An Apologia for Push
I’ve been on the Web for almost ten years now — almost as long as the Web has been around. When I think back to the early days, the days of Mosaic and Netscape 0.9 and frantic scrambles to figure out what the shape of this new tool would be, one thing that stands out clearly is the intellectual impact of a single publication on me and the people I worked with.
That publication was Wired Magazine.
In those days, Wired was a really amazing piece of work. They published a book early on whose title, “Mind Grenades”, aptly summed up its impact — each month the mag would hit you with a dozen new ideas. Some were good; most were bullshit; but it made you think about the shape of the coming world in a way that no other publication did. Eventually it burned out, of course, and today it’s just a catalog of geek toys, but for a while it was probably the most influential opinion-maker in America among the people who were making things happen on the Web.
Now, if you have to come up with that many ideas every month, the odds are that some of them are going to be colossally bad; and that was certainly true with Wired. One story in particular stood out for me as an example of this. In March 1997, Wired gave over practically the entire magazine to a piece entitled “Push! The Radical Future of Media Beyond the Web“. The premise of the article was that the Web was about to disappear, killed off forever by new products that would stream information directly to your desktop. According to the article, this would launch a technological media revolution that would make the Web explosion look like small potatoes. The article was almost strident in its insistence — here comes Push! Get used to it, dammit!
The thing is — I remember reading that article, back in March of 1997, and saying out loud “This is bullshit!” when I finished it. It just didn’t make any sense. The potential of the Web had barely been tapped, and these guys are pushing it into its grave for a technology that nobody was even selling yet? It didn’t make sense to me.
As it turned out, I was right and Wired was wrong. “Push” technology turned out to be a bust — nobody wanted to give over their desktop to some random company so that they could spew advertising and infotainment at you. Push threw away everything good about the Web and replaced it with everything bad about TV. The only thing that Push ended up being notable for is how many venture capital dollars it managed to burn up before it mercifully died.
So now we’re six years on from that story, push is long gone and forgotten, and Wired has become a shadow of its former self. So why am I writing this? It’s because of something really remarkable: one of the authors of that “Push!” story, Gary Wolf, has written up on his blog how in his opinion that story — which, remember, he helped write — is “the worst story Wired ever published“. He goes into great detail on how Wired worked, back in those days, dissecting exactly how such smart people could come to believe and evangelize something that even a wet-behind-the-ears 22-year-old Web developer could tell was bullshit on wheels. It’s a fascinating look into the mindset of the people who, for better or worse, made Wired what it was.