Chapter 38: Version 2.0

Utterances, a Litkicks message board screenshot

(This is chapter 38 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)

Every once in a while you get a new boss you just know you’re not going to get along with. This happened to me in late 2000 after a series of layoffs and restructurings at

We’d once nearly tipped 300 employees, and now we were 175 and shrinking fast. Our layoff days tended to coincide with the holiday seasons in 2000: there was the pre-July 4th layoff, the pre-Labor Day layoff, then the pre-Columbus Day layoff (and we didn’t even get Columbus Day off!), then the pre-Thanksgiving layoff (get out of here, turkey).

Every layoff was accompanied by a management shuffle, and after the pre-Thanksgiving massacre I found myself with a new boss named Stella Rotelli. Now, I actually liked Stella. She was a tad bit bossy, but she was certainly smart, had no trouble at all being decisive, and always said what she thought.

The problem was, Stella didn’t like me. And, like I said, she always said what she thought, so I had little trouble figuring this out. This was a problem, especially since she was now my boss and had the right to fire me anytime.

Why didn’t Stella like me? I really don’t know, but I think it had something to do with my laid-back manner, my sometimes overly existential way of answering questions, and possibly an independent streak that she knew wouldn’t fit in well with her parade. Well, I can handle it when people don’t like me. It’s their right, after all. But she was my boss, and I didn’t want to get laid off. And Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa were all heading our way.

And so, my fifteen-month adventure on the “product” side of the Internet industry ended. I went running back to Rich Caccappolo, who’d been my boss in the technology department fifteen months ago, and asked if I could rejoin his team. We agreed to change my title from Director of Community Services to Director of Community Technology (though I wouldn’t actually be directing anybody). I saw to it that the paperwork was quickly put through. Now I was free from the wrath of Stella Rotelli (though I still had to work with her as my end-user, and honestly she wasn’t that bad. Sometimes I actually like the people who dislike me).

But I felt sheepish joining Evan and Jim and Mike and Mozam and John and Joe and Fadi back in the tech catacombs of our new building. They looked at me like “you back again?”. Well, yeah, when a company is running mass layoffs on a monthly basis, a techie’d better find some real work to do.

So there I was, back in the nerd cubicles with the Rubik’s Cubes and the History of Unix posters. The offices looked the same, though we had actually moved to a smaller, more nondescript building in the Fashion District on 37th Street and 7th Ave. Candice Carpenter would have never agreed to such mundane office space (and maybe that was why they had to fire her).

It felt strange to be coding again, but I was excited to discover that the software development field had gone through some big changes during my fifteen-month journey on the Other Side. The biggest change was the programming language. When I left tech in 1999, web applications were still mostly written in Perl or TCL with C++ back ends. Now, suddenly, it was all Java. I was excited about this because I’d known Java was the ideal language since it was introduced in 1995, and I had been waiting for it to catch on. Suddenly, apparently, everybody was now coding pages in JSP, using the HTTPServlet specification, and communicating via XML (yes!) with Java back-end services.

This was a poignant realization for me, because I’d been writing C++ programs since 1988, and I was sure going to miss pointers to pointers and .hpp files. But I was also happy, because Java was a better and more logical language in every way, and I was bored with C++ and loved having a new object-oriented computer language to learn.

I was assigned to build a message board platform for our British subsidiary, IVillage UK. This was based on an open-source message board system called Jive, which Jim Berrettini had found on Apache Jakarta and heard was pretty good. I was asked to get a first prototype working, and once this passed inspection we got the go-ahead to launch some actual boards on iVillage UK. If this proved successful, we would then replace our clunky Perl-based Hypernews main message boards with Jive.

I fell back into the coding routine very happily. After a year and three months working every day with Family Point and Michael Rose and Alison Abraham and Stella Rotelli, getting my hands dirty with Java felt just wonderful, like a balm.

