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 06, 2007

More on Steve Gilliard from the Netslaves Archives

I was rummaging through an old, uncompleted draft of a "History of" document that's been languishing online since the Summer of 2003. You can read this document here but you'll probably find most of it boring (unless you're a true Netslaves freak).

I was chuckling about the section I wrote about Gilly. Here it is:


Steve Gilliard's arrival on the Netslaves List in January of 1999 portended a different brand of change for the site's stream of text. Robin Miller might have been the wise old uncle in the trailer, but Gilliard represented a new, hitherto unseen urban breed of tough-typing, take-no-shit tech journalists inspired by such editorial firebrands as Jimmy Breslin and Murray Kempton.

A Harlem denizen whose DIY ethos and low toleration for being lied to had already made him enemies on New York's influential World Wide Web Artists' Consortium Mailing List, Steve Gilliard would soon become's most prolific writer. He would also figure prominently in the most critical, traumatic moments the site would experience in the next few years - especially in 2002. The tone Gilliard set - the voice of a man who had seen it all and who plainly had had enough of it, would significantly influence the site's sharp-edged tone in its first year of operation. It would also frequently antagonize people who felt - rightly or wrongly - that he had a particular personal animus against them.

Here is a classic example of a Gilliard-ism directed toward Micheal Wolff - the author of 'Burn Rate' - that appeared on the List in January of 1999:

Well, I can discount the asshole factor as well. But, he's both wrong and an asshole. Around NY, his book, Burn Rate, is widely regarded as fiction. I don't know anyone who takes him seriously in NY. David Futrelle, Austin Bunn, and a number of people I've interviewed for an article on Wolff, have absolutely no respect for his opinions.

He's little better than John Scully. A failed manager selling his expertise.

Gilliard minced no words, suffered no fools, nor did he give an inch when challenged. While others were sleeping, or watching TV, or trying to forget about the scandal-ridden inequity of the New Economy, he was up. Often, like Miller, his responses to queries were borderline brusque one-liners that made your brain bristle with what certainly appeared to be arrogance. He painted a picture of himself as a guy you didn't want to cross - on a list such as [site], on a Web site, or presumably, on East 118th Street. If he didn't like what you had to say, he'd one-line it, and throw it back in your face - a brusqueness that some find hard to take. In person, offline, in public, it was another matter. Gentle, circumspect, more nuanced and more forgiving than any amount of text-parsing of his online toughness would ever indicate.

On the NS List, poised, at any hour of the day or night, to strike at anything that set off his bullshit alarm, Gilliard was fierce, hyperactive and dug deep enough to bring forward something from the vast data pit of the Web good to resonate with the peculiar space the community was in.

Gilliard was the best that Netslaves had - a tiger who wanted, more deeply than anybody the authors had so far encountered - to do journalism online - with a vengeance. He was also one of those people who seemed to never sleep (Baldwin, who had lived in East Harlem during the early 1990's, speculated that the reason that he was online so much was to escape from the streets, which rolled up at night in that part of the world, making any physical move into RL a potentially deadly experience).

There was a mystique about him that you couldn't really beat. When UrbanExpose's John Lee stepped from behind the shadows, Gilliard knew exactly who he was. He was relentless, omnipresent, like, as Lessard would describe him, 'an angry Burt Lancaster'.

Regardless of the cause underlying his restless, hyperactive online behavior, Gilliard's emergence brought with it a broadening of the site's content beyond the close world of the back-office into the far more frightening world of military history, sports issues, and sex - a subject that Gilliard was as willing to broach as Robin Miller. He had learned his online ettiquete late, from mailing lists, USENET, and on his own. The authors - older, steeped in outmoded, Compuserve and Prodigy-era administration rules - sometimes could not understand it. But they tolerated it, because Gilliard was, from the very beginning of the NS List, the mainspring of discussion. He was there - all the time - and he kept the posts flowing.

By March of 1999, discussions on the list had trashed (or at least violently deconstructed) Jeff Bezos, Joe Firmage, Candace Carpenter, Bill Gates, Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, and Michael Wolff. Popular conversational topics included worker discontent at, volunteer discontent at AOL, and Other, more peaceful threads discussed movies, music, and books. Polls included 'Are You a Slob?', 'Your Longest Day, 'Your Shortest Job', and 'The Worst Part of Your Day'.

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New York Times Obituary: Steve Gilliard

The New York Times posted an obituary for Steve Gilliard on its Web site; this notice also appeared in the Times' print edition. A few days ago, I suggested that the mainstream media would completely ignore Steve's passing; I am very glad that I was completely wrong about this.

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