the internet machine.

“Why the fuck don’t you have a website yet?”

I think that was how Rich asked the question.  He could be really polite when he wanted to be.

Nobody had a website.  I mean, the web existed, but so few people knew how to design websites.  It was a foreign concept to so many of us in early 1996 that I couldn’t imagine where to even start.

As far as indie labels go, I can’t remember a single one that had a website at the very beginning.  Probably Matador.  Maybe Sub Pop.  I can’t imagine who else.  Nobody was selling music online – Amazon.com had only launched to the public in mid-1995, and even then, so many people were terrified at the prospect of typing their credit card numbers into their computer and sending them over the internet.

I still hadn’t completely come to grips with the fact that businesses had begun wrestling the net away from educational and government institutions, and often resisted the idea of using the net as a promotional tool.  I was careful to label all my advertising email “SPAM” in the subject line (can you imagine openly calling your own emails “SPAM” today?), and did the same with my message board and Usenet posts when I was hyping one of my own records.  I was almost embarrassed to use the internet for commercial means.

But as we started hurtling through this weird, rapid-fire development of this unbelievable new technology, suddenly there were companies in indie rock that were hanging their shingles out on the internet, buying domain names, and even selling things in a crude sort of way.  Windy at Aquarius Records in San Francisco started sending out marketing emails and selling records to people all over the country through the mail.  I’m sure other record stores were doing the same thing.  And some of the labels we were friends with began to explore the idea of getting online.

Rich and I were sitting in our basement, listening to the Jenifer Convertible roughs and talking about SonicNet, and the MacIntosh Music Festival (something that happened for the first time in 1995, a sort of replacement for the old New Music Seminar that once took over NYC every summer).  Footstone would be playing the festival in the summer of 1996 (as they had in ’95), and once again, video of the event was supposed to be broadcast over the internet – even if nobody had the equipment to actually watch the broadcasts.

As we sat there, talking about Apple and the Music Festival, we started talking about technology and how we might use it.

“You can actually put sound samples on the internet,” he explained.  “People can download them and play them on their computers.”

I had actually tried doing this a few times, and found it to be an absolute nightmare.  At 56K, downloading even a 30 second sample took forever, and the fidelity of the audio files was atrocious.  And decent computer speakers were expensive.

“Where do you store them?” I asked.  “How does that stuff work?”

“There are companies that will host your website for you,” he explained to me.  “You pay them every month.”

I had been online since the mid 1980s.  I was one of the first people I knew – thanks to Frank – that had a modem.  All through college, I used the modem to dial up to CompuServe, to local BBS systems, into the University VAX system to access the internet – but I had no idea how any of it actually worked.  I just dialed up and it was there.  The rest was, well, magic.

The first time I used the modem, I just called Frank’s house.  He had his computer turned on as well, and we had blank screens, onto which we typed.  It looked something like this:

Me:  Hi

Frank: Hi

Me: What’s up?

Frank: Not much

Me: This is cool

Frank: Yup

Me: Why aren’t we just talking on the phone?

Frank: Good idea.

Me: Bye

Frank: Bye

But then things sort of took off, and by 1995 I had signed up with a “real” ISP and installed a web browser called Lynx on my computer.  Lynx was a text-based browser; you’d use your up and down arrow keys to move from link to link on a page, and then if you wanted to see an image from the page, you’d scroll to the word “IMAGE”, hit enter, and actually download it.  It all took forever, but it was neat.

My ISP didn’t offer graphical web browsing through Mosaic or Netscape, but when I finally switched ISPs to a local company, there suddenly was this thing, this World Wide Web that was all colorful and wonderful and free, and I went bananas.

Patrick from Carrot Top was the first guy to email me a list of websites to look at; some were related to music but most were just cool.  Rich also had a list, and eventually I had a library of 20 or 30 sites that I visited every night after work.  And by 1996, I had internet (and web) access at work through a blazing T1 connection, and most publications that I dealt with for work were online in one way or another.

And thus, it became time for me to embrace the idea of online commerce.  Or something.

After Rich and I talked for a while about what a Dromedary website should do, I tore a piece of paper out of one of my notebooks, and scrawled out a sketch of what I’d like my home page to look like.

Here it is.

website

I am a web designer.

That little shape underneath the words “Dromedary Records” is supposed to be our logo.  The “Blah blah – – – – -” is supposed to be a paragraph of descriptive text about the label.

The five menu items are simple – About, News, Contact, Catalog, and Other People’s Records.  And I did envision downloadable sound samples from each record, and ways for people to buy not only our music, but the music of the other labels in our catalog, like Simple Machines, Harriet, Pop Narcotic, Ratfish, Mag Wheel, Merkin, Pravda, and Carrot Top.

Along the bottom of the page I wanted to list all our record distributors, and also a list of where you could buy our music online (at the time, from three places).

All websites looked this way.  So the idea was pretty easy to come up with.

Actually designing it, though, was something that I could not fathom.  Someone who actually had the ability to design a website?  That was, like, some magical talent that was was a mystery to me, and to everyone I knew.

“I’m going to learn how to do it,” Rich told me one day.  “Because I think, if you know how to design websites, you won’t have much trouble finding a job.”

So fucking profound, that guy.

Anyway, that piece of paper – that’s our website.  The first time that concept ever actually made it to the internet was just now, when I uploaded the scan of it.  Dromedary Records never had a website.

~ by Al on November 2, 2009.

2 Responses to “the internet machine.”

  1. I remember dabbling in web design back then…. I searched my for our old website on archive.org and found this.
    http://web.archive.org/web/20000312175910/idt.net/~mavney/f-info.html
    Lor lor lor.

  2. […]  We got help from Jim Santo of Jenifer Convertible (and now of the Sharp Things), who designed a website for Dromedary – finally.  And we introduced a new person into the family – Perry Serpa, also of the Sharp Things, […]

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