An oral history of Rickrolling

In 2006, Erik Helwig created the Rickroll. Maybe. Over at MEL Magazine, Brian VanHooker's "An Oral History of Rickrolling" takes us back to a time when the worst of the weaponized Internet memes were those created by advertising agencies, not corrupt politicians and warmongers. And if you're curious what I mean by that, watch the rather shocking video above. From MEL:

Erik Helwig, founder of Rickrolling (maybe)

: This was small-town, rural Michigan and there was this radio program called the Postgame Show that covered local sports. People would call in and say stuff like, “My son Christopher played on the team tonight, and he did a real great job!” Stuff like that, so my friends and I started pranking it and the calls started getting weirder and weirder. We’d call in and talk about our favorite Nicolas Cage movies and other weird stuff like that. Then one day I called them and just played “Never Gonna Give You Up” on the air. I didn’t say anything, I just played the song. The host had absolutely no reaction to it, he didn’t say, “I’m being Rickrolled” or anything like that because it was before all that.

I don’t know if I want to call myself the “founder” of Rickrolling. That’s difficult for me because it was something that I did on a whim and later realized that I did this six months before anyone else, which I thought was cool, but that’s about it. I only picked that song because I really like the song — it’s a great 1980s song that’s fun to laugh at in the best way.

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David Bowie, circa 1999, on the "exhilarating and terrifying" future of the Internet

Of all of the accolades that Bowie received after his death last January 10th, there was precious little said about his pioneering work on the Internet and the burgeoning World Wide Web. In 1998, he launched Bowie.net and became the first major artist to create his own internet service, to distribute his songs online, to use the Web to offer things like branded/vanity email (yourname@bowie.net) and exclusive backstage access to Bowie.net subscribers (using crappy late-90s streaming technology), and to use the Web to communicate directly and collaborate with fans.

In this video clip from 1999, he talks with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman and seems to shock him with what sounds like an alarming prediction about the future of the Internet.

Bowie: I think the potential for what the Internet is going to do for society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we are on the cusp of something both exhilarating and terrifying.

Paxman: It's just a tool, though. Isn't it?

Bowie: No it's not, no. It's an alien life form. [Laughs] Is there life on Mars? YES, and it's just landed here.

[H/t Will Kreth] Read the rest

Internet Talk Radio: Podcasting Like It Was 1993

In 1993, I started a radio station on the Internet, engaging in activities that later became known as podcasting and webcasting. I'm pleased to say that I've finished uploaded the archive of Internet Talk Radio to the Internet Archive.

I ran the radio station from 1993-1996, and it was an exciting time on the Internet. Our flagship program was Geek of the Week, but we also were able to get one of the broadcast booths in the National Press Club to send out their luncheons, and joined the Public Radio Satellite system so we send out programs like TechNation. It was early in the digital world, so we were able to convince Harper Collins to give us Internet rights to Harper Audio, an amazing collection of people like Anne Sexton, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien reading their own work. We also managed to get official Congressional press credentials and ran tie lines into the basement of the Capitol to send out live feeds from the floors of the House and Senate.

We also did a lot of special programs (check out John Perry Barlow, Cliff Stoll and the United Nations 50th Anniversary and published some really cool SoundBytes you could use for alerts and notifications, and had a thriving Christmas practice going until Santa got mailbombed in a nasty DDOS incident. I also uploaded some early press coverage and some of the presentations and letters in my files.

We ran Internet Talk Radio as a nonprofit corporation called the Internet Multicasting Service. Read the rest