So long,

We were so proud. It was through such a vale of tears that we, the engineering group at Six Apart, traveled to get to that wonderful point at which, the world’s niftiest hosted blogging service (prove to me it wasn’t), went live.

All those hours of mandatory overtime. All those foosball games and trips to the office coffeemaker. All that back-and-forth between the Perl dudes, the JavaScript kids, the CSS ladies, and the visual design goddesses. All those fake blog posts made on the testing server (weary of typing “lorem ipsum,” I resorted to scraping content from Hungarian Wikipedia pages, which provided nice long strings to test word-wrap in layouts). All, it seems now, for naught. will go offline on Sept. 30, 2010. It had been withering for years; I know my posts to my own Vox blog dropped off in frequency around 2008. When I did post, most of the comments I received were obvious spam, not filtered by the server (of all the great ideas we put into this product, why not something like Akismet?) What’s left of Vox now seems like one of those grotesque, abandoned amusement parks you’ll see in dystopian sci-fi movies: a brightly colored playground that somehow feels menacing. Are those zombies hiding behind the Ferris wheel?

Vox-er Patty Mitchell captures how this apparently necessary closing is more than releasing a domain name:

The loss is one of community and connection. That was the magic of Vox. The way this platform used to make it so easy to post with different privacy levels and to share our lives as we chose with friends, families and even…gasp!…strangers. The magic was in how trust was built and how sometimes those “strangers” became our real friends over the course of time and circumstances.

Why this? How could such an easy-to-use, attractive, AJAX-charged product not contend successfully with old-style clunkers like Blogspot and WordPress?

Chris Balz, one of Vox’s JavaScript maestros, has this insight:

Vox finds its home with the NPR set and similar demographics. Yet with a shrinking middle class, the audience for these types of ventures is smaller and not as spendy. So “social” went almost wholly to brief “status” messages and not to Vox’s social blogging.

In both Patty’s and Chris’s remarks are hints of what I think the real problem for Vox was. That problem was the rapid expansion of Facebook’s popularity outside its original niche user population of affluent college students. When we were building Vox, the refrain seemed to be, “let’s build a blogging service for grown-ups.” And–I don’t just believe, I know–we succeeded. For a time. For a rather short time…until the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers, the parents of Millennials all turned to Facebook, despite that service’s apparent disdain for such uncool olds.

I remember two phone conversations I had in August 2005. One was with an engineering manager desperate to hire a front-end dev. The product was unfamiliar but intriguing to me, and I already knew one of the engineers. Everything sounded great except the commute–it would’ve taken me two or even three hours’ travel each way. Sorry, no dice. So I was more enthusiastic about my second phone call, to a recruiter for a blogging software company. I wouldn’t know anybody there, and the product was not fully defined, but the commute was reasonable. I took that project.

Yes, the first conversation was with Facebook, and my second, with Six Apart, about Vox. I’ve asked myself, “What if…?” ever since.