This month marks io9's golden fifth anniversary. On January 2, 2008, we launched this site with three full-time staff, a handful of freelancers, and a burning vision of what tomorrow would bring. Now, five years later, we're looking back at what we've accomplished — and hurtling forward on our continuing mission to explore the awesome weirdness of what life will be like in the future.
But for now, let's take the time machine back to a strange day over five years ago, when it all began . . .
What most people don't realize about io9 is that it existed for about six months before it actually launched. I had been a contributing editor at Wired for a couple of years, and was writing for a now-defunct blog called Table of Malcontents, when I got an odd e-mail from a guy called Lockhart Steele asking me to go out for coffee and talk. He was the managing editor at Gawker Media, and I have to admit I may have smoked a joint before I met up with him at a Mission-area cafe in San Francisco. But as soon as we started to discuss the possibility of creating a smart, high-quality blog about science fiction and the future, I snapped out of my haze. It sounded, frankly, too good to be true.
But it was also too good to pass up. I wrote a detailed plan for what such a blog would be like, imagining it as a version of the influential 1970s and 80s magazine OMNI. That magazine, which lit my imagination on fire, was always a blend of speculative science and science fiction. Within a few weeks, I was talking to Gawker Media president Nick Denton on IM, who really wanted to know what I thought of Battlestar Galactica. He and I agreed that it was uneven but still awesome. It was quite simply a good show — with or without its scifi trappings. It made people think about the future in a new way. We both wanted this potential futurism blog to do what BSG had done, which is break out of the science fiction ghetto and into the mainstream.
And so I got hired at Gawker in May 2007, and my job was to create a blog out of nothing. I started testing writers out on a private site I created in like ten minutes using blogspot. Nick wanted to call the blog Futurista, but that domain name was taken by some European domain name squatter. We went through literally hundreds of domain names trying to find something available and intriguing — everything from Chrononaut to Entropist to (at one low point) Futuretron.
Pictured: Charlie Jane Anders, Annalee Newitz, Graeme McMillan, and Kevin Kelly, circa 2008.
Meanwhile, I had hired Charlie Jane Anders, an entertainment writer named Kevin Kelly (no, not the one from Wired), and freelancer Graeme McMillan, and we were blogging full time on a test blog that nobody could see — except Lockhart's successor Noah Robischon, and Nick. And a few people in Budapest. We were writing our hearts out, with no audience, and we were in danger of being called Futuretron. Those were dark times. I really wasn't sure if we'd ever launch. But then my friend Gordon (also known to some as Fyodor, the author of network analysis tool nmap) mentioned that he'd been domain name speculating. He had a ton of domains, and I asked if any sounded science fictional. He offered us something like Dragonthunder.com, but also mentioned that he had io9.com, which sounded weird and also had the virtue of being short. Gawker Media bought it. Thus io9.com went from being a porn-ridden spam domain to our new home.
We had hundreds of posts of back content when we launched, because we had been writing constantly for nobody for three months. One thing I'd insisted on right from the beginning was that we have science stories as well as culture and futurism. Nick was dubious, but he came around. And now our science coverage is absolutely crucial to what we do. We want to present you with a clear vision of what tomorrow could bring, and that includes reporting on real science, as well as analyzing science fiction and futurism.
Look! There's our old logo, created by the amazing Eliza Gauger.
io9 announced its launch with a time-honored science fiction tradition: We retconned our name. In a post called "What is an io9?" I wrote:
io9s were marketed as cheap time machines in the 2070s. They were actually just low-grade input/output devices for the brain that tuned tachyon waves and gave users vivid images of possible futures. The things were so addictive, and drove so many people insane, that io9s were eventually outlawed. Today the word is just slang. io9ers are the early implanters who obsessively upgrade themselves with beta tech. People who tweak out on buggy brainware are sometimes said to have "gone io9." Science fiction writer Ken MacLeod has another term for io9ers. He calls them rapture fuckers.
Later, this idea was retconned further when the writers of Dollhouse threw in a reference to an io9 technology that was part of the brain-computer interface used on that show. Nice.
In the years since 2008, we've grown to a staff of eight (not including all our freelancers), have broken news and occasionally broken the internet, and have survived to see a bright future full of giant squid and space robots. Our monthly audience has bloomed from about three readers, to 5.2 million readers all over the world. We're planning to keep going, and we want you to come along with us.
io9's goal is to help you get ready for what's coming in the next ten years, or the next ten thousand. We are optimists sometimes, and dystopians sometimes, but we have one fervent belief: Humanity will continue to blast or muddle its way through to a better tomorrow, and you'd better be prepared for it. Whether that means watching movies that offer smart insights into future societies, reading books that explore alternate worlds, or visiting labs where new life forms are being invented, we've got you covered.
Pack your silver underwear and bring your mass spectrometers, because we're riding this tachyon particle wave into the future — and we've saved you a seat. This week, we'll celebrate io9's golden anniversary with articles and lists that look back on the best of what we've produced for this half-decade. Thanks for coming with us, and enjoy the trip!