The NZ Web's greatest hits (and misses)

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  • Alastair Thompson,

    Happy birthday Public Address System!

    Thankyou most kindly for your kind words those of you that have been kind.

    In reply I would have to say Publicaddress.net & No Right Turn rock and Mediawatch.co.nz rocked in the early days. Bruce Simpson's Aardvark was certainly a pioneer in many ways and did its bit to keep the interweb in NZ honest and one its toes. Aardvark was a blog long before blogs were invented and is still going strong.

    More recently RNZ's entre into the interweb and DF's Kiwiblog have become something of a highlight.

    And Sam Morgan's Trademe is undoubtedly extraordinary. (That said it would however have been nice if he had been a bit more of an interweb team player and used some of his voluminous traffic to assist other websites a smidgen. )

    The most spectacular blooper in the early days would have to be Xtra's homepage search engine. The search engine on the homepage of most NZers for most of the 90s and through till mid 2001. See... NOT SHARP: "Scoop" = "Seborrhoeic Keratosis" - a search engine which could truly be relied on to consistently provide you with completely useless and irrelevant results .

    Other contenders in the blooper stakes:

    Eric Watson's Flying Pig was just that.

    Eventures which someone mentioned wasn't so much a website as the great white hope of us information entrepreneurs. They raised $30 million in an IPO on the NZX to invest in NZ technology companies and opened up an office in the Viaduct Basin. However they could not find anyone worth investing in (Scoop asked and was turned down). Eventually Eventures returned all their cash to shareholders and shut up shop. Did Sam Morgan ask them for cash one wonders? Did they turn him down?

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF SCOOP & NEWSROOM

    For those unfamiliar with the Scoop/Newsroom history a bit of background. Tis a small small world.

    As Don points out Scoop's ancestor was NewsRoom.co.nz. It was founded by Peter Fowler, Andrew McNaughton and myself in late 1996 early 1997. Andrew built & maintained the software. Peter and I stoked the content engine for a few months giving ourselves RSI before getting close to burnout and bringing in Ian Llewellyn � now at NZPA - to give us a hand. I then started exploring the Scoopish aspects of the interweb in flamboyant rhetoricaleditorials which back then I called rants but which looking back on now were really early blog posts.

    In May 1999 it all fell apart and 3/4 of the NewsRoom team left and formed Scoop. We took the technology behind NewsRoom with us. Simon Collins wrote about it in a story for City Voice at the time Fallout among Idealists.

    Short version we had some creative differences and went our separate ways. I wholeheartedly agree with Don that it is nice that we both survived in the end. Though it was very much touch and go at times.

    Thanks to Archive.org you can have a wee look at some of this narrative in pictures.

    NEWSROOM BEFORE SCHISM

    Newsroom Circa. April 1997
    Newsroom Circa. April 1999

    NEWSROOM AFTER SCHISM

    Newsroom got back up with the assistance of Eric Watson's Glazier Systems, Actrix Networks and Catalyst IT
    Newsroom Circa. October 1999
    Eventually Glazier bowed out� and Newsroom went back to unix with Catalyst.
    Newsroom Circa. June 2001
    Newsroom Circa. Sept. 2002 (now locked off and subscriber only.)

    SCOOP

    Scoop Nov. 1999 (Post Split)
    Scoop May. 2000
    Scoop December 2002 � After Our First Redesign. Our current lookis after our second redesign.


    Alastair

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 175 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The most spectacular blooper in the early days would have to be Xtra's homepage search engine. The search engine on the homepage of most NZers for most of the 90s and through till mid 2001. See... NOT SHARP: "Scoop" = "Seborrhoeic Keratosis" - a search engine which could truly be relied on to consistently provide you with completely useless and irrelevant results.

    I'd completely forgotten that. Was it by any chance part of the fad for "fuzzy logic" searching? I dimly recall another local search engine that branded itself on fuzziness. It would reliably serve up stuff you weren't looking for.

