In honor of OneWebDay, I am posting to all my blogs a little story about how I first got started on the Web...
True Story: In August 1994, I was held up at gunpoint on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and kidnapped with a friend. Three guys, three guns. They took us down the block at gunpoint to the nearest ATM machine to take out money. It was dark and suddenly there was nobody on the street except for us. Long story short, we escaped, and I lived to tell the tale.
I left New York City for a month to regroup. Went to Santa Fe to visit my sister who was living there at the time. Now I'd been going online in one form or another since 1987 when I bought my first computer - an Amstrad 1640 dual floppy (no harddrive). The IBM of the UK, I was told when I bought it. I also purchased a modem (1200 baud?) and learned how to access local BBSs - bulletin board systems or computers in somebody's room or basement.
After I realized I could chat with others online and discovered the wonders of e-mail, I began networking with other women through America Online (which at the time was the smallest of the 3 big commercial online services - Prodigy was #1, CompuServe #2) and Women's Wire (which had almost 1000 members at the time). I also started consulting clients about Internet communications and marketing. This was 1992.
So back to Santa Fe, December 1994. I learned about the Web when I saw an ad in the local arts paper. "Discover the World Wide Web" said the ad. I had no idea what the World Wide Web was but I saw an e-mail address. E-mail I knew. So I e-mailed a query and found out that a guy was teaching a class on HTML in town. I took a 2 hour class for $10 in basic HTML and was immediately an expert. Well, in that amount of time, I learned all there was to learn - it was so easy back then.
I began building web sites and published my first one when I got back to NYC in January 1995. I called it "The Web According to Cybergrrl." I had decided not to use my real name online because I wasn't sure who was reading (we've come a long way, baby). So I drew a cartoon character of myself and called her "Cybergrrl" - "Cyber" because I had read and loved William Gibson's book "Neuromancer" where he coined the term "cyberspace" and "grrl" because I wasn't a "girl" and it was sort of a nod to the Riot Grrrl movement.
That month, I began pounding the pavement looking for clients for the new business I dreamed up - Web consulting. I called the company CGIM which stood for Cybergrrl Internet Media. I was wary of calling my company Cybergrrl because I wanted to be taken seriously in the decidedly male-dominated tech industry. Within a few months, everyone was calling me Cybergrrl anyway. My first client was the brand new New Media Director at the New York Times who would sneak me into his office after hours to teach him how to surf the Web and set up an account with an ISP because he knew CD-Roms but didn't know the first thing about the Internet.
My personal web site quickly became Cybergrrl.com, Cybergrrl, Inc.'s first official site for women followed by Webgrrls.com which had started out as an old-fashioned blog - literally a Web Log listing women's web sites around the world. Then we built the first searchable directory of exclusively web sites for women and girls called Femina.com in direct response to the fact that searching for "women" or "girls" on Yahoo.com at the time yielded nothing but pornography. Yeah, this was back in the day when Yahoo was just a side project for two kids in college and Cybergrrl was the most popular women's web site.
About a year later, Women's Wire went online with Women.com (I had approached them in early 1995 to help put them on the Web but they didn't have see the point at the time). Half a year after that, Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans put up iVillage.com (I had lunch with them a few months before their launch and then held Webgrrls meetings at their offices after they debuted). Both were well-funded endeavors while Cybergrrl started as just me, my PowerBook and some hot pink business cards.
People ask why I'm not a millionaire if I started at the beginning of this whole Web thing and am known as the "woman who pioneered the Web for other women." The honest answer is two-fold:
1. I never set out to make a million - I was just hoping to pay my bills. Like so many women, I just wanted to do a good thing and love what I do. I figured the money would follow. I didn't take a salary for the first few years then took about half of what the receptionist made after.
2. I had a business partner who had a totally different vision for the company than I did. We clashed all the time. I finally walked away from the company and never saw a dime after that. I was able to continue to refer to myself as "The Original Cybergrrl" and "Founder of Webgrrls International," but I lost all of it.
Such is life. And that, in a nutshell, is my early Web story.