25 years ago today, on Friday July 26th, 1996, MSN chose my website – Bodie.net – as “MSN Pick of the Day”. My passion for Bodie State Historic Park started on a multi-week, summer high school camping trip, where we ended up making a quick stop at a pinpoint on the map to see the ghost town of Bodie. Bodie was a gold mining town in the late 1800s, located at 8,375 feet in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. I still remember the van rattling like it would fall apart as we drove off the first 10 miles of paved road, on to the last three, unpaved miles to get to Bodie. With our science teacher not knowing just how much farther it was, and the awful road shaking us to madness, we almost turned around… then, as we slowly topped a small hill in the road, the entire town of Bodie seemed to rise up out of nowhere. It was surprising. In the middle of nowhere… 13 miles off of Highway 395… above the tree line… there was a whole town ‘frozen in time.’
I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how excited I was to explore that place. It wasn’t like Knott’s Berry Farm or Calico – it was a REAL ghost town. No photo booths or restaurants. No paved roads. No ambient music or gun shows. I fell in love with Bodie immediately. It’s not like anywhere I had ever been. There’s something about stepping back in time by just driving your car down a bumpy road that’s outside most people’s experience. As I said though, it was a quick stop. There was enough time for a bathroom break and a short walk to the middle of town, then we were on the road again – leaving this place that grabbed my attention like no other had before, or since. That was 1990.
By 1994, I was doing technical support for “Internet In A Box” – the first commercial software package that allowed the public to connect to the internet. That consisted of helping Windows 3.1 users connect their modems to their computer and figure out the right modem strings to connect them to “the world wide web.” It was an exciting time. I learned a lot there. As I talked to my friend, I also learned that I was one of the very first ‘tech jobs’ in Seattle, and furthermore, I was one of the first non-government / non-school people to be using the internet on a daily basis. Which led to Al Billings teaching me (raw) HTML. I created and hosted my first intRAnet website for the office, listing dozens of restaurants – and their menus. By 1996 I was working at NetManage working on ECCO Pro. That’s when I registered Bodie.net for about $150/yr.
It took a couple of years before Bodie.com became available, but by then, I already had the top search result for Bodie State Historic Park. Of course, there weren’t many pages even indexed on yahoo or AltaVista. But I wrote the entire site in straight HTML, using notepad, just like Al Billings taught me. And I got a LOT of traffic. Which also meant, I got a lot of email! Not only did I have scanned (!) photos of Bodie on the website, but I had something that was ‘bleeding edge’ at the time – an animated Gif! It was a gunfighter twirling his guns. Oh, and there was tons of information I had put together and written about, on Bodie history, its residents, the buildings, and a lot more. Then I got an email from MSN on the morning of Friday, July 26th, 1996. The email said ‘Congratulations! Your site, Bodie.net, has been selected MSN Pick of the Day’ – WOW! By 1996, MSN was the default landing page for anyone who was running Internet Explorer 3… which meant that A LOT of people saw the ‘Pick of the Day’. Which also meant that A LOT of people were hitting the site. And, MSN didn’t post a new “Pick of the Day” until Monday. Which meant… waaay more traffic to the site. Awesome.
But, just like lots of websites learned in years to come, having a lot of traffic all at once when you aren’t ready, isn’t a good thing. Tens-of-thousands of people were clicking over to the site. The problem was… I had been hosting the site on some good friends’ SiliconGraphics INDY server in the Bay Area. By mid-day they called me, somewhat upset, that their office network had ground to a halt. No one in their office could do… anything. There was so much traffic eating their bandwidth – and their processing power on the machine – that they couldn’t do anything. Thankfully, it was a Friday. And more thankfully, they didn’t kill the site. In 1996, there weren’t a lot of ‘reasonably price’ hosting options, and it wasn’t like today when you could just plug in a credit card number, change your DNS, and restore a copy of the site on a new machine in 30 minutes.
While I was already well-hooked on being a geek, this solidified my interest in the web, the internet, technology, and websites in general. I can’t believe it’s been 25 years.