    Great post Al, BTW.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17938 posts Report Reply

  • Sarah Wedde,

    I don't think I've found any New Zealand sites particularly influential, but after I started blogging I found the early(ish) kiwi blog community hugely important in terms of a) keeping me going and b) getting me over my initial weird, scared, have-to-be-anonymous phase. It turns out you can be yourself online without having crazy stalkers come to murder you in your sleep.

    Lower Hutt • Since Nov 2006 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • noizyboy,

    if only there were a decent place to buy NZ books and music online for shipment overseas

    Not books, but smokecds.com is pretty good for NZ music.

    (note, I work for said website)

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • noizyboy,

    ah, right, I've just clicked to the correct use of the reply function...

    (reminds me of the years of telling newbies to use the 'reply to this post' function over at nzmusic.com)

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Lance Wiggs,

    For me, viewing from overseas, two sites stood out in the late 90's - stuff.co.nz for simple, quickly readable news, and stats.govt.nz for a wealth of free data.

    Sadly we are many years behind the rest of the world - xtra is appalling (compare it with Australia's 9MSN offering) , Ferrit = flying pig 2006, Stuff seemingly hasn't changed since launch and our eCommerce, Trade Me aside, is less developed than 1999 in the USA..

    Since Nov 2006 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Thompson,

    Noizyboy,

    Can you please explain the correct use of the reply function... it is still escaping me.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 175 posts Report Reply

  • Alistair Stewart,

    Best: lots of great sites already mentioned.
    I nominate Radio NZ's makeover with all its streaming and podcast resources for the most-improved proze.

    The latest, and on-going, Stinker: Ferrit.
    A definitive case study of disasters: expensive, annoying and meaningless marketing (mark 1 version); nil content when you get there; fake reviews (I can't believe they still feature a Dualit toaster in the new TV ads --the same toaster featured in the 'reviews' ).
    It's the latest mis-step in that long line of mostly forgotten galerias and on-line malls to nowhere.
    It's main use seems to be a toilet to shovel money down. Still anything that slows and distracts Telecom can't be bad.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    Ok unpopular I know and I might start a flame war..

    Xtra.co.nz

    Most of its useles but one feature that redeems it all is the broadband "stations"

    news clips, radio stations, music videos all in one place is great.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Clarke,

    This is seriously esoteric, but my vote for Historically Significant goes to the old Melco Online site (now http://www.bdt.co.nz).

    This is the site of Mitsubishi Electric, who distribute lots of stuff to the consumer electronics and computer industries. Back in 1995/96, they put up a site that was everything the likes of Ascent would end up doing a decade later ... online shopping baskets, real-time stock levels, integration to back-end enterprise systems, online invoicing ...

    The thing is, it was built on a beta version of Netscape Web Server (there wasn't a 1.0 release available at the time), spoke to an SQL Server database using hand-cut APIs, and integrated to an IBM RS/6000 system running plenty of S/36 code using yet more hand-written interfaces. And for an encore, it was connected to the Net via a 32k frame relay connection to VUW. All of this was built, maintained and upgraded on a shoestring budget by one person.

    If only Melco had filed patents!

    Worst site: Ferrit. Same idea, worse technology, a decade too late.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 76 posts Report Reply

  • noizyboy,

    Can you please explain the correct use of the reply function... it is still escaping me.

    Aha, I may have misunderstood myself. I was under the impression that hitting 'reply' on a specific user's post would post your own reply directly under that user's post (threaded posting, in other words).

    That may not be the case, and this post will be the proof one way or the other...

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • noizyboy,

    and there you go. It ain't threaded.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson,

    I think that we can take this as further evidence that the fabric of new zealand society is being torn asunder by liberal elements. honoes!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 196 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson,

    oh! i can't get enough of matapihi.org.nz

    i guess it's not very widely useful though, except for ogling at those ker-azy olde folke, and looking at how pretty this place is

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 196 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Small additions to Alistair's history section. Rod Drury not Eric Watson was the Glazier guy who rescued Pete and did a great job. We, well, Andrew McMillan, re-wrote Newsroom when Drury became a millionaire (for the first time:-)). Newsroom handles all its tech internally now, I believe. I do remember once being caught in the Scoop/Newsroom cross-fire - *that* was scary.

