taylor Lorenz. As someone who self identifies as extemely online, I needed to see what this book was about. It ended up catapulting me on a journey through my own blog and online history.

It All Began With The “Blog”

As someone who grew up with technology, I feel like an expert, but also an old man. I started blogging in 2002, which is basically internet pre-history. As an elder Millenial I don’t really “get” TikTok, but I do pretend to know the latest slang, no cap.

The book starts with the blogging revolution as the first major technology that put power into users’ hands and away from traditional media.

As an aside, I had a webpage as early as 1994 or 1995, when Geocities came out. I somehow remember that my url was “/Hollywood/Hills/7923” (this was literally 30 years ago) and as it turns out, it was archived by!! (I actually have a backup on my computer so I wouldn’t have lost it either way)

You can follow the link to my old website if you want but this is the best part.

I’d argue that Geocities really started this trend, while blogging software made it even more accessible to the average person. Because if I as a 6th grader could do it, I’m pretty sure anyone else could have.

Lorenz goes quickly through the rise of blogging, pointing out that blogs were beating newspapers in the speed and depth of their reporting. Who wanted to wait for the paper to be delivered (!) to their doorstep to know what happened the previous day? As blogs showed their superiority to traditional media, people started latching onto it. And as bloggers gained more and more credibility, their potential to earn a living became greater, through display ads, affiliate marketing, and influencer marketing.

The first section of the book was particularly nostalgic for me, as I remember the hype for blogs reaching a high point, and their subsequent fall from relevance. At the height of blog-mania, there were even news stories about how dangerous blogging had become. I recall that around 2006, I dreamed of creating a blog empire and getting rich from the traffic. That obviously didn’t happen, but I didn’t do too badly either.

Then Social Media Came

Of course, practically no one actually blogs anymore. I’m pretty sure you get a free blog when you sign up for AARP membership. Social media came and created stronger links between individuals than a blogroll ever could.

It was through social media that a random kid in suburban Florida could become a tastemaker. While I only ever wanted to use Facebook for keeping in touch with my friends, I do remember using my Twitter account to expand my reach among the technorati. Or at least trying. The closest I got was hobnobbing with celebs at SXSW.

Here, Lorenz describes the proto-celebrities who were famous for being famous. People like Tila Tequila and Julia Allison (who I honestly never followed at the time) fit this bill long before Kim Kardashian did.

One of the most interesting things to me about the book was the recurring theme of a new technology slowly gaining mainstream acceptance, and with it, the ability to monetize. At first, bloggers merely got free stuff for making posts (which is as far as I ever got, though I did get a LOT of anime). Next, they would demand payment for promoting a particular product. After that, they might get a cut of sale through an affiliate link. None of these strategies were planned by the platforms that enabled them, but hey, people like making money.

This played out again and again, through platforms like Instagram, which was absolutely opposed to advertising for a very long time, to YouTube, to Tumblr, to TikTok and Snapchat.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed reading these stories as someone who has tried to make money online in a bunch of different ways. For example, I made my dog into an influencer and had quite a few sponsorship deals. See this ad for Keystone Light, or this one for some dog toy.

I was also thrust into the YouTube Partner Program after finding some viral success with my video about Trombone Champ. When I say I’m Extremely Online, I mean it!

But Not For Me

While the first half or so of the book really resonated with me, the back half was not as engaging. It documented a bunch of more recent “celebrities” who, as an oldie, I am just not familiar with. I have no interest in “internet tea” between one dumbass prank Youtuber and another, or a TikToker famous for inventing a dance.

I did, however, find it interesting that people started pushing back against the highly produced perfect Instagram content for highly produced (to look less produced) relatable Instagram content.

Also, I am fucking scared to death of going on TikTok. This might just be my oldness talking, but I suspect that in 5 years or so, we’re going to look back at all of the TikTok challenges and memes with the same kind of cringe that we do for “AWESOMESAUCE BBQ! EPIC FAIL!” language. Because cringe is timeless, and one day cringe will come for us all, even Gen Z.

As Grandpa Simpson famously put it:

I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary. It’ll happen to you!

Crap, I just realized that I seem even older now that I’m quoting a show that’s been on the air for… 34 YEARS!?

Back To My Blog

I will say, however, that this book really brought back my interest in the earlier days of the internet, and my blog. There was even a section where the author described an event where the minor internet celebrity, “Grumpy Cat,” made an appearance at SXSW. THE VERY SAME EVENT WHERE THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN:

R.I.P. Grumpy Cat, a.k.a. Tardar Sauce!

After reading about the timelines that I personally participated in, I had to take a stroll down memory lane though my blog. Yes, the very same one you’re reading.

After moving it for the Nth time, I didn’t really check the older posts for broken images or links. Since it’s a holiday break, and I don’t have anything better to do, I went through every single post, from 2002 to today, and fixed up all of the issues that I could.

I fixed formatting, weird image sizing and alignment issues, and went through every link to see if it had died. I replaced all of the dead links with links, if they were available. And I made sure that the link was timestamped to the closest date to the actual blog post, so you could get the best context possible for what I was thinking at the time.

As a side note, is amazing, and I’m definitely going to donate some money to it so it can keep doing its thing.

As I read my old blog posts, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the person I used to be. I started out super naive, and gradually became more and more mature. By which I mean my fart apps have been getting more and more complex.

Anyway, I might expand on this in a future post, as this one is getting long and I’m quickly getting away from the scope of this book review. This book has definitely reignited my interest in blogging, and generally sharing more of my experiences in writing. Now that Twitter (I mean X) is a true cesspool, I might retreat back to my true roots.

Overall, I liked this book. The beginning was great, but the second half didn’t really hold my interest. Even so, I’d recommend giving it a read if, like me, you are EXTREMELY ONLINE!