I also had a sneaky motivation for working so hard on the Jive message boards. As I put together the iVillage UK installation, I was going home every night and installing the same software on a new dev server I’d just built for Literary Kicks. My plan to turn LitKicks into a message board-based community site was moving forward fast.

The iVillage UK project was easy because I was building from scratch, but as I made progress on the new Literary Kicks platform I realized I was going to have to port the entire site, and five years of archived content, to Java/Jive. I wanted to keep running articles along with message boards, so I would have to find a way to turn Jive into a full-fledged content management platform. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Well, what the hell, I didn’t have a date for New Years Eve anyway.

We launched the iVillage UK boards system and it was a success. Meanwhile, in early January I had the new Literary Kicks message boards ready to go on a private dev server, but I wasn’t sure whether to flick the switch or not. Then one day while I was at work my friend Laki emailed me: Beat poet Gregory Corso, a favorite of mine, had died.

I couldn’t think of much to do about this except announce it on LitKicks — and I announced it with a message board, “For Gregory Corso”.

The software held up, and people seemed to figure out what to do. Yeah, these boards seemed like they would work.

After I tweaked the software on the Gregory Corso tribute a bit, I began trying out other ideas for boards. LitKicks 2.0 didn’t get many visits at first, since the site had been static for nearly a year. But folks eventually started rolling back in, and good conversations began to flow. I experimented with a variety of board names and taglines, and stuck with the ones that worked best: a free-for-all general board with the Joycean title “Utterances”, a “What Are You Reading?” running thread, a more serious-minded literary topics board called “Writers and Genres”.

Somebody suggested that I create some creative writing boards, and I thought this was a pretty good idea (remarkably, I never thought of the idea myself). I’d just read a biography of painter Jackson Pollock, and this inspired me to call the main poetry board “Action Poetry”. I also created some other writing boards like “Roadgoing” and “Stories”. “Action Poetry” was always my favorite, though (and is, today, the only part of the old LitKicks 2.0 message board platform that remains in place).

I met many LitKicks readers in the first few months of the boards that I would never have met otherwise. Some of the earliest to show up were “judih”, “billectric”, “jota”, “sooZen”, “mtmynd”, “doreen peri”, “Lightning Rod”, “panta rhei” and “Scootertrash”. New folks were joining the party every day.

I had no idea where I would take this thing next, or what it was good for. I guessed we’d figure it out eventually, and we were having fun.

13 Responses

  1. This is about the time that I
    This is about the time that I found Litkicks, if my memory serves me correctly. Maybe a little earlier.

    Wow, I loved those boards. I miss them to this day!

  2. And, unfortunately, when I
    And, unfortunately, when I click on a poem on the Action Poetry page, I get the dreaded ‘Page cannot be found’ message. For some reason beyond me, it doesn’t come up on my work computer. Somehow they block it.

    So I can’t even get my fix of Action Poetry anymore!

  3. That’s weird, Steve — try a
    That’s weird, Steve — try a different browser? Or else, try it away from your office network. It’s some fairly simply AJAX software that should work on any computer.

  4. A slew of amazing writings
    A slew of amazing writings during the heyday that turned many a contributor into still highly energized writers to this day, spread out like organic peanut butter over the whole wheat world of literature and beyond.

    Thanks for the flashback!

  5. the litkicks boards have
    the litkicks boards have changed my writing life. and they have made the internet come alive for me.

    and! i am still thankful that they have given me a chance to meet so many amazingly and inspiringly creative minds.

    what a great inspiration this time was…

    hey! did i say thanks already, levi?
    if i didn’t, i am saying it now: thank you!

  6. Levi, thanks for the tip.
    Levi, thanks for the tip. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it before – duh.

    Anyway, I downloaded Firefox and can see everything fine. Is IE that bad of a product in comparison? I had no idea!

  7. oh, how that writing
    oh, how that writing adrenaline flowed in the action poetry days. it used to be a rush to respond within seconds of someone else’s response.

