diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Last night, at a swanky adult education centre in Bishopsgate, one of London's finest websites celebrated its 10th birthday. Londonist has been firing out several posts a day since 2004, on a wildly diverse range of topics, so a slap-up alcohol-fuelled party was clearly called for. Not that yesterday was their actual 10th birthday, you understand. The first post in the Londonist archive - on drunkard-benches in Islington, since you ask - dates back to October 25th, not October 14th. But one should never let facts like this get in the way of a good room booking, hence invites were sent and the bubbly flowed.

Londonist, you may remember, evolved out of a less well known blog called The Big Smoker. The brainchild of Rob Hinchcliffe and Euan Mitchell, it lifted the Guardian's award for best designed British blog back in 2003. Euan then decided to get into bed with an American stable of websites ending in -ist, becoming their first overseas partner, hence the rebrand and the October 2004 relaunch. They even linked to my blog in their sidebar, back in the day when blogs did that sort of thing, in a rolling news and features kind of way. It's hard not to have a soft spot for a pioneering survivor. [Londonist history podcast]

The London skyline logo has been a constant throughout those ten years, apart from that fateful day in 2011 when the poor old BT Tower was ousted by a silhouetted Gherkin and Shard. The rest of the site's evolved rather more over the years. Time was when each story appeared sequentially down the page, like only the most stuck-in-the-mud old school bloggers do these days, and you could read the entire current output all in one go. Before long it was first paragraph only, then top level headlines and teaser text to encourage you to click through, and now we're in full-on mobile and tablet optimised territory.

The site's always covered a wide range of topics. It started out quite eclectic, more likely to comment than report, but carving out an informed niche of its very own. As Londonist has grown so its newsier side has been overtaken somewhat by an entertainment vibe, taking on Time Out at its own game (and, quite frankly, doing a better job). As a team-built website the diversity of its contributors is its strength, so that whether you're interested in cocktails, fringe theatre or videos of tube stations there'll be something for you soon enough. And OK, sometimes there's some full-on sponsored crap to pay the bills, but at least that's flagged up at the start of the article so you know you're being spun to and can move on.

You might well have got an invite to the 10th anniversary do at the Bishopsgate Institute - the Great Hall was packed. The mix include old-school contributors, occasional columnists and miscellaneous 'Friends of Londonist', of which there were several. They even invited me, never thinking I'd go, but when there's free food and booze on offer who'd say no? All descended on the inner East End, not so far from Londonist Towers, for an (early) evening outpouring of thanks.

And I was somewhat surprised, although I guess I shouldn't have been, that so many people I knew turned up. It was almost like the old days when Blogger Meetups were a thing, when people who normally only typed at one another came briefly face to face. Hello to Ian and Tom and Sarah and Andrew and that bloke from the local history website whose name I never remember, and to others too numerous to mention. If I missed you, apologies, I'm not a fan of hand-scrawled name badges, but rest assured that I was not the bloke who came dressed as a taxi.

Did I mention the free food and booze? Most of this came courtesy of clearly-named sponsors, but nobody was expecting the editorial team to have spent Monday night baking, so that was fine. A tiny chocolate cake on a stick was the most unusual freebie, topped off with an edible Londonist 10th birthday sticker, and carefully wrapped in plastic for health and safety reasons. Two grinning ladies from a pie company had turned up to hand out an equally tiny filled pastry, and another bloke had set up a pump of <insert name of supplier here> beer to wash it down. There was even champagne for raising a glass at the appropriate moment, or at least there was something sparkling for raising a cup, but no complaints.

Kris was doing live street art in the corner, this with chunky pens rather than aerosols, and elsewhere Geoff was doing interactive things with tube maps, because you can't go wrong at a London-based party with one of them. And then all the chat and action paused for the special coming together moment, which featured a loved-up video you'll be able to see on the Londonist website later today. There were speeches too, from some of the proud parents who've shepherded this ten year old child towards early adolescence, and I suspect not all the words were as 'unplanned' as their orators made out.

The evening's general flood of appreciation was an appropriate way to celebrate a site that's grown from one man's part-time output to a full-time team-built concern. If it happens in London it's more likely to get a mention on Londonist than on the BBC, and more likely to be of interest to ordinary people than the majority of stuff in the Evening Standard. Indeed just last weekend my Saturday revolved entirely around something I read on Londonist the night before and would never have known about had they not mentioned it. Ten years down, one expects more than ten to go.


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