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Philip Greenspun: how the web has changed writing

May 30, 2009

philip greenspun WordCamp SF May 2009Back in the old days, there were 200 page books, 20 page stories, 10,000-20,000 word magazine articles, and news.

With the web, anyone can publish anything of any size. We can publish anything we want, how we want it. On the web, it’s all possible. But blogs are even more flexible than websites.

A blog post can be one word, one image, one sentence, one paragraph, one page. It can be on anything, not just what an editor or a publisher thinks they can make money off of.

Even more flexible: discussion. Writing in the margins of a traditionally published text like a book is one-sided. But with a blog, you get to interact, dialogue, communicate not only with the author but with other readers.

He illustrated his talk with images and jokes which some people found offensive; he responded by saying he thought he was being funny. Hmmn.

Philip Greenspun: fossil of the early internet age

Philip Greenspun Philip Greenspun has been in and around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1979. He alternates between teaching traditional electrical engineering classes and teaching “Software Engineering for Web Applications” (6.171), a course that he co-developed with Hal Abelson. This has been a successful course at MIT and is being used by computer science departments at 20 other universities around the world. Greenspun is the author of two textbooks used at MIT, including Internet Application Workbook (available here).

Greenspun holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. He has flown light single-engine aircraft to every corner of the North American continent. Greenspun teaches helicopter and airplane instrument flying at Hanscom Field near Boston.

In the mid-1990s, Greenspun founded the Scalable Systems for Online Communities research group at MIT and spun it out into ArsDigita, which he grew into a profitable $20 million (revenue) open-source enterprise software company. The software is best known for its support of public online communities, such as and, which started as Philip Greenspun’s home page and grew to serve 500,000 users educating each other to become better photographers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2009 11:53 pm

    I think it’s important to note that all those things “200 page books, 20 page stories, magazine articles, and news.” still exist. And will always exist. The internet, as you have pointed out, has increased the opportunities.

  2. May 31, 2009 8:58 pm

    Yes they do still exist and always will, I agree. I love books. I don’t see myself falling in love with a kindle like I do books. Speaking of books I love, your book the Puzzle Box is getting quite well traveled! It’s up here in SF with me right now taking in the sights! And last weekend it was enjoying the views of Mt Whitney in the Sierra Nevada!


  1. WordCamp San Francisco 2009 Rocks the WordPress Community | The Blog Herald

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