This is a story I’ve told many, many times before. Only, I’ve never been asked by anybody within the WordPress community. So far, my stories have always been for my readers. My name is Ramya Pandyan but I’m better known as IdeaSmith.
My first brush with blogging began in the late 90s when the internet was a new toy in India and people went to cybercafés once a month to check their email. With all the eagerness of an aimless teenager, I organised my tiny contacts book into lists and started emailing them things I had written. People wrote back asking why. I replied telling them to let me know what they thought. Some of them did and others forwarded those pieces on.
That Funny Word ‘Blog’
Years later, I was squirming in an uncomfortable office chair feeling the angst of someone freshly out of college and hating adulthood. It was only 3PM and my boss had taken everyone else on the team out. Everything of interest on the Internet was blocked (not that there was that much exciting online in 2004 – remember kids, there was an internet before Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Youtube). Out of sheer boredom, I went to HowStuffWorks.com. I found an article titled ‘How blogs work’ and the word ‘blog’ made me snigger. I read it and used one of the search engines that we’d call a dinosaur today (yes, internet before Google too) to find blogging sites. The search took me to Blogspot and a sign-up form much like the ones for the chatroom services that were strewn across the internet in those days.
People had warned me that it was dangerous to reveal my personal details online so I did not want to use my real name. I hadn’t had any spectacularly original ideas in my life but I liked playing with pictures and words – just like a blacksmith working iron into objects of use and art. So I decided to call myself IdeaSmith. I wrote two posts, admired the way they looked on the screen and spent ten minutes playing with the template options. Then it was time to leave so I shut down and forgot about blogging.
It wasn’t till another boring lull at work months later, that the word ‘blog’ popped back into my mind. This time, I decided to look for other Indians and see if anyone else had stumbled onto blogging. That’s how I found Rediffblogs. The homepage was very colourful, in keeping with the Geocities design aesthetic of that time. There were six templates to choose from and I chose the one with pencils lining across the top. I carried forward the name IdeaSmith because I really liked it but I decided to call the blog Just A Statistic, to show that I had nothing new to say. I discovered later that it was an echo of thousands of blogs across the globe that carried vague, diffident titles: ‘Ramblings’, ‘Thoughts’, ‘Meanderings’, ‘Mutterings’ were words that featured prominently. I wrote one post and published it before I got called into a meeting.
When I returned an hour later, the blog was still open on my screen and to my surprise, there was a comment! I followed the link to discover another blogger, a Delhi girl. I spent an hour reading every post on her blog. Then I read conversations in her comments and from there, I found other blogs. I even posted a few comments myself, feeling like the new girl in school trying to make friends. The next morning, many of the blogs I had visited, showed up on my blog in the form of comments. I was a seasoned veteran of chatrooms but this was a new experience. It was less like small talk between strangers at a party and more like a return visit to an enjoyable social call. I wrote another blogpost, waiting to see if it would happen again. I had no idea that I was starting something that would become such an important part of my life.
A Parallel Identity
Soon I was writing two, sometimes three posts a week and commenting every day. There had been no outlet for my creative side since I had finished school. The corporate world demanded that I conform to a certain lifestyle, a fixed way of being and thinking. The blog allowed me to bring out everything that did not find expression in my daily life, in the safety of anonymity. Months later, I went back to retrieve my first posts and discovered that Blogspot was a better platform. So I manually copied my twenty-odd posts from Rediffblogs back to Blogpost.
By 2006, I was still anonymous but I had an entire blogging-based community – other bloggers, frequent commenters and the major group blogs of the time (Desipundit, Mumbai Metroblogging, Desicritics, Technorati). There were no references to judge bloggers back then, but I had found a place in that tiny community. Many of them felt like friends even though we had never met in person. My unknown identity was a part of the flavor of my blog. Every now and then somebody would try to find out more but I kept them at bay, treating anonymity like a game.
I met a friend of a friend and discovered that he had a blog. I stalked his blog for months, frequently commenting only as IdeaSmith. One day he left a comment on my blog, asking if I’d meet him for coffee. I had only met two bloggers at that time, both in another city and under oath that they wouldn’t say anything about me. I didn’t respond to his comment. But he persisted, putting up his number and asking me to call him. So I called him, opening with “We’ve met already.” He said “I know, Ramya” and that he remembered meeting me. I was horrified that I wasn’t as anonymous as I had thought. But we became friends.
One day, he gleefully told me that one of his friends was commenting on his blog using a different identity. I asked him how he had realized it. He said, “The IP address is visible in her comments!” I was impressed. I was not a techie and people who tossed around terms like ‘IP address’ were intimidating. “Neither am I,” he admitted, “But WordPress shows me the IP address of every commenter. And her company’s name is visible in her email address.” I realized that I better understand the people who were reading my content, if I wanted any control over my anonymity. So I took a trip down to WordPress.
I was unprepared for what the platform offered. WP Stats were the first thing that caught my eye (on Blogspot, I had had to copy-paste a piece of code and I had managed to break the sidebar while doing so). And Pages! I constantly wished for one static part on my blog where I could just put up the things people kept asking. I was sick of cramming my blog’s sidebar with the static stuff in addition to the usual toys that bloggers played with in those days – blogrolls, mood indicator, song player, blog ranking. My friend was amused by my excitement and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, why are you still lagging behind? All the uber-cool bloggers are on WordPress.” I realized that my blog had become more than a scribblepad. It was now a playground for my thoughts, a chronicle of my life, a portfolio even. I knew it was time to give it a better space. In late 2006, I put up a post announcing that The Idea-smithy had a new home.
The ease with which I was able to transfer my posts confirmed my decision. Hundreds of template options opened up (Blogspot had a standard six only at that time). I loved widgets – no more being condescended to by programmers about code errors, no more broken sidebars! Displaying comments in my sidebar, was my way of telling readers, “Welcome in. Mi casa, su casa. Your presence here is noticed and treasured.”
Where I am today
A lot of things have happened since then. I started other anonymous blogs. I became a contributor to the bigger blogging communities of the time. I was on a popular panel that curated Indian blogs. I even edited other people’s blogposts. There were hundreds of conversations that moved me, shaped me and I made a lot of friends along the way. And when I quit the corporate world in 2009, I ‘came out’ of anonymity and allowed my readers to see the Ramya Pandyan side of IdeaSmith.
WordPress might not be my platform of choice, were I to begin today (other platforms seem better suited for newbies). But I fell in love all those years ago and eventually I committed to a platform that allowed me to explore this relationship best. I’ve been here for nine of the eleven years that I’ve been IdeaSmith. It has been my extreme good fortune to find something I love doing and be able to do it for a living.
Today I am a professional blogger/writer and one of the few of the ‘old guard’ still blogging. I’ve set up and run a team of bloggers/social content writers. I write for publications and companies, teach people how to blog and advise businesses on digital content. I run a creative community called Alphabet Sambar, that nurtures aspiring writers. I have also had the privilege of addressing Wordcamp not once, but twice. I still blog at least twice or thrice a week, only it has expanded to cover three blogs, a Twitter stream, an Instagram account and a Youtube channel.
All this began for me with an accident, a chance created by a bored afternoon at work. IdeaSmith originated as words drawn from my life but it became a part of my identity which shapes my every action, personal and professional. I am a blogger, by profession and by identity and WordPress is part of what makes that possible.