June 1998 – Beginnings of a Company

A quick rundown of where we are at this point. I’ve started an Internet service that has taken on a life of its own, growing to tens of thousands of users by this point. I’ve discovered my first serious competitor, in Makelist/eGroups. And I’m still working a full time job at Sun.

I had started ONElist with $5000 I received from a bonus at work. Server costs were running around $300 a month, but with the service growing, that number too was growing. And all the while my sanity level was decreasing with all the work. I needed to bring in help.

The first person I brought in was Scott Shambarger. I had been working with Scott for the previous couple of years and he was the smartest guy I knew. He also seemed a bit bored with corporate life at Sun. So, I took him out to lunch one day and spilled my guts about my secret nightlife. Because I am afflicted with the condition known as big mouth, I had casually mentioned ONElist to a couple of people at work, but I hadn’t really talked about it in depth with anyone.

Luckily for me, Scott was interested in joining my ship of fools. And even luckilier (that can’t be a word), he was interested in investing. And even luckiliest (that really can’t be a word), Scott was an Oracle database genius.

Database Aside

“Well if it isn’t the leader of the wiener patrol, boning up on his nerd lessons!” – H. Simpson
We’ll be obsessing over databases for the next couple of months, so it’s probably a good idea to introduce what we’re talking about here. A database is a computer program that stores information in a way that makes it easy and fast to look up. ONElist is built around a database, which stores all the information for each list, which lists each user is subscribed to, what their password is, blah blah. Basically, if the database doesn’t work, ONElist doesn’t work. Got it? Ok. Don’t worry, Homer, there won’t be a quiz.

Anyways, one of the major weaknesses of the ONElist system at the time was the database. I had cobbled together something with chewing gum and pieces of cat hair (and the cat really wasn’t happy about that). The database was seriously starting to slow down the system, and it needed to be fixed.

So, ta dum, with bringing Scott on board, all my problems were solved. At least for the next five minutes, which was about as far ahead as I could think.

Scott began working on integrating an Oracle database into the ONElist system. This was not an easy task, and much to my chagrin, couldn’t be completed in a weekend. In fact, it took the better part of two months.

In the mean time, ONElist was slooooooooooowing down under the increased pressure of its growth. It was still running on just one little PC. We had to change that. And fast. So, we began an ambitious upgrade program to distribute the functionality of ONElist over several machines. This way, when things slowed down, we could just add more machines.

June 8 – AOL Buys ICQ

On June 8, 1998, AOL announced that it was buying ICQ for $287 million dollars, plus another $120 million in performance bonuses. ICQ is an instant messaging system, and at the time had 12 million users. This was incredibly encouraging to me, as I saw several similarities between ICQ and ONElist. Both systems were growing strictly by word of mouth. Both systems were vehicles for communication. If AOL would spend that much money on ICQ, then ONElist certainly had value.

This was the validation of my strategy of growing the system alone, resisting the urge for a quick buyout. Now if I could only hold on, not kill the system, and not go crazy in the process.

June 10 – Status Report

Here’s the first announcement to our users detailing our upgrade plans:

From:  admin@onelist.com
Date:  Wed Jun 10, 1998 11:58 pm
Subject:  Status Report

Hello,

Over the past couple of months, ONElist has experienced exceptional growth. We now have well over 10,000 mailing lists, and we get several thousand new users every day. During this period, we have been constantly upgrading our server hardware to keep up with the demand. Unfortunately, we haven’t always been able to upgrade fast enough. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing several more upgrades to the system, which will give us enough capacity for a long time to come.

Until we complete our upgrades, the web site may be a bit sluggish. We ask for your patience and the patience of your users until we are able to restore service to the high level of quality that you have been used to from ONElist.

We have many exciting things planned for ONElist in the future. We would like to thank you for using our service.

The ONElist Team

June 29 – Status Report

The system was running very slowly. During our summer of upgrades, I thought that we needed to communicate with our users more frequently, so that they knew that we were working hard on fixing the system.

From:  admin@onelist.com
Date:  Mon Jun 29, 1998 9:33 am
Subject:  Status Report

Hello,

We have begun the system-wide upgrade that we talked about in our last message. According to the schedule, the first set of new machines will be placed on-line early next week. The upgrade will proceed in several phases from that point, and we hope to have it completed by the middle of July. We appreciate your patience during this time. We are committed to giving you and your users the highest quality service possible, and these upgrades will allow us to do so. We will try to keep you updated throughout the upgrade process.

During the past couple of months, we’ve also added many features to ONElist that you might not be aware of. Here’s a list of some of the new features since our last feature announcement:

  • Demographics Removed – We no longer ask for demographic information during the registration process.
  • User Center Area – In an effort to make the web site easier to use, we have combined the User Info and Moderate screens into the User Center area.
  • Optional Email Notification – Moderators can choose to be notified by email of subscription/unsubscription activity.
  • Reply-to Options – You can set your list so that replies to messages are sent either back to the list (the default), or only to the person who sent the message.
  • Attachment Support – Attachments are supported in the normal messages. They are striped from the digests. Attachments can be up to 500kb in length.
  • Invite Users/Add Users – Moderators now have two options for adding subscribers to their lists.
  • Help Center Area – We’ve added more questions to our FAQ and have added several other help files.

Thanks for using ONElist.

The ONElist Team

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