web story

Here was a tremendous publishing opportunity...

My exposure to the web came from a stray newspaper in the student lounge at Swarthmore. In the December '93 New York Times, John Markoff had written a piece about Mosaic and the World Wide Web. Graphics and links to traverse the Internet? I had been surfing the text-based 'net since 1988, especially USENET - using a mouse to surf information was a wild idea.

The whole concept immediately blew me away. Soon after surfing the web, I realized that nearly all of the online publishing efforts were amateur - people who knew how to use HTML, but didn't necessarily have anything in particular to say. - I could put my writings and words up electronically, make them look pretty, and engage the web with links. And I didn't have to pay anyone to do any of it!

...and I didn't have to pay anyone for it!

In January of 1994, I read some online information on HTML, set up a copy of MacHTTP on my Powerbook 180, and put up "Justin's Home Page". The first draft had links to HTML information, some stuff about my college, a photo of me and Oliver North, a sound clip of Jane's Addiction's lead singer saying "Well I'm on acid too, and I ain't throwin' shoes at you," and a list of my favourite web sites.

Swarthmore assigned Internet connection numbers dynamically; each time my computer crashed or rebooted I had to run around my dorm getting people to restart their systems so I could be at the right place in line.

The first login from outside Swarthmore was January 23.

At the time, I was a freshperson in the depths of Willets, a dorm nestled in the shrubbery of Swarthmore College in the removed pleasantness of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. I was having a great time surfing, and I was taking the time to record my favourite links, with descriptions of the sites I was visiting. The pages grew and grew, as the web did, and as I found additional luscious links and nifty net nuggets. Soon I was paring off pages, in order to keep my site streamlined. I decided to shift from a purely personal perspective, so "Justin's Home Page" became "Links from the Underground", after a book of dark musings by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

My hit counts were climbing, as I was expanding my scope. Word of mouth and links from other pages were bringing visitors in, and with them comments and encouragement. Unfortunately, my enterprise was crowding the computer, slowing down the Swarthmore College Computer Society.

Unfortunately, my enterprise was crowding the computer, slowing down the Swarthmore College Computer Society.

Since December, I had been calling Wired magazine, trying to get an internship. I had met with little success - they had all the lackeys they needed. Right about the time the sysadmins at Swarthmore wanted to get rid of me, I decided to apply to work at Wired online, the web page development zone for the voice of the digital revolution. I talked to Julie Petersen, about the web and online and my desire to work there. When she asked for my e-mail address, I gave her instead my URL and waited nervously while she inspected my page. By the time she got to the picture of Cary Grant taking acid, she was laughing, and I had an in.
Cary Grant dropping

By the time she got to the picture of Cary Grant taking acid, she was laughing, and I had an in.

The base of operations for these pages then moved in the summer of '94 to the offices of WiReD Magazine, where I was an online intern. Being at Wired, in the online department, left me sitting on top of the web. Wired is a clearing house for cool computer stuff, online and off. I did my best to keep up with the flow. Now I was a card-carrying member of their digital revolution!

Then, when Wired online became HotWired, I was gainfully employed as an Editorial Assistant. As a web magazine, HotWired provided me with an even better view of the net. Here, I discovered that my experiences out on the web might even be worth something to somebody.

Perhaps the greatest thing about my time at HotWired was the people I worked with. Mostly closely, Jonathan Steuer and Howard Rheingold. When both of these fellows quit, I was not going to stick around - Hotwired was losing funsense.

The web has untapped potential still.

I have had the opportunity to speak before groups about my experiences and I find myself harping on one point. The web has untapped potential still. There is so much opportunity for people to craft their web wide vision. Get out there, play around, and contribute your personal effort. Take someone you know with an interesting story, and help them tell it over the web. Good telling of human stories is the best way to keep the Internet and the World Wide Web from becoming a waste vastland. With enough perseverance and personality, you could create a seminal site.

Good telling of human stories is the best way to keep the Internet and the World Wide Web from becoming a waste vastland.

After my term at HotWired and Wired, I moved back to Swarthmore to attend the spring semester, as a first semester sophomore. Now I'm back doin' pages out of my dorm room, and percolating in my peer group.

For information about how I put this all together, and links to useful resources to do so yourself, check out my getting started page.

Now I have a publication that gets many tens of thousands of hits daily. I created it all on a Powerbook. It cost me nothing. I can maintain it from anywhere I can be on the Internet. And for better or for worse, no one edits me, or has control over the content I provide. It is a self-publishing dream.

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