Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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great minds


Electric Minds was a web magazine about living online. It was started in 1996 by Howard Rheingold and his merry band, won some awards, and ran out of money within a year or so.

summer, september, october, november and december of 1996, I worked for electric minds

a web based convergeance of community and content.

couch surfer howard got me into this,
and then my hands went out.

there was his garage being converted in the office and my loft dwelling,

but that was late, so I slept on the couch

I spent many long hours with him, listening to the early successes and failures - there was much stress and doubt

now howard is a big name, but this team was about more than him. a butt-kicking load more than him (as you can see to the right, he's an appropriate lightning rod).

I worked with


abbe donsaucy abbe

and other cool folks I didn't know before,

john mccoy
jim race

kiss vjim's art vagabond jim

squin jilld

if we had a patron diety, it would been ganesh.

he would shepherd us through the intense difficulties inherent in managing as wide a range of spontaneously diverse personalities.

contrast july and august, we met in howard's garden,

august, we had a bonfire

september we moved into china basin, heart of multimedia gulch san francisco SOuth of MArket, future home of a big baseball stadium.

big meets we launched on november 11, at 11:11am.

I had an idea for a project to work on with the company, but I decided to return to college when it looked like it would take some actual effort.

i wrote one article, on late night office life: marathon. i was working on a second, on doctor robert markison, when the company went under.


november 1996 - july 1997

electric minds might very well have come from howard's own web site, which very well might have come from our html sessions in his garden in 1994 and 1995. he got excited about publishing online, and wanted to bring his friends in on the fun, wanted to make his web site his full time job. i told him then that he should have built it up slowly himself, bootstrapping. instead, he found randy hakin, a money guy, and went hunting for venture capital.

well, that venture capital was never going to be enough. getting paid to try something by rich people or companies meant that electric minds didn't have to figure out how to be profitable. that is, until the venture capital ran out. but by that time, electric minds was so much larger than howard's backyard. it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to run electric minds, and i don't think it ever had more than half the number of unique domains visiting every day that my site did.


november 1996 - ?

that doesn't mean that the site wasn't successful - there was a community foundation laid that stayed on, loyally, through the dismantling of the magazine structure. they even tried to raise money to host the servers themselves.

when i look at the content, people could have built those pages by hand so much faster and cheaper than the way we had set up. in order to facilitate community, we had a database serving the articles next to dynamically loaded previews from the conversations. that was extremely expensive to build, and to continue to staff and serve. it made us dependent.

could we have built or settled for cheaper web conferencing system?

i think we got too caught up in thinking we were in the right place at the right time to innovate the medium and bring about "the social web" - a marketing phrase used to describe electric minds by people that didn't know http from ftp.

the money ran out, and no one answered our searching; electric minds went down, summer '97, less than a year after launch. and six months after Time magazine had declared it one of the top ten web sites of 1996.

the name and community was sold to durand communications, to use as a ready platform to promote and test their communityware product. howard was hired by them as a consultant. many members of the eminds team went on to do virtual community consulting for more profitable ventures.

i really mourned electric minds when i was in my technology self and society class at swarthmore, a year later. we were studying community, identity and communication online - all issues taken up by the saavy writers and conversationalists at eminds. none of the articles, or the virtual community directory, or profiles, none of the scholarship was even online any more.

maybe a bit like howard's books, it was perhaps too scholarly, perhaps too ahead of its time. howard can write about virtual community in 1992, and then it catches fire when it comes out and down the line: books are patient. expensive web sites have to prove themselves far faster.

i collected pre-launch predictions.

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