Back in September, Ben Fisher launched the History of Web Hosting timeline on Facebook, a community project he says is designed to collect what he considers to be key moments in the history of web hosting into Facebook’s timeline format, providing visitors with a snapshot-style look at many of the events that shaped the industry.
Fisher is a veteran of the hosting business, a founder of the marketing consulting company TechPad, and the hosting industry information site TheHostingNews, as well as a former marketing director at hosting control panel software firm cPanel.
In an email Q&A with the WHIR, Ben Fisher discusses the History of Web Hosting project, discussing why he began the effort in the first place, what he hopes it can provide to the industry, and what people involved in the industry can do to contribute to the timeline.
WHIR: Can you explain what you’re doing here? What is the history of web hosting timeline, and what does it involve?
Ben Fisher: WebHostingHistory.org was a project I had been interested in starting for quite a while. Our industry is still very young in comparison to most industries, but has a huge impact on the Internet as a whole. For people on the outside looking in, it is hard to see all the amazing things that have happened over the years.
I felt that people in the industry also deserved to have somewhere people could go to see the major milestones without having to dig through many sites and press releases.
Additionally, I wanted to have a social location where people close to the industry could share their experiences and memories. We do this all the time when we get together at HostingCon and other industry events. But, after the events we reminisce very little.
WHIR: So what fits into the history of web hosting, and what doesn’t quite make it? How do you make those calls?
BF: So far I have been trying to stick to a few things: dates companies were founded; information about mergers and acquisitions (dates and values); major technology introductions and shifts; industry events;
major news events or unique promotions or events – like when HostGator was featured in a MMA video game from Electronic Arts.
I also have a poll on the timeline that a few people have responded to, I would really love to know what else people in the industry feel is important to document. For instance, should a person that has been appointed to a position in a large company really be included?
How do I make the call as to what gets included? That is a really great question. I am striving to make this timeline as journalistic as possible. So far my “rules” are: there has to be at least one citable source online – a hosting news site, Wikipedia or press on the company’s website; If there are multiple sources with different information then the source that is most credible wins, but I plan on reaching out for verification of a fact in the future and also leave it open for discussion; I really want to encourage everyone that is in the industry to comment on milestones, if a credible comment is made (say, from someone who worked at that company) then I will update the source with a reference.
They types of companies listed include, hosting companies, software companies and ISVs, and data centers.
WHIR: What’s the point of that particular set of information being collected in one place? How do you imagine people will use it?
BF: Interesting patterns start to emerge when you place a lot of data into a timeline. The initial concept was to have a visual way of looking at web hosting history. I imagine it will be used for research, article writing and possibly for investors that may not be overly familiar with the history of our industry.
WHIR: Is there a benefit to you from assembling the history of web hosting, beyond whatever academic interest is being satisfied?
BF: This is my way of giving back to our industry. The industry as a whole has treated me well for over 10 years and I wanted to give back something.
Even though I own a hosting news site, I still cite multiple news sources. So getting traffic is not the benefit. So really the benefit for me is more academic, and has to do with feeling good about putting something together that I hope the industry likes and can benefit from.
One last thing to note is that I am not taking any money, donations or advertising in relation to the timeline. I have already been offered funds to sponsor the timeline, but to keep it as journalistic as possible, I decided to decline any funding.
WHIR: Why on Facebook, rather than, for instance, on a website of your own?
BF: Using the FaceBook timeline feature seemed to make the most sense in organizing the data. The other advantage that FaceBook had over just putting it on a site of my own was the full integration of FaceBook, where our industry does engage a lot.
The one major drawback to using FaceBook as the platform is currently searchability.
Lastly, I have a domain WebHostingHistory.org that points to the FaceBook page. I did this to make it easier for people to remember the location of the timeline versus having to remember the FaceBook URL.
WHIR: Is it just you working on it, or do you have help?
BF: Right now it is just me, Keith Duncan, William Toll and you (Liam Eagle) that have expressed interest in helping. My hope is that more people will be interested in contributing and more importantly interacting with the timeline by commenting and sharing memories on milestones.
Additionally, people can email me directly or message us via FaceBook if they have information they would like considered for inclusion.
WHIR: What has the response been like so far?
BF: So far I have a list of about 135 companies that will be included, only about 35% have made it on the timeline so far. Out of these the things that are getting the most interaction are photos from events, a lot of comments happen when I add a photo. In private conversations the response has been terrific, mostly people wondering why this was never done before and comments about what people have learned or in some cases forgotten.
WHIR: Have you learned anything interesting about the history of web hosting as a result of working on this? Anything that helped crystallize the value of the whole project for you?
BF: For me personally, one story, as I was entering data stands out, seeing how much of an impact Verisign and Navisite had on the industry in the 90′s then seeing their company growth strategies via acquisition up until in 2000 Network Solutions was acquired by Verisign for $21 Billion and Navisite went IPO in the same year.
What really crystallized the value in this project was when I was attending cPanel Confernece. Almost everyone I talked with was bringing up that they saw what I was doing and congratulated me on undertaking an effort that was noncommercial in nature and more of something that will tell our history for hopefully years to come.
Talk back: have you visited the history of web hosting timeline on Facebook yet? Have you been able to make use of the project or contribute to it? Are you glad it exists? Let us know in the comments.