Leslie Harpold, one of the early Internet colonists I encountered on alt.society.generation-x and its spinoffs, died this past weekend of natural but sudden causes. Most of you kids probably don’t remember what life was like back in the early Clinton Administration, when Al Gore and that guy at CERN were personally dragging the Web out of the Pleistocene of the Arpanet and Gopher. The standard webpage was stone grey with faux-incised division lines and a yellow “Under Construction” sign. Netscape was the browser of choice and Alta Vista was the search engine of choice. People were still arguing about whether it would be right to use the Internet for commerce, and if so how. Spam was a highly uncool food product, often mentioned in the same breath with marshmallow Jell-O molds.
At some point in those years John Scalzi said he was going to start an online diary, and people scoffed. How could anyone come up with stuff of general interest to write about every day? Around the same time Leslie started her first webzine, Smug, and some of us were skeptical about that too. I think it’s fair to say that Leslie (and John) had the last laugh, and kept on innovating.
I never met her, and I wasn’t in the center of the target market (a favorite eyeroll phrase at asg-x) for Smug, but I dearly loved Leslie’s posts and her Compulsion column. Almost ten years later, I am still looking for Ren Dan just because of the way she wrote about it. Many people have posted tributes to her and I hope a lot of that love reached her while she was alive.