July 9, 2001 marks the one-year anniversary of relaunching of tow.com as a personal web site. This musing reflects on the days before tow.com, its five year history as my company’s web site, my decision to transform it into my personal site, and its future.
I remember first seeing the Web, as embodied at the time by Mosaic, sometime during my senior year in high school (1992-1993). I had been using the Internet and BBS for many years prior to that, primarily for chatting, playing games, and file transfer. I must admit, the first time I saw a web page and browser, I was a little underwhelmed, thinking to myself, “Man, that’s really slow!” At the time, I had been working to FirstClass, a graphical BBS system from SoftArc, a company based out of Canada. I was using FirstClass for a company that I was working with. Back then, FirstClass allowed us to do image maps, hyperlinks, and fast graphics retrieval in a way that seemed much better and more efficient than the Web at the time. Technology improved, however, and the Internet’s standards-based technology eventually caught up and overtook any of FirstClass’ supposed superior features.
From 1995-2000, tow.com pointed to my software and consulting company. Foundation Systems specialized in software design and consultation in the field of handheld technology, an area of focus that been my career passion ever since I bought my first handheld, the Newton MessagePad in September, 1993.
I registered the domain name tow.com on January 18, 1995. I realized early on the benefits of a domain name, and I was fortunate to have gotten tow.com as early as I did. Available three-letter domain names are all but taken today, and to get one as common as “tow” was really quite lucky, in hindsight. I never have received many requests for the domain name, though there were a few towing companies that were interested some years back. Their offers were very low (think $500), prompting laughter as opposed to any level of seriousness on my part. On January 21, 1995, I have my first mention of the tow.com name:
1/21/1995–It’s 3:23 PM now. I woke up around 11:00, took a shower, and then worked my butt off configuring the family’s accounts on ElectriCiti, or should I say, tow.com? Yes, it’s finally been realized and finalized, tow.com is an official domain name that happens to be linked to powergrid.electriciti.com.
Since I was writing software for the Newton, I figured that I had to have a place to showcase my warez to the rest of the handheld community. In 1996, I got involved with Kagi, a company that handled electronic payments on the Internet. Soon after that, the sales of my software picked up, eventually reaching global proportions, where I realized sales to people in over 21 countries. Things were going pretty well, and I was still just a student at Stanford!
Since I was spending a good deal of my spare time on my software and the company web site, I didn’t have much time to work on anything personal on the Internet. My Stanford web site was a pitiful excuse for a personal web site, unlike the ones that other people were developing at the time. I just didn’t care then. My web life was Foundation Systems, and the more corporate and professional it looked, the better. The less personal and hokey it looked, the better (not that my new site is hokey!) I didn’t want people to know that it was just one person writing and distributing this software. I wanted people to think that Foundation Systems employed hoardes of developers tirelessly programming on their Macintoshes with Newton Toolkit, weaving the greatest Newton software this side of the International Date Line! For that reason, I rarely mentioned the fact that it was a one-person operation, and that suited me just fine.
Over the next few years, the web site for Foundation Systems experienced a number of changes in design. To keep up with the Jones’ you had to refresh the design of your site every 6 months or so. One of the components that remained from every site iteration was running list of company announcements and news on the front page. This design component is present to this day in the form of my running journal. This technique is also used on many personal web sites today through the use of products such as Blogger.
From 1998-2000, Foundation Systems witnessed a transition of a sorts, as I was focusing more on my consulting projects than software development. I maintained support of my software products, but I was no longer actively developing. Though I did manage to release a few new products for the Newton and the Palm, much of my work at the time was spent at companies such as Palm or OmniSky. In 2000, I joined DoDots, a startup in Palo Alto (later Sunnyvale), working on their wireless and mobile initiatives. It was at this time I released much of my software back to the community as free products, complete with source code. I felt that I couldn’t maintain or support such products while I was working full-time at DoDots, so the least that I could do was release the stuff for free and let the community take over. It was a good decision, as I spent much of 2000 growing as a person instead of staying at home during the evenings working on my software.
I had purchased my first digital camera in October 1998. Since then, I’ve been documenting my life and the adventures that I go on on digital-film. My first experience using my camera to cover an event was at the 1998 World Series, where my beloved Padres fell to one of the most dominant teams in league history, the 1998 New York Yankees. I went to Game Four in San Diego with my Dad and had a blast, even though the Padres lost and were swept. At the beginning of 1999, I started a project that initially was to last one year: taking a picture of myself daily. Over two and a half years later, I’m still at it. You may have seen pictures from my Year in 60 Seconds photomusing, which covers my daily pictures from April 13, 2000 to April 14, 2001 (where you can watch my hair grow like a Chia Pet in 60 seconds!).
