You didn’t think that I’d let a 17 year milestone pass with just one blog post. No way!
This is an event that needs to be celebrated!
A few weeks ago, someone asked me about how this site got started and told me how they remembered the site’s address: by saying “Frank’s World” to the tune of the Wayne’s World theme song.
Funny, he mentioned that.
Like most things, there’s always a good story behind the story, as well as hidden gems of humor.
A long time ago (1996), there was a project called 24 Hours in Cyberspace. It chronicled the stories behind the prominent internet sites at the time and how it changed people’s lives and wasn’t simply pictures of people in front of their monitors.
That got me thinking: the story of Frank’s World isn’t so much about the website: it’s about everything that transpired in the past 17 years.
And that’s worth reflecting on, because the last 17 years have been an astounding journey.
Prologue: Late 1991/Early 1992
The exact origins of Frank’s World can be traced to 1991, when I was a freshman at Fordham University.
The fictionalized version of the origins of Frank's World created for the 5th birthday celebration, takes some liberties with some points. But the basic parts of the story are true: this all began as a way to tick off an uptight, narcissistic roommate by posting fake news stories on our dorm room door.
At the time, there was a lot of promotional material and buzz around the Wayne’s World movie and SNL skit. He hated Wayne’s World and fake news tabloids like the Weekly World News. He also disliked door decorations that were not of his creation.
It seemed only fitting to put the two together. Thus, “Frank’s World News” was born.
Frank’s World was originally something I put together in SuperPaint and let me combine my love for computers and graphic design. (Some things never change. )
The first "issue" of Frank's World had three stories:
- Elvis working at Quick Chek in Jersey City,
- Bruce Lee being cryogenically frozen until the economy improved (Fun Trivia Fact: This was a quote from DC Cab)
- a story about Bigfoot roaming around the Bronx Zoo.
The stories were all non-sense and that kind of was the point. Some people don’t react well to non-sense.
Naturally, he didn’t appreciate the publication and it was ripped down a few times. Such was the beauty of desktop publishing: I could always print another. And I did.
It All Began in the Bronx: 1995
Four years later, I had graduated from college and the “roommate wars” were long forgotten.
The web was new. In August of 1995, Netscape went public and that was the opening shot of the IPO-mania that would ultimately become the Dotcom Boom. That summer I attended the MacWorld Expo in Boston and the Netscape IPO was the topic of the day, even though the breakout sessions were all geared towards authoring CD-ROM multimedia. Prior to that month, CD-ROM was “the hot new medium.”
I remember sitting in one breakout session and the speaker talked about Netscape’s IPO and how that was sure to spark a lot of interest in the internet.
Joe Sparks, who later created the Radiskull/Devil Doll series, was a speaker at this conference talking about his breakthrough CD-ROM titles with Total Distortion and Spaceship Warlock. He also pointed out that multimedia content delivery via the internet was the future.
The audience laughed. In the dial-up internet access world of 1995, this notion was laughable.
Who’s laughing now?
I had been thinking about creating a web page.
That was the thing to do back then: create a home page with a list of sites that you frequently visited. As the trend spread, people would add their own personality and flair to their homepages. Soon, they would become destinations in their own right.
On the way back from Boston, I pondered what would the name and theme of my homepage be. As I passed the Bronx, the idea came to me: bring back Frank’s World.
The site’s focus at the time was true to its paper-based predecessor: tabloid-style fake news stories.
Above: The original Frank’s World logo.
I uploaded the first few HTML, JPGs, and GIF files for Frank’s World on October 13, 1995. The original launch date was to be Oct 11th, but in the days of hand-coded HTML, delays happened.
There was also a matter of a new job I started, which might have been the worst job I ever had.
It was at a small, but psychotic mutual fund company. I had just left a three year stint as a VB3 consultant at large, well respected Wall St. firm. This place was the polar opposite in just about every way.
The head of the IT department’s voice sounded exactly like Howard Stern. However, since we didn’t have the FCC listening to conversations in the office, he wasn’t afraid to let the profanities fly. It was anything but a professional environment.
Frank’s World ended up being a good creative outlet and helped me sharpen the saw until I found a better opportunity. I quickly became well versed in HTML and began to learn CGI scripting: rare skills in those days.
Moving Forward: 1996 through 1998
After the new year, I found a great job at a book retailer redesigning their electronic ordering systems. They were in the middle of migrating their “green screen” store systems to a modern PowerBuilder-based GUI. The PowerBuilder IDE had quite a few “undocumented features” back then. I set up an HTTP server on my desk, created a bulletin board CGI script, and had team members post work-arounds and share tips. This was the company’s first intranet server. When they looked to create an online store, I was promoted to webmaster.
Frank’s World wasn’t just a hobby, it was now a proving ground that greatly boosted to my professional career.
In 1996, I expanded the site to include some new areas.
Fake news was interesting, but at this point, it was pretty clear that The Onion was going to rule that space.
SchnauzerSpace was originally started as a project to expand my HTML design skills by creating a web page for my dog.
Everyone in 1996 made web pages for their dog. My goal was to create a dog site like no other and really stand out.
For SchnauzerSpace, I let the creative juices flow and it was a great opportunity to hone my Photoshop and Flash skills – something that has come in handy again and again.
There was also a message board, where dog breeders would have virtual smack-downs daily. I referred to it as Jerry Springer-Spaniel.
I created other sub site formats as well: a webzine, a joint venture Prank Calls humor site with a brilliant comedian.
There were other ideas, too, but most never made it off the drawing board. I think the important thing was the inspiration I drew from the site and how I was able to apply the skills I learned from my “hobby” to my career.
The moral of the story: you learn something doing what you love and it’s a win. If you can re-use that skill again and again, then it’s a double-win.
From NJ to Deutschland: 1998 through 2001
Starting in 1998, I began to read more and more about ASP. The more I read, the more I liked about it. Up until this point, I was pretty much a Perl/CGI guy on the server side and Java guy on the client. Some things, like session management, were a million times easier in ASP than in CGI/Perl. I started playing around with it at home and doing some experiments for Frank’s World.
Eventually, I moved Frank’s World over to a Windows hosting account, which was a bold move in 1998. I liked the environment that much and the extra productivity.
Eventually, I showed some co-workers what could be done in ASP.
The large German chemical company where I worked was strictly a Solaris server only kind of place. Windows was not allowed in the server room at all.
One day, I stumbled upon Chilisoft, a company that ported the ASP engine over to Solaris. We tried it out and it was awesome!
I can’t tell you how weird it felt to write classic ASP in a VI editor on a Sparc 5 workstation, but it was incredibly cool. We got the power of a Sparc Server with the productivity gains of using ASP. Our three person team outperformed larger development teams that used other, Java based platforms.
Eventually, I received a call from a recruiter friend, an American bank who was a Microsoft-based shop was getting bought by a large German bank, which had a heavy handed Solaris-only policy. They were looking for someone who had experience with both the technology and the inter-cultural issues of such a trans-Atlantic merger. I liked the sound of that challenge and I took the job.
Because of the usual post-merger chaos, the division I worked in was to be replaced by a business unit in Germany. About three or four hundred jobs were being moved away from New York. They offered me the chance to re-locate and I took it. Six weeks later I was in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
While in Europe, I posted travel updates and photos from my travels. It was a great way to keep friends and family back home up to date on my adventures.
Adventures that would likely not have occurred without what I learned from working on Frank’s World.