By Saturday, January 24, 1998, things looked ready. The software was written and tested. I had leased a PC running Linux for $279 a month from a company in Virginia called Digital Nation. I had created a Limited Liability Corporation. I ran out of things to do. Silly me. I guess it was time.
I wanted to start things slowly, so I decided to try to get one person to start a list. I’d be able to shake out any remaining bugs and get feedback. So I did a search of USENET looking for people who wanted to start mailing lists but didn’t know how. I found one person, who happened to be in Norway, and spammed him about the service. Then I went to bed. Little did I know that this would be the last night of (non-alcohol induced) restful sleep for the next couple of years.
The next morning, I was hoping that there’d be one new list created. Or at least I hoped the guy from Norway didn’t complain about me spamming him. Instead, to my surprise, there were about 20 lists created. The guy from Norway had created his list and then told all his friends about it. And that’s how it grew. You create a list and of course you want subscribers. So you tell your friends. It snowballs. Viral marketing, the VCs call it.
So what was the first list? Discourse about Shakespearean influence in modern playwrights? Talk about rising tensions in the Middle East? In depth political discussion about globalization and free trade? No, no, no. It was about lizards. Not just any kind of lizard, but Anole lizards. From a guy in Norway. It’s still there, even: Discussion list for all Anole species. And most of the other new lists were lizard lists. I suddenly had visions in my head about our first press release. “Leaping lists of lizards!” it would shout. Herpetologists rejoice!
From that, there was little stopping it. I occasionally posted announcements to USENET groups about ONElist, but the growth really came from word of mouth. In hindsight, I guess it’s obvious that mailing lists are viral. But at the time, I had no idea. I just wanted to create a service that made finding and managing mailing lists easier.
So now, the story shifts from trying to get people to use the service, to keeping up with the growth. It was good that I had a restful night of sleep that night.