Flash from the Past

I liked this. Hidden at the tail end a posting on web graph stats is this nostoglic tail from a decade ago.

If you go read the paper you’ll probably enjoy a snicker at the laughably-small size of the 1995 Web, and also at my heroic attempt to build a Snow Crash-inspired immersive simulation of the whole thing, using the then-hot VRML technology. It actually ran and you could zoom around in it and it was drop-dead cool, but not many people ever saw it; here’s the sad story.

I’d got some interests from the titans of VRML culture, including Mark Pesce and YON, who were at the conference, and we’d scheduled a demo. Getting the thing to run was kind of a pain in the ass, you needed all sorts of Netscape extensions and the textures were mammoth, so it took a while to download.

So on the day of the demo, I got it all set up and went to get the guys, and in the 30 seconds I was away from the browser, this elderly conference attendee got in, closed all my windows, opened a shell window, and started going through his back 300 emails over a connection with an effective rate of 300 baud or so. We stood there for a few minutes and hinted politely, but he needed his email and just wasn’t moving and was old enough not to be intimidated. A pity, but we made a date to come back first thing the next morning.

Except for, during the night, the guys from Microsoft went around, erased Netscape from all the computers, and installed Internet Explorer. I have some perspective now, but at the time I literally had to go outside the conference and sit down away from everybody, because I was afraid I’d do physical violence to the first Microsoftie I saw.

But I shouldn’t cry too much; Neal Stephenson, as a cyberspace designer, is a great novelist, and the project never had legs.

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