A Nostalgic Moment: Early Dot-Com Days

A couple of weekends ago, Lisa and I were visiting the Niagara region for a Chardonnay ‘fest’.

For me, the wine-soaked weekend was the last hoorah for an industry that, to be honest, wasn’t a good career choice. I’m sure I’ll touch on that in a different post.

That said, we enjoyed ourselves and found ourselves meandering from Niagara On The Lake (NOTL) to Niagara Falls and back to St Catherine’s, where our hotel room was located.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Niagara, but enough to pause on the river side of the falls where it’s substantially more peaceful and void of tourists. The view from the area is very different from that of the Falls-side. The main sightline is that of Buffalo, in New York.

Buffalo wasn’t much of a town until Nikola Tesla and Westinghouse converted the natural force of the falls into electricity that powers most of the Eastern Seaboard. The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed many houses and buildings for the community and we’ve heard it’s well worth the visit if you’re into that kind of woodwork and detailing.

Lisa and I haven’t spent any time in Buffalo, but I used to make day trips there.

Back in 1999, I started a business called BarChord.com. The purpose of the site was to allow musicians to upload their work and give consumers and fans an opportunity to pay those musicians for their songs. The price would be set anywhere from $0.25 per download to as much as $2.00. The plan was to set an algorithm that would respond to demand for a song and increase the price as its popularity increased. More downloads per song would translate to a higher and higher cut for the artist, to a point where we’d be sharing as much as 80% with the artist. For us, it was about cost-recovery more than profit maximization.

Anyways, when I started the site, Canada was uniquely VOID of any of the following options, at least at a reasonable small-business rate:

  • Domain purchase and hosting
  • Business-class download / data services (ie. anything that would resembles today’s data download / upload bandwidth)
  • Small business phone lines and toll-free numbers
  • Defined physical server hosting / locating and storage
  • Shipping

We never really got into the last item (shipping) in any shape or form, but all of the others represented basic small-business infrastructure that simply didn’t exist in Canada during the late-90s.

You had to be big or not at all.

Now, there’s always a possibility that I missed something about the way Canadian media monopolies were running their businesses, but when I approached companies like Bell (and Sympatico), Rogers and other telecom companies, the prices were just outrageous.

A small business phone number and account would cost thousands per year.

I simply did NOT have that kind of financial runway for my fledging company, so I looked to resources in the US and I ultimately had to create a post-office box in Buffalo where I could maintain and ‘business address’ that would be used when I registered BarChord.com for things like a phone number, toll-free number and hosting.

Getting a dot-com address in Canada was also a bureaucratic nightmare. At the time, there were no or very few domain registrars catering to Canadian companies and services. Anyone that wanted to be online had to resort to an American (or non-Canadian) resource to grab a domain name. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) was barely starting and folks working there had limited exposure or understanding of what the internet was all about. Or, at least, seemed to. I’m sure now that I’m 20 years away from it all, these same folks would have a very different story about what a dolt I probably was (which is a truth pretty much all the time).

The excessive challenges associated with getting the basic infrastructure of my dot-com business organized inevitably brought about its demise (along with the simple fact that I launched in between Napster and Apple’s iTunes, but that again, is another story).

So, as we looked across the rushing rivers of Lake Erie as they may their way into the precipice origin point of Lake Ontario, I was reminded about the strange ways in which our world is inflexible and, to some extent, incapable of accommodating new ideas and interests.

This simple nostalgic moment reminds me that a LOT has been forced onto the entire population of the planet over the last few years with the pandemic. People absorb and change at different speeds.

If we’re ever to save the planet, we’re all going to have to be somewhat on the same page and all of our institutions (governments, businesses, not-for-profits, local organizations) have to work in tandem if we’re going to survive the climate crisis that’s already affecting so many millions of humans … and billions of species of creatures … on this planet.

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