Friday, February 17, 2012

Cybertown.com: 1995 - 2012 (R.I.P.?)

When I was new to the internet in 1997, I bought a paper "yellow pages" directory of internet sites. Search engines back then were limited in their functionality, so you still had to rely on established sources. The "info highway" was big and broad and unknown and open. ANYWHERE you went was new and exciting. Mostly because it was, well, new and exciting!

I shoved post-its in dozens of pages of that book. It was alphabetically listed, so I don't think I made it past "E". But one of the places I found was called Cybertown. Long before sexual connotations, you could prefix lots of sites with "cyber". It was like magic to me. Somebody had set up a web site with lots of pictures that looked like a futuristic metropolis. None of the Netscape grey backgrounds with text. I was hooked. I "moved in" and listed myself in one of the apartments. Hundreds of links could take me anywhere I wanted to go that was Cybertown related.

Then one day it was announced that they were going to go 3D. They were setting up a VRML site. And there was a link to a preview. I didn't have a clue what to expect. So I downloaded something called a 3D client. If you've never had an epiphany online, you can't understand what my experience was. I was experiencing a virtual world for my very first time ever. I wandered around for a full two hours in real time. If my wife hadn't called out to me, I would have been there all night. It was the place called Colony City, the precursor to Cybertown 3D.

Life online happens. I got a job, moved up the ladder, had some racy relationships, got full of myself, and got fired. It was the first time I had ever been fired from a job I really, truly loved. If it hadn't been play money, I'd be rich today. So would hundreds of other CT residents. I was devastated. Those of you that have ever been fired from a job you really loved know what I'm talking about. I've healed. The wound is still there, but I've healed.

I tried to move on. But when something is implanted into your genes, it's doggone hard to totally ignore it. I'd return occasionally, either to participate, or to complain. I never got banned. Probably because I always left in disgust. But I'd always come back. It's something I jokingly call the bungee cord effect. You are hooked, and the cord only stretches so far before you get dragged back.

But I guess the laws of atrophy apply anywhere. Even online. For years CT had been a pay site. Mostly to maintain the server. But there weren't enough regular members to keep the place up to date and new and exciting, except to let the locals do their thing. So finally in the middle of 2011, parent company IVN threw open the gates and dropped the fee. Everyone could return for free. But by then, the internet had moved on. Several virtual communities had already come and gone while CT was maintaining it's walled garden. A last ditch effort was being made to bring the community up to speed. I was part of the first wave. But true to tradition, there was lots of wheel spinning, and not much real progress as a group. That deadline was December. And then the parent company was to implement real changes.

And in February, the servers went silent.

If you go there you get "Forbidden

You don't have permission to access / on this server.
Apache/1.3.26 Server at www.cybertown.com Port 80". I was told they were changing providers to AT&T and AT&T has been having trouble getting it set up.

Yeah, there are some things I'll miss. I had gotten comfy with being back with some of the old timers that stuck it out to the end. I was always accosted by some deputy asking if I had a home and a job. And I knew the place like the back of my hand. In spite of my numerous absences.

Will I go back if Cybertown actually DOES come back online? Of course. But I'm not holding my breath on that. Unofficially, CT has reached the end of it's usefulness. But more obviously, it's reached the end of it's relevance in today's internet. When you have a globally recognized company like Linden Lab struggling with monetizing it's cash cow called Second Life, what are the chances of a small company called Integrated Virtual Networks breaking out of their own indecisions of monetizing?

If you see me in 3DPlanets, say hi. Otherwise, I'll be in Second Life.