October 5th marks the 15th anniversary of my first weekly About the Internet column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. For those of you who are too young to remember, newspapers were kind of like blogs printed on paper with the added benefit that they could be used for lining bird cages and cleaning windshields (try doing that with your iPad!).
That first column introduced readers to GeoCities, a free hosting company based around various themed “cities.” My home page was among the art pages in Paris. GeoCities later sold for $3.5 billion in stock only to join several other failed ventures in the Yahoo! scrap heap in 2009. Which brings up my biggest regret about the column. If I had bought just one share of every company I mentioned during the three years the column ran, I’d be writing this from a private island.
I wrote about Webcrawler which was bought by AOL. I made constant fun of AOL which is still the butt of many jokes but at one time the people running Time Warner thought it was worth half their company. I covered Yahoo!’s IPO (I surprised the company’s PR flack by knowing the number of sites in the directory when that info was supposed to be secret – I counted them) and noted the appearance of an upstart search engine, Google. I also enjoyed myself by pointing out that Amazon.com had never turned a profit (it has now).
Of course, the real point of the whole column was fun and that’s what most of the columns (several of which are still available online at Net Detours) focused on. Here are a few of the highlights:
- A guy selling a used Russian spacecraft.
- Sites devoted to helping users learn the Macarena
- Net Rhymes and spoofs of famous literature such as Gatesy @ the Bat and Yes Virginia, Explorer is Part of the Operating System
- An open letter to Martha Stewart
- The occasional Ask Dr. Web column and Net Quiz (Is HTML really the German acronym for Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco?)
- And so much more
It was a time when the Internet was fun rather than simply another mass media and it was great to be able to share it with a few loyal readers. So I’d like to thank the Post-Dispatch and especially Ellen Futterman for being willing to give a guy from the News Art Department a shot at a weekly column, fellow artist Chuck Groth for encouraging me to give it a try, my boss Tony Lazorko for not noticing (or ignoring) the fact I was occasionally writing the column instead of doing my actual job and my wife Christee for being my proof reader, worst critic and best fan.