Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
The Web at 10
By Mike Gould
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Web As We Know It, using the Netscape IPO as a base mark. Wired Magazine did a big story, and various other media made note of it. This triggered some fond and not-so-fond memories for me, so I decided to wax nostalgic this month on what the Web has meant to this small businessperson.
A Stir is Born
Things actually began to happen in September 1993, with the introduction of Mosaic 1.0. In 1994 I was working at the UM School of Music and attended a demo of it at Rackham Auditorium. I didn't fully understand it at the time, but a short time later it was suggested that the School establish a web site, and as the sole IT guy there, it fell to me to put it together.
Mosaic was the first graphical browser (i.e., one that used clickable icons instead of requiring long lines of text be typed in to see a page) and suddenly the web passed from being the tool of academics to something regular folks could explore. I had a spare Macintosh 6100 computer (the first model to use the PowerPC chip) available to use as a server, so I learned how to use FTP to download the HTML 1.0 spec from CERN and was off and running.
Translation: I used File Transport Protocol software to visit the European Nuclear Research Center (where Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Web, worked) and copy the text that described how to make a web page using the Hypertext Markup Language. I also learned how to serve web pages, downloading a program called WebStar from StarNine Technologies to run our server.
Being new to all this, I did a few stupid things. I named our address WEBbern.umich.edu, doing a little play on the name of a modern composer. Cooler heads prevailed and music.umich.edu was also used, and WEBbern was soon forgotten. At the time the School was connected to the University network via 2 24K modems, so things ran a bit slow. I oversaw the upgrade to Ethernet during this time, and the School joined the rest of the University in glorious broadband.
The School of Music site had some novel features. We had digital recordings of the Burton Tower Carillon playing "Hail to the Victors" and video files of students performing multimedia pieces. There is still a page on the current site, but the links to the sound files are broken - I have written the current web master and maybe he or she will put them back. The URL for these is below.
It is important to remember that the web started out as an academic playground, and didn't allow commercial uses until 1995 or so. In those days, you could visit art museums, universities and some government sites. No Amazon, no Google, no online ordering of anything.
Business on the Web
At the end of 1995 I got my first commercial client, Harmony Hollow Bell Works. Using a crude "eyeball" camera, I photographed all the bells and even made some small movies of mobiles to put on the site. I also recorded the bells in my recording studio. The timing was pretty good, as the advent of cheap home recording consoles/recorders at the time spelled doom for small recording studios such as mine. I was able to leverage the studio into my growing online work by recording things for the clients I was putting on the Web.
Over the years web development became big business. I stayed small, relying on my University day job to pay the bills and using my after-hours business to pay for equipment updates and the occasional vacation. My business grew by word of mouth, and a bit of advertising via my website. I have had around 20 clients over the years, and still have my first, whose site I update regularly. I have been fired by clients (who wanted to take their web work in-house), hired by people I've never met except via email, and moved clients from ISP to ISP as circumstances dictated.
The Changes I've Seen
I remember dragging faculty out of the hallway into my office to show them the pages I made for them. I got reactions ranging from "That's nice" to "So What?" to total incomprehension.
I remember the first banner I saw towed over Michigan Stadium that had a URL on it.
I remember my Mom's delight when she finally got broadband.
I remember when AOL unleashed their users on the Internet.
I remember buying my first CD online (Zappa's "Yellow Shark" from Schoolkids Records).
I remember the first spam - the "green card" message that hit all the newsgroups.
I remember working with my first graphic designer, and the issues we had when I tried to explain the differences between print and online media.
I remember back when Netscape was good and Internet Explorer was bad, then good, and then bad again. And when Netscape (which had grown out of Mosaic) lost the browser wars.
But some things don't change. We still use common business practices in dealing with clients: lots of hand-holding, follow-up emails, sending links to helpful web pages to clients, pestering vendors on client's behalf, etc. The web hasn't changed a lot of the way we do business, just cranked it up a notch. We still work with clients, sell stuff to each other, and advertise. And people skills are still extremely important, whether you are face to face or keyboard to keyboard. And just as the advent of TV didn't kill movies, the Internet hasn't killed magazines. (This is a Good Thing.)
These days I get more and more gigs via the web. I re-vamped my website and started implementing Search Engine Optimization, which has greatly increased the number of new clients who find me on the web. (See my previous article about this at SEO.)
The web is now 10+ years old, and still in its infancy. Think back to what cars were like when they were 10 - what telephones were like. Go to Greenfield Village and imagine what an Internet museum will look like 100 years from now. Probably full of modems and recordings of geezers like me reminiscing about the good ol' days before there was spam...
Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler and digital photographer for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes visitors to his website at www.mondodyne.com.