1996 I cancelled my New-York-times subscription because of the internet
When the NY Times wanted to Speak with Me about the Internet:
When I created one of the first websites in 1996 for my custom software company, I would cancel my New York Times subscription because the internet made it worthless. Doing it was easy. Explaining to the Grey Lady that her wrinkles were showing proved to be a bit harder.
It was 1996. After spending about a decade working in the IT departments for some Manhattan firms, I decided to hang my own sign.
Even in the days of Seinfeld, people wanted software. The technology we take for granted was emerging, and everyone wanted to figure out what it could do for them.
Working in technology gave me the advantage of seeing everything first. I got to do it all with the early adapters.
To advertise my services, I paid $400 to the New York Times for an ad in their paper. At the time, people would buy a physical copy, look at the pages, and if they saw something they needed, they would pick up the phone and call me.
But the times, they were a Changin.
Saving Trees because of the Internet:
In the beginning, the web was a novelty because the internet wasn’t so big. There weren’t that many sites to connect with. In 1995, HTML 2.0 was released. This version was beginning to gain traction.
It would be a few years before enough sites enabled users to spend hours seeing all the different ways cats could eat supper.
I decided to invest some time and effort into making one of these websites. The site was simple: It was just three pages and needed 2 megabytes of space. Today, a single page consumes as much memory.
I used the Hot Dog HTML editor.
By building it myself, it cost me nothing. When the site went live, I told my developer friends.
They all raved about it. Most people relied on the newspapers and the Yellow Pages to let people know who they were, what they offered, and how to contact them.
I was delivering this information to any computer screen out there.
Show Me the Money!
Long before Jerry Maguire said that December, the internet was doing it in droves.
My phone started to ring off the hook. I still expected them to say, “Is this The Farber Consulting Group Inc., from the New York Times ad?”
I was pleasantly shocked when most calls came from people who saw my site. They called, excited about the new technology. They asked how I did it and told me of their specific needs. They would tell me how they needed a site, but done differently for their business.
It made me keenly aware that standard technology, like the internet, needed to be customized for every unique user. Like a good suit, everyone needed one, but each individual required the standard fit adjusted to their specific frame.
I was serving as many clients through my site as I did through the Times.
SEO in the Era of Spice Girls:
When my website went live, Google was still a research project at Stanford University.
People were finding me on Yahoo!
I called them and asked how to get more people to visit my site.
They introduced me to search capability, the parent of SEO.
They said I should select the right keywords and add them to my title, a short description about my site, and put them in my text.
It was still the 1.0 version of the internet. Yahoo! was cataloging pages based on keywords. You could set them manually in a keyword property on the page and Yahoo! would take your word for it.
Google taught me a thing or two about custom applications. They knew that Yahoo! had a weak model. People could stuff their pages with hundreds of keywords, and they did. The system was open to massive abuse.
Google took the first standard solution for cataloging the internet to search for information, which was based on keywords, and customized it to become more accurate and foolproof. They used the actual HTML technology to determine how valuable a page was to its keyword.
They measured how other sites were hyperlinking to a specific web page as the primary measure.
You can embellish keywords. You can be very creative in demonstrating your relevancy to topics not precisely in your core industry, but you can’t synthesize what other people think of you.
Google did something rarely done. They replaced the established market leader by customizing their solution to a common challenge.
But before then, my pre-SEO search efforts were working. More people were finding me. I had to hire an entire department of developers to handle the traffic.
That’s when I got the call.
Time to Cancel my New York Times Subscription:
“Mr. Farber, is everything okay?”
“Who is calling, I asked?”
“It’s the New York Times.”
I was so thrilled with how this new technology boosted my business I thought they wanted to interview me.
“How can I help you?”
“Why did you cancel with us, sir?”
Things were going so well with my website that I canceled my New York Times subscription. I had been paying them $400 a month for years. They wanted to know what had changed.
When I told them, they were pretty shaken up. They were receiving similar calls. They weren’t used to losing business like this.
I tried to warn them that there was too much opportunity elsewhere because of the internet. It felt like picking up dollar bills from the ground. It was so easy. As Macarena said that year, “What else was I supposed to do?”
It didn’t click with them. It would take a lot more pain before they realized the future was in digital.
But I knew.
I told all my clients to embrace the internet. The ones that were used to customizing things to their specific needs were those that led the charge. None of them regretted that decision.
Being the first to adapt a successful technology is like walking into a treasure house with nobody there. You grab everything in sight for those glorious minutes you’re alone.
Eventually, the rest of the world comes surging in. Today, we have a vibrant digital ecosystem where we can occupy every moment tracking Elon Musk, streaming movies, and talking about Madonna’s new look.
Ironically, we were discussing that last one in 1996.
My talk with the Times was one of the early signals that the old media was at the top, beginning its descent, and the new media was emerging from the valley, ready to cross paths with what it was about to replace.
Today, it’s machine learning and AI. Web3 and quantum computing. It’s cloud platforms and 99.999% availability. A lot has changed, but the most important principle of success in the digital age is as important today as it was when I made my first site while humming to “Beautiful Life” by Ace of Base:
Your success is determined by how creative you can adapt your applications to your specific business goals.
The Times had missed it. Yahoo! had missed it.
Google knew, and I knew.
It’s why we are still climbing.