    Out of all that creative juice, came a punch that lasted for years.

    those who were there, remember.

    And nothing replicates that amazing ‘dot’ look that you created for us, levi. oh it was live art, visual dopamine.

  8. Whenever I go to Action
    Whenever I go to Action Poetry, I have to click on “refresh” to make the poems come up. It took me a while to think of trying that.

    The LitKicks message boards were life-changing for me. I don’t even know where to begin. I’m going to think about it a while and come back.

  9. Levi, how long did it take
    Levi, how long did it take you to choose the above picture of the message board? Because it’s a really good example – has a bit of everything on it.

    Shortly after buying my first computer, I stumbled onto Literary Kicks by typing “Jack Kerouac” in the search engine. I remember the tribute to Corso and the Beat News, but I really got caught up in those message boards! They came at just the right time in my life when I wanted to get back into writing but didn’t know where to start.

    I remember one night thinking that LitKicks was like a big neon mansion or Beat hotel with many rooms, and I could run around from one room to the next, a different crowd in each room, discussing something or speaking poetry like (yeah, I might have been on something at the time, I’m not saying).

    Sometimes I went overboard. One night, and I really should try to find this in the archives, me and two or three other people decided to “invade” another board. These were people I had never met, who lived in other parts of the country, but we were all in the same place on Litkicks. We were on Utterances, I think, and I said hey, let’s all pop in to another board real fast and look around and then meet back here!” and somebody else said, “I’m in!” and someone suggested a room (message board) that was not usually very crowded. I don’t remember which one. So we all clicked on that board, our names appeared in there, and I don’t remember exactly what we said, but we were like, “Hey everybody! We just popped in from Utterances!” and after a few minutes we went back to Utterances. That might all sound kind of silly now, but it felt fantastic the time.

    Litkicks was laid-back and natural enough to not be intimidating to new writers, but professional enough to encourage growth in writing and social ettiquette (most of the time).

    One of the things that drew me to Litkicks was/is that most people here recognize the validity all kinds of literature and writers, even weird, offbeat, or counterculture writers like Diane Di Prima, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson. So if I’m weird or different, even if you are not weird, I know you’ll accept me because you obviously accept these other writers.

    p.s. I finally noticed my URL link was broken so I fixed it a few minutes ago.

  10. This is fascinating. I was
    This is fascinating. I was oblivious to all this at the time, as were probably 90% of people. I do remember my cousin Wendy published a book that was a Visual C++ 6 Database Programming Tutorial and a techie at the university where I was a legal studies prof I knew said around the time said, oh, everything is Java now. I do recall following iVillage stories in the business section of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and my impression was that it, like a lot of other sites, was floundering. It never occurred to me to actually look at iVillage ever. Basically I think I was, like a lot of people, mostly on AOL.

    I like your characterization of your last boss on the non-techie side. I wonder if any of your former bosses name-check themselves and have see your memoir.

    Nice going.

  11. Fired ? Candice Carpenter ? I
    Fired ? Candice Carpenter ? I thought she was the HFIC ?
    Anyway… Enter um… dunno when my first post was but i do remember what it was, I asked “If anyone had read ‘howl’ lately ?” and some cat named brooklyn replied ‘I read it everyday’ (paraphrased you)(hey I had no idea who this brooklyn guy was I was just happy to get some kinda reply). I had been linked there via BN University. I had taken a free online beat class and litkicks was a link for further reading. AHH.. those were the glory days of interaction…Utterances and Action Poetry. Granted not pulitzer on my part by any means but about as much fun as you can have on this thing. Those who participated knew it, as you can read above. One of the best uses and pieces of software on the internet. Thanks for making it possible.

  12. Mike, once a company
    Mike, once a company completes its IPO it belongs to the stockholders, and even the chief executives can be removed.

    Nice to hear the memories of the old LitKicks boards …

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!