Two decades into the "big digital hugeness"

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis is moving to an office tower down the street. In the process, staff archaeologists unearthed a video of the 1995 unveiling of Star Tribune Online to the staff. Jamie Hutt posted it on YouTube. It's an hour long, which is more of watching myself than I can stand, but Adrian Holovaty made it through and pointed me to this:

"One thing that we're headed toward here is -- we're only five years away from the 21st century. We're moving into a world in which all information will be digital, bandwidth will be cheap, distance is erased.

"You'll notice we're building a local online service that's running off a computer in Massachusetts. We didn't bat an eye at that. We're moving into a vastly different age than all of us grew up in.

"And as important as I think this product is, because I'm involved in it, the more important thing for the company is that we develop the capabilities of understanding the new media, the capabilities of creating new products, not just this one, and that we position the company so that we're in the right place, with the right set of tools, with the right understanding so when all this comes together in some big digital hugeness of the future that no one understands yet."

Here's the video, starting in the range of the quote. You can roll it back to the beginning if you like.

Today -- April Fool's Day -- is the 21st anniversary of my start on that project.

Bob Schafer and I, both coming from print journalism, spent the summer of 1994 figuring out a technology partner and planning how to staff for it. We brought together a small team and worked on building the service through fall and winter.

It wasn't just the content, or the technology. We even had to create our own consumer packaging for the installable software, which was necessary in the pre-Web world. The Interchange company, founded by the Ziff-Davis magazine empire and then sold to AT&T, created the software that we distributed. It was cutting-edge stuff -- multitasking, SGML, stylesheets. But not perfect. We and several hundred early test customers suffered with bugs and crashes, but made it through to the official launch in June 1995.

While we were working, the Internet was set free of its noncommercial-use policies. By the time snow was falling again, the brief era of private online services was ending. The following spring we moved everything to the Web, and the big digital hugeness.