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Monday, February 22, 2010

Where is the Internet and why am I here?

Where is the Internet and why am I here?

The internet was capitalized back then; now it isn’t. Some people are buried in it. A lot of people still think AOL is it. Many more think it’s broken if their browser doesn’t point them to the Verizon.net homepage on startup. Others think it comes free in the air. Many are confused as to whether or not you can ask the internet a question. The web, the internet; the internet, the web… was it Al Gore that made the internet hot? On second thought, I think he increased the Earths’ temperature in a fictional movie.

Since 1996 I’ve been fascinated by browser based internet technologies. I didn’t sleep much in the late nineties. I was in a continuous state of awe. In 1997 I paid $100.00 to Network Solutions for the domain name houseclassifieds.com. As an entrepreneur, artist and budding software developer, I saw the WWW as infinite potential for excitement. The premise of the site was to allow people to list their homes for sale privately for an extremely modest fee. I think it was 50 bucks, give or take. This was BG (before Google… and back when it was properly spelled; googol) and people all over the country used my site. The domain slowly slipped into oblivion due to lack of attention, other interests and stiff, big money competition with much better websites (technological speaking).

Houseclassifieds was cutting edge for the time. It allowed users to upload images to their listings even on their 14.4 modems and before someone coined AJAX” some 10 years later. Next came Java. My brother, Jesse, pretty much invented Java based web page menus. This was over the top. While I worked with Jesse at opencube.com I got to work first hand on new, cutting edge applications with NASA, Intel, webMd, BestBuy, the FBI, FedEx, AOL and just about every Fortune 500 company on the planet. There was no such thing as a template, reference book or guide. Heck, there were no true search engines at the time. Archie was pointless, since there were no papers written on the new emerging technologies. No one had a degree in Java yet; the language was only two years old. Hotbot came very close when searching for answers. However, we had to pave our own roads for most of the apps. I was excitement personified.

Then in 2000 and coincidentally, DOTCOMs went kerplooey and Microsoft killed the web experience by tossing Java aside. I decided to solve the problem of “write once, run everywhere” (Java’s hallmark) with a product called FusionScript. FS was Javascript based and carried around a 15k overhead and was a rule set that displayed all the web elements exactly the same in all the browsers. It took into account the differences in rendering X and Y space relative to padding, margin, borders, etc.. in the DOM. I thought I was going to be as famous as Al Gore for awhile. This little product fixed everything for programmers who wanted to do cool things with their web apps, but didn’t know how to overcome rendering differences. I slapped the orca (missed the boat if you prefer) on that one. The timing was exactly when everyone was switching gears to CSS based layout; perfect for FS. FusionScript got buried in the bytes of excitement over other technologies and the browsers wising up to standards. It’s still a great product that no one will ever use.

Boy do I remember the enthusiasm when the web was switching to more dynamic delivery from both server and client. Ahhhh…. a web pages “mouse feel” was all the rage. I switched to working on a product called webnote. This was a JS based mini-app that enabled webmasters to add code to their sites enabling users to place sticky notes on their pages. The notes were only viewable by the person who wrote them and the content was stored client side. With sugar plumbs in my eyes I envisioned people all over the world taking notes on web pages to later reference, share and collaborate. Strike three and not even a whiff.

Fortunately, I’m not playing baseball. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s ubiquitous HTA, I decided to create a product to solve the world’s eCard conundrum. A quick side note: I firmly believe email to be the absolute worst method of communication on the planet and as alternate solutions come about, email will be the 8 track of the 2010 decade. The issue with eCards is that everyone was sending them and the process was daunting… go to a web site, register, select a card, type your note, send it (maybe pay a small fee first)… the recipient then gets an email that isn’t the card, but an invitation to go see the card. Click… Click… page load… page load…. Ahhh… the eCard!

I solved the problem with Quio eCards (http://quio.me/cards/ ~ shameless plug). The cards by various artists sit directly on your computer. If you want to send a quick, nicely formatted card BOOM, there it is. Click, type and hit send. That’s all there is to it. The recipient gets the card exactly as it appears and instantly in their inbox. Tons up PHP, ASP, JS, VBscript and a plethora of proprietary work-around schemes were used to create this phenomenal product. Now I would be knows as Josh, the guy who solved the global eCard headache!

In the months it took to develop, design, code and market the product along came Facebook. Now no one sends eCards. Quick thank-you, birthday wishes and the like are Facebooked. To date though, this is my best product ever and has turned out to be a fantastic marketing tool for artists, photographers and small businesses. However fewer and fewer people visit my web sites these days. Traffic from products I’ve created runs steadily through it in the background far away from a browser interface.

This is where I get to the “why am I here” part of the article’s title.

So, where did the internet go these past 14 years? From where I sit, no self respecting developer, artist, photographer, writer, businessman, fill-in-the-blank, would ever use anything but their own domain. Not only that, the site would be built by hand in a text editor without the use of a WYSWIG, template or 8th grader taking a class on web page design. Here is my epiphany: The internet is right here; on this page in front of you and me. Whatever domain name is in the address field of your browser right now, it isn’t one I own. The internet is moving where capitalism meets social behavior; where your friends and acquaintances have recommended it be; where smaller communities have formed out of the Internet.

As the WWW interface on the internet grows daily, it’s segments are growing smaller and more close nit. While no one knew what to do with the internet in the beginning, it’s working itself out and mimicking exactly the way our societies form naturally. While I didn’t like this concept at the onset of writing this article, I’m growing to like it.

I’ll still use Textpad from Helios Software that I’ve carried the unlock code to from computer to computer with a copyright of 1997 for all the coding I do. I’m really excited about the new Facebook and Android apps I’m working on. I’m stuck glued to new technology trends. Even if I’m a day late and a dollar short on the next great software product, I’ll enjoy the journey in the new era of the Social Network Internet.

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