My online experience dates back to 1990 when I figured out how to connect an external modem to my PC-clone and install Prodigy and Compuserve.
By the mid-1990s, I was convinced this internet thing was for real and began looking at ways to use it for promotional activities. My first website project, 1996-97, was to convince the House Corporation Board for a sorority I advised to let me hire a developer to build a website for our chapter.
Not long after that, I set up a free site with 50mgs.com and started playing around with publishing my own content. The focus of these two sites quickly involved into what would today be known as blogging and content curation.
Through my experience just playing around and looking at source code of other sites, including the sorority site, I figured out how to build a website. I simply reverse-engineered the source code of other websites using a simple HTML guide.
DIY Course Management System, Circa 1999
In Fall 1999 I was teaching for the first time–two sections of media law at the University of Alabama. UA wasn’t using Blackboard or WebCT at that point and I wanted to put my course materials and other resources online. I thought it would be cool to put up exam study guides and supplemental materials that students could access anytime, anywhere.
Rather than seek out IT professionals and ask for space on the university servers, I simply typed up my lecture notes for each topic, hand-coded the html and uploaded the content to my free 50mgs.com site. I had a link on the home page of the site and announced to the students where they could find the materials. Worked like a charm. Everyone was happy.
From Place to Post Notes to Place to Curate
Within a few months, I’d moved well beyond posting my course materials and playing around. I added a section where I curated photos and tour news about the Go-Go’s, the seminal all-girl punk pop band from the 80s who were on a reunion comeback tour during that era. I found this page using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. I didn’t find many useful pages in the archive from my earliest days on 50mgs, but this screen shot shows some of what was there before I moved to my own self-hosted website and custom domain.
I also had a section of my website devoted to The Avengers, the Steed & Mrs. Peel-era British cult-TV series, not the superheroes. For one of my graduate courses, I’d written a comprehensive analysis about Diana Rigg’s career as revealed through her character choices and I put a lot of my research on the site.
The Go-Go’s and The Avengers had a huge, almost cult-like fan base back then (they still do), so my blog/website got a lot of traffic, relatively speaking.
DIY Web Design, Circa 2000
My first real web design project was to remake deltazetabama.org from scratch. That site probably had 50 pages by the time I stopped working on it and began to focus on building out my own self-hosted site.
By early 2001, I was ready to move the content hosted on http://tsmbama.50mgs.com to a real website that I truly owned. So I bought a domain and started building out http://tsmmedia.com.
Introducing my Weblog
Http://www.tsmmedia.com was, in reality, a weblog. I didn’t call it a “blog” at the time. I just called it my website. But it was a blog, in practice, because I was constantly updating the many pages (built out based on categories and topics), often multiple times a day. I spent hours each day curating, creating and posting new content.
Within the two main sections: The Go-Go’s La La Land and The Avengers, I had multiple pages. Each page was devoted to a specific category or topic. I coded everything by hand.
Here’s a screenshot from the gateway page into The Avengers and Diana Rigg section.
Internal Page Links
On each page I hand-coded links to relevant related pages and carefully maintained a master site-map page to help visitors navigate. I wasn’t curating chronologically, I was curating topically. In today’s world, it would be easy to do this using WordPress, categories, tags and menus. But back then, not so easy.
I was careful to create a logical structure and system that allowed site visitors to easily find any piece of content on the site within a few clicks. No one told me I should do this. I just knew that good website design made it easy for site visitors to find what they wanted. I’d learned this through years of web surfing and online research.
I didn’t realize in those days that what I was doing was relatively unique. I was hanging out with people who spent a fair amount of time online. I just assumed that everyone else was also growing reasonably comfortable with the tech side of the internet.
Here’s a screen shot from a part of a page I created to feature miscellaneous items (and reveal a little bit more about my backstory).
From Text & Images to Quicktime Videos
I was also heavily editing Digital8 video using iMovie on my circa-2000 iMac. At first, I mainly created videos to supplement my course materials. I would create 2-3 minute clips about various topics in media law or the history of mass media. I would show these Quicktime videos in class and then add to my course web pages.
I also had a collection of VHS tapes of Go-Go’s TV appearances and live shows that friends had shared with me. I began to convert these analog tapes into digital footage and began to slice-and-dice them into microclips that I would edit into custom music vidoes. I saved these snippets and videos as Quicktime video files and uploaded to my website. This was 2001–long before YouTube made it easy to share video online. [Eventually, in 2006, I posted some of these to YouTube but later took them down–my editing was great but the old Quicktime format from 2001 looked pretty awful by 2011].
Since I was constantly curating and updating the content to my site/blog, I had a lot of repeat traffic from fans. I was at the point where I could easily have monetized the site in some way.
That’s where my vision came up short.
This screen shot came from a scanned PDF of pages I’d printed before I lost the website. I could kick myself for not checking the scans for color vs. black-and-white before trashing the paper copies. Anyway, this page gives a bit of the story I was telling through the website.
The Return to the Real World
Eventually, my schedule evolved and it became difficult to keep the site updated at the pace I’d established in 2001 and into early 2002.
My freelance writing work was drying up quickly, and I was concerned about replacing that lost income. I knew I had to do something fast. I allowed that need, combined with world-changing events, to lead me back toward a desire for more security.
A Blind-Spot In 2002
Rather than doubling down on writing for the web and pursuing blogging as a full-time business opportunity, I considered my website more of a portfolio project to showcase my tech skills to get me in the door to work for someone else.
I failed to see the direct entrepreneurially opportunities for myself through e-commerce. Of course, I’m looking backwards and hindset is always different. The reality is that at the time, outside of eBay, e-commerce technology was expensive or beyond my skillset. Although lots of people were blogging in 2001, the terminology wasn’t widely known and no one was talking about blogging then the way they were in 2003-2004 and thereafter.
Although I’m not one to dwell on past decisions or look back on lost opportunities with regret, I have to say that I really did sell myself short at that time. The sudden loss of freelance writing income in the aftermath of the exploding dotcom bubble and 9/11 attacks put me into a famine mindset for a while.
In any event, I ended up with a great opportunity to teach at Oklahoma State and my professional life turned fully in the direction of academia.
Losing My Domain
In 2003, I ended up losing my tsmmedia.com domain. I had not asked the right questions or been sufficiently proactive. Losing the domain taught me some useful lessons about domain management that I use whenever I consult with beginners or novices setting up their websites.
Why Write This Post?
I shared a lot of details here mainly to demonstrate that I didn’t suddenly jump on the internet and social media bandwagon in 2008 or 09, when it became obvious that a transformation had occurred and the “world wide web” wasn’t a fad. My “social media” engagement started well before I began dabbling in website creation and management. My online friends and I were heavily involved in content curation and sharing back then–we just didn’t call it that. I’ll share more about my early days on Prodigy message boards in another post.