Paul Edmund Ford was born in the 1970s in rural Pennsylvania. His parents were artsy/academic types. Paul attended a private high school, rather than the local public high school.
After high school Paul attended a small liberal arts school in New York. He studied English, thinking he wanted to be a writer (in the traditional sense). But after college ~~The Internet~~ happened, altering the course of his life.
One of the most important experiences of Paul’s adult life happened at his first job out of college. He was living and working in New York City for a company that had a large database of user accounts. One day he was doing something in the database and he suddenly, accidentally, irrevocably, deleted every user’s accounts. They were just gone, all of them. Paul didn’t get fired, but he learned that data and the internet were scary and interesting things. He decided to build his own website.
Paul started fooling around with web technologies in 1996 but ftrain.com, his personal site, began in 1997. At first it was built with static HTML files, but over time he built his own content management system. A simple chronological file system, which were just beginning to take off, did not make sense to him. He wanted to shape the website more like a wiki, where any page could send someone to any number of other contexual pages. This was years before Wikipedia was a thing, no one was organizing anything in wikis, and no one but Paul thought wikis were interesting. There were no robust software solutions for implementing & hosting wikis at the time, so Paul built his own, using XML. Paul was VERY into XML back then. XML was going to solve everything.
For the next few years, Paul spent a lot of time writing things on ftrain.com. Most of the entries were written in the first person, but over time another personality developed: Paul’s alter ego, Scott Rahin. Scott often appeared in stories to question Paul’s motives or beliefs. As a character, Scott was almost indistinguishable from Paul to any casual reader of the site, but clearly it was an important distinction to Paul.
Paul’s writing was becoming quite popular on the internet in the early 00's, which lead to Paul becoming one of the first regular staff writers at TheMorningNews.org, a then-nascent online daily, whose other writers included Leslie Harpold, Maggie Mason (neé Berry), Joshua Allen, and Michael Barrish.
Here is the story of how Paul began writing for TheMorningNews: one of the editors, Rosecrans Baldwin, emailed Paul to compliment him. Paul responded by saying he wanted to rape Rosecrans. (He was trying to be funny.) A relationship blossomed, and Paul has contributed many articles to TMN over the years. All of the most popular articles on TMN were written by Paul, including an article in which he provided 6-word reviews of every band playing at SXSW one year, and another article about 100 ways to tell someone you love them.
Around this same time, another writer started appearing on TMN. His name was Gary Benchley. He was (ostensibly) a young man who had recently moved to NYC to become a rock star, and he updated TMN every week/month with whatever was happening in his rise to stardom. The articles proved hugely popular (anything to do with NYC is perenially popular on the internet). The Gary Benchley series turned into a book deal and it was revealed that Paul Ford was Gary Benchley all along. People were like Ah, ok, that makes sense, although no one had guessed it previously.
The Gary Benchley book sold adequately, and there was talk of turning it into a movie, and in fact Paul wrote the script for it, but nothing ever happened with it.
As a result of his writing on ftrain, TMN, and the book, NPR began asking Paul to talk about different things on the air. Usually things related to technology. Paul was and remains very good at explaining complicated technologies to non-technical people. Paul’s first time in the studio did not go well. He had trouble catching his breath, and it took him great physical effort to actually record his piece. He was dating an opera singer at the time, who gave him some breath control advice, which turned into another piece on ftrain.com.
Paul then began working for Harper’s magazine. (The culture/issues Harper’s, not the fashion Harper’s.) They had an extensive historical archive that they wanted to bring online. But they didn’t just want it to be arranged in reverse chronology. They wanted it to be more of a living, clickable artifact. Does this sound familiar? Yes: they wanted to use the ftrain CMS to bring the entire history of Harper’s online.
It was a very interesting and high-profile job and Paul was psyched to do it, however it very quickly overtook his life. His role at Harper’s effectively signaled the end of ftrain.com. Paul spent a lot of time working with Harpers, scanning old magazines, organizing content online, evangelizing whatever technologies needed evangelizing, but upward and outward. He did very little writing of his own during this period.
After finishing his job at Harper’s Paul became a consultant. He builds websites, creates media plans, implements the occasional CMS, basically whatever needs to get done. He can essentially pick and choose his clients at this point.
One of Paul’s best friends is the guy who played the first Steve on Blue’s Clues. They met after Steve’s tenure on Blue’s Clues had already ended. Steve emailed Paul about something and they became friends. They have collaborated on various projects over the years.
Paul is married, to a woman he refers to as Mo (short for Maureen). They had trouble conceiving but now they have twins. They were very nervous about their first time taking the twins on a plane, so they made little baggies with earplugs and candy to hand out to the passnegers nearby.
In addition to consulting and babies, Paul still writes and creates web things. Save Publishing is a bookmarklet he wrote which pulls the tweet-able sentences out of any article online. The title “Save Publishing” is 50/50 sarcastic/serious. Will it really save publishing? No. Is it a better idea than anyone else has had? Sort of!
Paul occasionally writes articles for business & airplane magazines, but ftrain.com remains effectively dormant. Most of Paul’s internet updates now appear on his Twitter. He has many followers, but Paul follows very few people himself. His thing on twitter is following and unfollowing people. One day you might wake up to find Paul Ford following you on twitter, but the next day he has unfollowed you. He sees this as a sanity-saving measure related to his time and attention, but it’s also a function of his autodidacticism. He enjoys learning about things and then moving on to learn about other things.
Paul is smart, thoughtful, introverted, friendly, and kind.
Paul and his family still live in New York. He is writing his second book. He has not said what the book is about, but it’s due to the publishers this spring, so it will presumably be out in 2015.