Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

June 03, 2007

Remembering Steve Gilliard (1964-2007), a "Web Writer and Damn' Proud of It"

Steve Gilliard, 1996-2007
Steve Gilliard at the Netslaves 2.0 launch party, February 2003. Photo by Teri Baldwin.

The mainstream world of media has never taken Bloggers seriously, and I very much doubt that they'll take the news of the death of Steve Gilliard, at the very young age of 41, as anything more than a transitory blip on their antiquated radar screens.

I had a chance to work closely with Steve for several years back in the late 1990s and early 00s. Myself and Bill Lessard had hatched an unlikely plan for a Web property called At the beginning we wrote all the content ourselves, but began opening up the doors to our readers, and then, to voices that we believed echoed our main concerns at the time, which can be summed up in the statement "something's rotten in Silicon Alley." This kind of statement was heresy in 1998: everybody was getting rich and the "Long Boom" future seemed infinite.

Steve was the first writer to come forward as a regular contributor to Netslaves. He wrote for the site brilliantly and prolifically from 1998 until 2003, when the site closed. His heroes were Edward R. Murrow, Jimmy Breslin, and George Patton. His prose was terse, direct, and in-your-face. He was an iconoclast who did not suffer fools lightly. His words brimmed with fire and anger: he, perhaps better than any of us, could see where the maniacal boom was heading, and he had zero tolerance for bullshit or evasion.

Steve was also an amazing financial analyst, and his series, "How to Read a 10Q," was one of the most popular regular features on Every week or so during the height of the shake-out, Steve would perform a forensic autopsy on a particularly benighted dot-com, and the results were both horrifying and hilarious (sadly, this material did not survive Netslaves' transition to a BBS in 2003). He could have become rich by proferring such insights to paying customers, but he chose to give them away to the world. I tried to push Steve into writing a book based on the "How to Read a 10Q" series, and he liked the idea, but there just weren't enough resources to push this idea through, although I'll go to my grave believing that such a book would have been a success.

As morphed from an e-zine to a bulletin board, Steve's role changed. He continued to write for the site, but also became frequently embroiled in flames between members, especially those between two pseudonymous characters named "Uncle Meat" and "Cheopys" who had recently defected from Phil Kaplan's In the Spring of 2003, I went to Rochester for a week and left Steve in charge of the Netslaves boards, and while I was away things spun out of control. Although I can't remember what the issue was, Steve ran out of patience with both Cheopys and Uncle Meat and banned them both from the site, as well as a group of their sympathizers.

I was very angry at Steve for what I believed to be the rash action he took against these two prominent Netslaves community members, and argued vainly with my business partner, Bill, that his actions should be reversed, but Bill sided with Steve, and so the site basically imploded. The investment of many thousands of hours, dollars, and dreams of building a lasting presence on the Web went up in smoke. Within six months, I was living on a $3 a day starvation diet and emptying dumpsters to keep alive, and Bill was waiting tables at a catering hall. It took both of us years to get back into the Web business, and I know that I blamed Steve for being the cause of's self-destruction for a long time. (For those interested in the sickening blow-by-blow of's demise, read Forgotten Web Celebrities: Netslaves' Steve Baldwin and Bill Lessard).

In retrospect, it's easy to see that it wasn't Steve's fault. Management (myself and Bill) should have just let Steve do what he did best: write, investigate, and think, and left the moderation to others. But Steve did enjoy "mixing it up on the boards," and was a hell of a flame warrior who could "dish it out and take it." It's sad that his best discussions didn't survive the site migration. I know they live on a hard drive somewhere and perhaps they'll reemerge someday. In the meantime, there's a lot of Steve that lives on at The Netslaves Museum and I encourage you to take a look at some of his classic articles about worklife in the New Economy.