My friend, Eric has had his own personal site up for a few years, which I enjoyed looking at from time to time. And so it was during my stay at DoDots that I began thinking about relaunching tow.com as a personal web site. After all, I had all these pictures lying around on my hard drive. Why not use them to weave a story about my life? I wrote the following entry in my journal on March 12, 2000:
3/12/2000–I’ve been thinking of redesigning the web site to be like Eric Cheng’s or musician’s sites on the Web. Make tow.com the Adam Tow web site.
On May 13, 2000, I transferred the old Foundation Systems over to its new hosting provider, SpeedyWeb, a hosting provider based out of Ohio. SpeedyWeb allowed me access to more powerful web technologies than I had on ElectriCiti, my old Internet Service Provider based out of San Diego. I spent the next two months working on the site redesign, working on the look and feel and writing the initial set of content that tow.com would launch with. The night of July 9, I finished the site, and on the evening of July 10 I sat in the DoDots’ office in Sunnyvale, feverishly using its high-speed Internet connection to upload the new tow.com to the web site. The photograph you see to the right was taken with my Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph, as I completed the transfer of files to SpeedyWeb.
That night, I sent an email to close friends and family announcing the new tow.com:
Everyone: C'est tout bon! It's all good! After countless hours and multiple rewrites, the redesigned tow.com web site has finally been pushed to production. Find it at: http://www.tow.com/ Make it an adventure to check out site and let me know what you like or don't like about it. Also, be sure to sign my guestbook, too. New and exciting content will be posted on a regular basis, so come back often and refer others to the site. Thank you and enjoy! -adam
Nearly a year and almost 40,000 visitors later, I’m pretty pleased with the way the site has turned out. I’ve been consistent in updating the site and keeping it from going stale. It’s long and hard work at times, but the comments, guestbook entries, and emails that I’ve received render those hours sitting alone in front of the computer screen worth it. I learned early on while running Foundation Systems that the Internet was indeed a great unifier, a great vehicle for communicating with people that you would otherwise never meet, never talk to. I developed relationships and friendships with people across the globe because of the Internet and my work on handheld computers. That would have never happened had it been for my passion for developing (and sharing) software. I tried to carried that tradition on when I created my personal web site. While there are still a good number of people coming to my site because of my handheld software, I am getting more and more people visiting my site because they found my musing on hair or my story of Ultimate Dislocation. And, others have come to my site because they went to a party of event that I documented on my camera.
I had to dig through my old files to find the old sites that you see pictures in this musing. I wish that I had started using a source code control system for my web site, as I do today for many of my software projects at Palm. I suppose that when I either switch to Mac OS X or Windows 2000, I’ll install CVS or Perforce so I can keep track of all changes to the site over time!
The future of tow.com? The future isn’t set. There’s no fate but what we make, as they say. I plan to continue putting up photojournals and musings for the forseeable future. My future plan to travel around the world poses an interesting problem for the web site. I’m not certain that current technology will allow me to update the site in real-time wherever I am. If I do decide to travel around the globe for a year, I’m likely going to be bringing a CD-RW equipped laptop with me. That way, I’ll be able to create my web site onsite and send the resulting files to a trusted source here in the U.S. for uploading and publication. I won’t exactly be real-time (more like postcard time), but it’s the best solution that I have today without spending an exhorbitant amount of money on a SatCom Internet connection! The other alternative that I’ve thought about and others have mentioned to me is to plan my route around the people that I’ve met online over the years. That way, I can put the faces behind the emails and use their Internet connections to provide my updates to the site. I’ve already begun to collect a list of names of the people that I would like to meet in the world. I figure it’ll make the trip a little less lonely and much more fun and exciting!
I publish on tow.com today because I want to remember the events that I have experienced in both writing and pictures. In addition, I like to share those memories with the people who were with me at the time of these events as well as those who were unable to attend. In the past year that I’ve been doing this, I can think of nothing but good things that have come out of keeping an online journal/personal web site. I’ve been able to capture the good times, the bad times, the happy times, and the painful times… what more can you ask?