    I see no-one mentioned Napster or CityLink. I credit Napster, alongside a 100gbit CityLink connection for reintroducing me to music and, strangely, setting me on the road to building a legit CD collection. CityLink also allowed a small company of five to grab customers from the likes of Datacom.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1612 posts Report Reply

  • mike yule,

    For me, public address has been huge. Arts & Letters Daily is great also.

    PS I just followed the link in Alastair Thompson's post above to Simon Collins' original city voice article on the NewsRoom breakup. Did anyone else notice just how clearly written it was? City Voice + Simon Collins, sorely missed in wellington...

    Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Lea Barker,

    TKI gets my vote for one of the Web's greatest hits.

    Oakland, CA • Since Nov 2006 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Lindsay Vette,

    Aardvark was interesting, but you had to keep Bruce's personal agendas in mind when reading. I have to admit to being a bit conflicted as my missus worked for Xtra at the time which was one of Bruce's main targets for his spleen venting.

    NZOOM, Ihug and Xtra's web sites were good sources of early local news content.

    And to promote the sponsors product, I've found publicaddress a good source of mostly well considered opinion. Which is quite a refreshing change in the utterly opinionated (excuse the pun) shite found in the mainstream media.

    Tauranga • Since Nov 2006 • 8 posts Report Reply

  • Muriel Lockheed,

    Scoop, PA, RNZ.

    Kiwiblog is like usenet on "P" rabid, loud, nonsensical and fun in the way that your tongue always seeks out the hole in your tooth. Shame for DPF but it has descended into a cesspool.

    Wellywood • Since Nov 2006 • 44 posts Report Reply

  • Lee Wilkinson,

    Have to agree that RB's posts of Hard news helped catch nuance that us workin folk couldnt always hear on the b.
    I recall being incredibly frustrated at the stupidity of the old xtra search and discovering this "google" one that delivered what I wanted to research at the time.
    Scoop bought home the bacon thru 01/02 now seems to not be as diverse or as full of new content ( sorry alistair) btw, I still use it daily.
    Herald gets a vote for saving trees but a big thumbs down for not having all content and "disappearing" articles such as the florida bush girls 3rd charlie conviction etc.

    Whangarei Heads • Since Nov 2006 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi,

    PA, Scoop, Aardvark and Stuff were the only New Zealand websites I even knew existed back in the day. (I'm pretty sure I found most of the others by following links from Hard News.)

    But what about the social networking side of the NZ interweb? It's embarrassing to even mention this stuff in such august company, but NZDating.com and Oldfriends.co.nz were the first time many "non technical" Kiwis realised they could have an actual presence on the net. NZD was and still is a seething den of sexual desperation and wilful illiteracy, but it's been around since the late 90's and still regularly tops the "lifestyle" sections of many web surveys, at least in quantity of hits. Oldfriends is more passive (though there was all the fun and games with the David Benson-Pope thread) but still a reliable workhorse when it comes to reconnecting people.

    And just a quick note (because it's tangentally relevant, and because I'm smack dab in the middle of it) about the New Zealand Myspacers group on that great evil of our time, Myspace: when I started it back in 2004 there were probably 12 active Kiwis on Myspace as a whole. These days the NZ group is up to 4,000 members, more than half of whom actually live here in NZ, and gains about 50-100 new members a day (depending on how often Myspace has been in the news that week.)

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 838 posts Report Reply

  • Morgan Nichol,

    So, sure, I was on the Hard News mailing list, and it was great, but it wasn't influential (to the web), and it wasn't a website. And while publicaddress.net is both influential and a website, it wasn't early.

