The History of the Web logo

Unraveling the web's story

Still Hoping

Thinking of The Straight Dope today (earliest possible archive link). It started as a weekly column in the Chicago Reader, and then other newspapers, and then way back in 1996, on the early web. In some ways, its perfect for the web. Every week, it would answer some new, offbeat but still practical and relatable question, like how they get teflon to stick to a pan or how bread got invented. Its author wrote under the pseudoynm Cecil Adams and to this day, we don’t quite know who they are.

In 2018, it ceased to be with a final post from Cecil. Sucked up, I assume, by the gravitational pull of social media’s walled gardens. For many years, the site was paired with a message board filled with lively discussion from a large, but still kind of small, group of people obsessed with finding answers. In that final post, Cecil addresses the message board directly:

Notwithstanding newspaper comment sections, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, no online arena comparable to the SDMB [Straight Dope Message Board] has emerged for the clash of ideas of the sort we’ve tried to encourage – no forum where ordinary people with fundamental disagreements can duke it out provided they remain civil. I thought, and still think, providing a home for such debates is a critical role for us in the news media. The SDMB is a model in that respect. I acknowledge it hasn’t caught on widely so far. One can only hope.

I’m still hoping Cecil.