Where it started – 1994/5

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This article – much more like today’s personal blogs – was included in the December 1995 contents of the Photon website. It looked back on one year, since the first day I connected to Internet in December 1994. At the time, I had absolutely no idea of the value of Photon. I learned to write HTML pages in the week before Christmas and put together then first Photon ‘pilot issue’ over the holiday break. Before this, I had no dial-up account and no knowledge of WWW. By mid-1995 Photon was in the world’s top ten websites, rated as third most popular website globally by Yahoo! and receiving more hits than Microsoft or Apple websites, or The White House, from its original hosting URL of http://www.scotborders.co.uk/photon

The article involved was written before the effective destruction of Photon by my own lack of knowledge, and the secretive attitude of the service providers who were around at that time. The operators of the scotborders.co.uk servers turned out not to be the publically funded, service-based organisation they should have been – the server was said to be supported by the local Enterprise organisation (government agency to encourage business) and regional authority. In fact it was a privately-owned facility where the success of one website like Photon was viewed as a liability not a triumph; Photon hit statistics and bandwidth use dwarfed the ‘stats’ for this facility’s own direct clients, and its presence was an embarrassment. Confronted with a demand for many times the hosting fees for the second year, we were obliged to move the site, and of course we had been sold space without our own domain name. There was no subsidy to the ISP which obliged them to support local businesses.

At that time, it was common for ISPs not to recommend domain name registration, but make all their customers a subdomain of their own operation. Thus Photon had initially become a subdomain of scotborders.co.uk, and built all its success on that very shaky foundation. The Enterprise agency and ISP apparently used the high bandwidth of Photon to secure six-figure funding to improve the pipeline to Scotland, so we did some good. At one time in 1995, Photon accounted for the bulk of internet traffic through the Edinburgh hub.

What we still don’t really understand is why our old address, http://www.scotborders.co.uk/photon, goes straight to the personal blog of the ISP owner even now in 2007; we would not have spotted this had a Google search for UK magazines not come up with this blog! Doesn’t say much for Google either really!

Photon, the printed magazine, continued until 1999 with increasing difficulty as the relocated website encountered server failures, hosting problems, issues of cost and facilities, and more inability to cope with bandwidth. Our original staffing of six including two directors shrank to just two directors. We sold the rights to the Photon website name to Photoshot – www.photoshot.com – in 1999 but never realised our original ISP was directing what had been our URL to their own unrelated content (legitimately, if rather venally, since we had no agreement to ensure otherwise). Photon magazine was replaced by Freelance Photographer, which transformed into f2 magazine five years later, and was published by EC1 Publishing after we sold the title in 2006. Our f2photo.co.uk website remained active pending EC1’s development of web resources in future.

Looking back at the Photon magazine back issues of 1995/6, I don’t think that in 30 years of photo magazine editing and publishing there has ever been a better time – there was an explosion of creativity as conventional photography collided with the first wave of digital, and photographers began to showcase their work on-line. dPhotoexpert may not be able to turn the clock back, but reading the archives of Photon (held on my system) I’ve learned a lot about how much I have forgotten in the last 13 years.

We did sell on-line advertising valued at over £10,000 on the first year editions of Photon, which makes Icon one of the first companies to have done so. This encouraging figure is put into context by the £160,000 advertising revenue of our printed magazine for the same period – and the £25,000 per year hosting charge demanded by our ISP for the second year of service!

And reading back through this page I wrote before Christmas 1995 makes me wonder if I could, perhaps, have predicted the outcome better.

– David Kilpatrick

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