    I'm very sad that no one has mentioned my daily ihug logo awesomeness, but it was nice to at least get a mention of our attempts at providing news. I'd put my hand up as one of the first NZ sites using RSS, but I have no way of proving it (not even to myself).

    You want influential and early, you want Ihug between 1995 - 1997ish. Flat rate when everyone else was screwing the punters for all they were worth, free all sorts of things, and even broadband for home and rural users. Oh, and thousands of dial-up numbers. What a delight that was. :D

    IDG was a must visit every day for me, Aardvark too.

    I stopped visiting both for very different reasons. IDG when they redesigned the site to have no news on the front page. (What are they THINKING?! Surely their readership must have plummeted!) Aardvark because, well, Bruce Simpson really doesn't do it for me.

    Believe it or not MoreFM were the first radio station in NZ streaming online (we were streaming them through a Xing MPEG box) way back in 1995 or very early 1996. Very influential in the sector, and followed quite quickly by bFM - when we moved to RealAudio (we moved again to MP3 straming much later), and the RealAudio server we built to handle the radio stations had enough excess capacity that we could do other things with it - notably live streaming from events in a couple of places around the city (@Luna on Symonds St, and a concert at the PowerStation). Not very many people actually about it to listen. (Robyn did.)

    I liked SmokeCDs for a very long time and recommended them strongly to my friends, and I wish I still could, but they ripped me off, so now they get a handful of shit flung at them everytime a friend mentions them. I don't know exactly how many sales I've driven away from them, but it must be many many times more than the $50 they stole, so I hope it was worth it to them - calling me a liar was great too. However, they were still an early and very good site. Of course, RealGroovy.co.nz have never stolen from me, so I'd recommend them above SmokeCDs, these days.

    The Village site was pretty great, their little java applet that let you select precisely which seats you wanted was fabulous, but I'm not sure what year that came in. Pre-2000 though, I think? They did have some technical problems, but they make it to my list for trying (and succeeding most of the time) to do something bloody convenient and bloody clever.

    Trade-Exchange.co.nz was good and very early, until of course they blew it by delaying their online listings just enough that none of the good deals were still to be had - leading in no small part (I'm sure) to their appropriate decimation by TradeMe.

    Lots of newspapers did a good job of shifting their news online, when did Otago Daily Times first come online? They might have been first in NZ, yes? Of course, the Herald was more relevent to me up this end of the country.

    You want another disaster of a site? How about the ihug gooey? Never heard of it? No, that's right.

    We have a lot of very smart people doing very cool things, but most of the product just doesn't have more than a niche or local appeal - for instance, there are vast numbers of online retailers in New Zealand, and many of them are extremely successful, but the large majority of them just don't care about anything outside of their own area. I've built sites for small businesses from florists to pharmacists and many things in between, and while they will all deliver to you wherever you are, they don't market outside of their own geographic area so of course you won't think about them when you want... Zovirax... Or a bouquet of something intimidating delivered to your latest stalkee.

    Auckland CBD • Since Nov 2006 • 292 posts Report Reply

  • DPF,

    I joined the Net in 1996. Aardvark was for many years my first read every morning. It was great.

    Agree with others that Robyn's site has been a continual one to read. I also recall Claire Hurman's had a blog, around five years before anyone was calling them blogs.

    Newsroom/Scoop led to a massive change in how news works and how Parliament operates in terms of communications. I also miss my Newsroom feed, but am a daily Sccoop visitor.

    Not a website but Brian Harmer's WYSIWYG news was incredibly valuable in the days before news exploded online.

    More recently my favourites blogs are No Right Turn and Cactus Kate. Very much agree that the 2005 Frog Blog was superb. I used to pick fights with Frog whenever I was bored and he would always respond and it was great fun.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report Reply

  • Alastair Thompson,

    Hi David

    *wave*

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 175 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Capewell,

    I must say http://www.natlib.govt.nz/ deserves a mention. The resources available on it are great, the newspaper archive and photographs in particular.

    Manchester • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

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