Features

Laxman Gani

Sometime in 1994, the Web started emerging out of its academic nursery and into the world at large. The Chronicle reported on this phenomenon with wonder. Sparked by encouragement from readers and the Internet's DIY attitude, we began building a Chronicle Web site; this didn't require much debate, it simply had to be done. So, Systems Administrator Chris Burton and I cleared out a narrow wiring closet, and it became a cramped-but-cozy office for two. I feared I might short out all the office telephones if I leaned back in my chair too far.

The Web site quietly launched in March 1995 at www.auschron.com, since we savored the techie-polyglot ring and weren't marketers. For years, it whirred along on a single PC, broadcasting on a shared ISDN connection from our tiny closet. Thursday mornings were a frenzied copy grab. While the editorial and production staff slept in following the previous night's press deadline, we shuffled through PageMaker files, editors' desks, and paste-up boards hunting for copy. Illustrations were still shot on a hulking photostat camera, so a fair amount of time was spent feeding them into cantankerous scanner that occasionally ate the originals. I'm still not sure how Chris managed to pull the weekly film reviews out of an Apple HyperCard stack.

In short order, the site proved useful for more than just archiving stories, becoming home for annual guides, and of course, as a favorite entry method for "Best of Austin" poll stuffers. Whenever possible, we published in color -- yes, color! -- whereas the print edition usually didn't. We made election-backgrounder editions and even did daily SXSW coverage on the Web.

With Nick and Louis' blessing, I left the print side of the Chronicle and devoted my full attention to the paper's growing site. Karen Rheudasil joined as assistant webmaster, and things started stabilizing. Unfortunately, with plans expanding daily, it became obvious to me that we needed more than the two of us to design a database-driven site to serve an increasingly fickle and more personal Web audience. The site also deserved promotion beyond whatever house-ad space was available that week. With Web revenues looking remote, investment remained unavailable, and after two-plus years, I stopped ignoring the e-commerce siren and left.

It turns out, of course, the Chronicle did well to stand by its scrappy, street-level coverage and editorial voice, which couldn't be duplicated no matter how much marketing gloss others used. Today's austinchronicle.com site now has many of the features we lacked the resources to achieve back then. I'm just glad to have been there to help kick the things off.

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