In a way, I'm glad that's implosion happened when it did. After the events of 9/11/2001, it had been impossible to keep the site on target. The entire "New Economy," at least in New York, had been destroyed, everybody was out of work, and consequently there was less and less for Netslaves to talk about. Steve also wanted to write about global issues and Netslaves was too narrowly focused on workplace and tech issues for him to spread his wings and really fly. But fly he did, first to the DailyKos, and then to his own news Blog, which became very popular. At last, Steve was where he belonged: in the upper reaches of the Blogosphere, where he could confront evils far greater than those offered by Silicon Alley.

We didn't talk or e-mail each other much in the past few years, but I continued to read Steve, following his rise from obscurity to new-found influence in the burgeoning liberal Blogosphere. I always found his work exciting, provocative, and on the mark.

Steve really soared in his incarnation as a "Fighting Liberal Blogger," and I'd like to think that Netslaves served as a kind of Blogging Farm Team that had a hand in conditioning his raw talent and eventually producing a legendary home-run hitter. I'm only sorry we weren't able to pay him as much as he deserved, but Bill and myself (who worked on Netslaves without a salary) rarely had a spare nickle to spend on anything, and I'm glad that we did pay him whatever we could whenever there was money in the till. I am very glad that this latter work received much more exposure among his peers -- the new generation of Bloggers that have risen as a major alternative media force.

Steve and I didn't always agree with each other. In fact, Steve was often a royal pain in my ass. As the editor of the site, I found it maddening that Steve refused to use spell-checking software, and I used to grind my teeth when he went "off topic" or "off message" or took a position that I considered to be extreme. And my jaw repeatedly dropped when Steve introduced himself at conferences or in his bio as "The Editor of" What was I, a potted plant?

So Steve and I had our "issues" but that's always the case when you work with real talent. Steve was a rare, independent mind with a fierce, uncompromising soul, and that's why we hired him. If we had wanted pap or tripe, we'd have hired somebody else. He had heart, soul, brains, and the kind of drive you rarely find in a writer today. I will always remember him fondly. In 2000 and 2001, Steve became's most powerful, articulate voice, and I'm glad to say that much of thie early, formative work is preserved at the Netslaves Archive.

I am proud to have known Steve and his companion and co-author Jen during their formative years as Web voices. I hope that the rest of the Blogging community, even those who are not Left-wing, appreciates his contribution to the Web. He was a pioneer, a truth-teller, and in person, a very nice guy. Steve inspired me in my own work and I know that he inspired others, and this energy will not be lost, but will continue to flow through all of our connected synapses and joined hearts. He was "a Web Writer and Damned proud of it," and to me and a lot of people like me, this epitaph means something.

Rest in peace, my fellow teammate, Web Writer, and brother Steve.


Surviving Steve Gilliard Articles at the Netslaves Museum
I wish I could share with you all the great articles Steve Gilliard wrote for Netslaves, but many of them were lost when the site migrated to a BBS format in early 2002. Fortunately, I was able to save many of Steve's early works, and this list comprises his contributions from June of 2000 to February of 2001. These articles are arranged chronologically, because Steve often wrote multi-part articles. These articles capture Steve in fine form, and highlight an aspect of his character that many may have missed from his postings on DailyKos and elsewhere: the fact that he had pretty good "geek" credentials (check out his story on building his own PC from scratch), and that he had a softer, introspective side (Winter Wonderland). He also had an absolutely wicked sense of humor, which came into play whenever he confronted and skewered the many clueless miscreants of Web 1.0.

These articles come in three groups: those articles written for The Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve's "Between the Lies" column, and articles once the site gradated to an automated posting system that also allowed comments. They show the evolution of Steve's writing, and provide a hint of the greater glories to come when he left and staked his claim in the larger Blogosphere.

Steve Gilliard-authored articles written for "The Netslaves Combat Manual."

These are the earliest articles Steve wrote for the site, and they were contributed before the site allowed for commenting.

Steve Gilliard's "Between the Lies" Series Written for

After adding much to the Netslaves Combat Manual, Steve was given his own regular column, which he called "Between the Lies."

Steve's Articles for Netslaves' "General Topic" section, March 2000 - February 2001
These articles include comments from Netslaves users.

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