20 Nov 2008
by: Eric in Random
I am not a nostalgic person. You cannot change the past, and as much as the past has shaped your present, the fact is, you live in that same present, today. It's no use getting caught up in what you can't change, or worrying about a future that may never come. However, that being said, there are times when it's instructive to look back on your past and see how far you have come. To some, this can be a depressing prospect, especially when you come to the realization that the potential of the past has not yet been realized, and may never be. To others, this process is encouraging, a helpful reminder that hard work and persistence over time leads to success, whatever that term means to you. But there's a third group, for whom the nostalgic process is a little of both, because, while the present reality might not be what we thought it would be so many years ago, there's also the realization that the process is ongoing, and it's not over yet. I think I fall into this third category.
In 1994, I met Matt at junior high orientation. I didn't know it at the time, but I had met a kindred soul. We both loved good rock music, were good at sports (we are still undefeated in 2-on-2 basketball), and strived to lead a logical, reasoned life. We had also perfected the art of pulling good grades doing absolutely no schoolwork, but that's for another day. But perhaps the shared interest that would define our friendship was the computer. Back then Matt had a 486, I had a 386. Matt was using Prodigy for internet access, I had AOL 2.0 at home, on a 14.4 modem. Obviously we played video games (Carmen Sandiego?) but we also started messing around with batch file programming, and generally loved to tinker with our machines. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to restore my computer from scratch due to the ramifications of excessive (and uninformed) curiosity. In any case, in November of 1995, we came into contact with a magazine that would literally change the course of our lives forever. Matt, having the more powerful computer, was into a game called Cyberia, which I remember having insane graphics for it's time. We purchased the November 1995 issue of Electronic Entertainment magazine, which featured Cyberia. In the back of that magazine was an article called "How To Make Your Own Web Page", which turned out to be a 3 page tutorial on basic HTML. Really basic. We read the article and were hooked. We had to try this out.
The first time I tried to make an HTML page, I used MS Word. It took me a few minutes to realize that the formatting that Word does to a document makes it pretty much unreadable to a browser. The only plain-text editor I had was Notepad. And so I started using Notepad. To this day, 13 years later, I code every single file by hand, be it a stylesheet or a PHP script, in a text editor. Ok, I confess: I had a job after college where I was doing J2EE development and we used IBM WebSphere Development Studio, but Java is such a pain to develop with, I think I can be forgiven for using an IDE! And in college I did take VB class, but I was forced to, so don't hold that against me.
Anyway, fast forward a few months through many late night "coding" sessions, constantly tweaking the layouts of our pages (F5 became the most used key on my keyboard), and searching for awesome animated gifs (spinning globes!) and we were experts in the art of webpage creation. We used AOL's free homepages at the time, because 13 year olds didn't have the money for hosting back then, which was ridiculously expensive compared to today's options. We formed a fake company called "DeltaSoft". Our first homepages were really just links to sites we liked, and some information about us. Nothing crazy. The first big idea we had was conceived at a sleepover, in the early hours of the morning. We were going to Action Park the next day with my church's youth group, and we were hanging out in the living room drinking iced tea and eating popcorn (late night snack of champions). We were talking about what we could do with DeltaSoft, and we had the idea of starting the DeltaSoft Network. Basically our two separate sites would be part of a larger umbrella site of homepages. We could let others join the DeltaSoft network and start their own homepages. We would need hosting space, to be sure, and we weren't sure how exactly program with something dynamic like that. The thought of making money hadn't crossed our minds yet. Call us naive. In retrospect, this idea was like the social networking sites of the present. At the time, however, we didn't realize that there already existed such a service. Anyone remember GeoCities? But it didn't matter. Excited by the possibilities of a network of separate but related websites, we set to work. What would the content be? That was yet undecided. What would drive visitors there? Still undecided. But we had an idea and we were going to execute it.
Stay tuned for Part II later this week, in which we become 15 year high school students making $1500 a month from our websites, and are able to purchase bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches for lunch, making our classmates jealous.
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