1999: the year in review

Month-by-month highlights—and lowlights.

January

Legendary Spiderman creator Stan Lee spins a Web of the digital kind, announcing a new comics site . . . the world seems a little less secure as 56-bit cryptography is cracked in record time . . . the Child Online Protection Act (a.k.a. "CDA II") rolls into court, as unconstitutionally vague and politically volatile as its 1995 ancestor; by February the law will be frozen by a temporary injunction . . . California brings Gary Dellapenta to trial, the first person charged under that state's new cyber-stalking statute; he pleads guilty . . . eBay wins an award for coolest shopping site of 1998; the statuette is immediately stolen—and offered for auction on eBay . . . the Super Bowl is wall-to-wall dot-com ads, a trend that will all but overwhelm TV by year's end . . .

February

The Victoria's Secret online "fashion" show brings the Net to a standstill . . . Amazon has mud on its face when critics reveal that some of their "recommended" books are paid placements; the company offers refunds to anyone thus duped into reading something stinky . . . Playboy sues Excite and Netscape for selling search placement for the word "playboy" to rival sites; by year's end they'll attempt to sue a former Playmate for using the name on her site . . . FreePC announces plans to give free computers to the 10,000 people who most closely fit a desired demographic; 500,000 people apply . . . search engine site GoTo.com sues Walt Disney and Infoseek over the Go.com logo, a green traffic light-type circle with white lettering . . . the people who run the Grammy Awards won't let MP3.com advertise their "controversial" site in the official Grammy magazine . . .

March

Mozilla.org head Jamie Zawinski, noting that the undertaking "has become too depressing, and too painful, for me to continue working on," steps down from the long-awaited AOL-Netscape project; Zawinski's thoughtful valedictory, posted on his personal Web site (www.jwz.org/gruntle/nomo.html), notes that "you can't take a dying project, sprinkle it with the magic pixie dust of 'open source,' and have everything magically work out" . . . the Artist Formerly Known As Prince filed several Federal lawsuits to prevent folks from selling his music online, posting his lyrics, or using that squiggle that passes for his name . . . the Melissa virus runs amuck . . . Al Gore claims to have invented the Internet . . . after four years in prison awaiting trial, Kevin Mitnick pleads guilty on hacking-related charges . . . domain registrar Network Solutions starts rerouting visitors to the InterNIC directory to its business Web site; the US government (which hired NSI to register domains long before the Net took off) is not amused . . .

April

B92.net, the last independent radio station broadcasting from Serbia, is shut down by that government; online supporters around the world publicize the closure indefatigably and, within a few days, offer B92 archives and broadcasts of phone calls from Kosovo on various sites . . . an employee of PairGain posts a fake Bloomberg story claiming that his company was about to be acquired; the story drives PairGain stock prices up 31 percent before the hoax is uncovered, and Gary Hoke is eventually sentenced to five years' probation and fined $93,000 . . . Al Gore's campaign Web site asks kids for personal information without telling them to get a parent's permission . . . George W. Bush flips out over gwbush.com, calling parodist proprietor Zach Exley a "garbage man" and insisting that there should be "limits to freedom" . . . a massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School leads to substantially increased scrutiny of "different" kids and hyperviolent video games . . . a "voyeur dorm" live-porn Web site draws ire in Tampa; the city shuts it down as a zoning violation . . .

May

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace opens; millions are repulsed by computer-generated atrocity Jar Jar Binks . . . veteran news anchor Hugh Downs quits ABC to host an online project . . . a guy named Bryan Winter blows off a potential date via (exceedingly rude) e-mail; the jilted party forwards the letter around the Net as much-deserved revenge . . . the Church of Latter-Day Saints puts its voluminous genealogical archives online . . . Mr. Rogers—you know who that is, don't you?—launches a Web site at www.pbs.com/rogers . . . the WB may have postponed the season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer post-Columbine, but you could see it online if you knew where to look . . .

June

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ends its seven-year run . . . Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold announces a one-year leave of absence; MS flacks deny the rumors that Steve Ballmer made him walk the plank . . . Sony offers its Aibo robotic dog for sale online; it sells out in 20 minutes . . . Pirates of Silicon Valley, a biopic of Messrs. Gates, Jobs, et al., airs to general amusement . . . Office 2000 rolls out . . . calls for an Internet sales tax increase as various state legislators jump on the bandwagon . . . Network Solutions and ICANN, the international body purporting to set the rules for the Net henceforth, square off on domain-registration issues, catching consumer advocate Ralph Nader in the crossfire . . . the MP3 crowd scores a major victory when a savvy legal ruling saves the Diamond Rio player from being trampled under the jackboots of the Recording Industry Association of America . . . MS exec Greg Maffei opens his mouth and stupid falls out, as he claims that most Microsoft temps couldn't actually get a job at the company . . . beloved lyrics server www.lyrics.ch returns to the Web after a prolonged legal battle, but it's essentially lobotomized . . . Third Voice introduces software that allows visitors to leave digital graffiti on any Web site, much to the annoyance of most Webmasters . . . the Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com) launches; by year's end the click-to-donate site will be contributing as much as 1 million cups of grain per day to the United Nations World Food Program . . .

July

The Blair Witch Project, whose marketing department had been flacking the movie online for several months, is a surprise runaway hit . . . Microsoft cuts city-guide Sidewalk loose, selling it to former archrival TicketMaster-CitySearch . . . Yahoo bows to overwhelming pressure from GeoCities customers, outraged that Yahoo claimed ownership of those homesteaders' Web pages . . . Australia passes a remarkably restrictive Net censorship measure . . . Texas prohibits General Motors from selling vehicles direct from the manufacturer online . . . DefCon rears its contrary head in Las Vegas . . . jaded Ultima and EverQuest players sell off their characters on eBay . . . Austria bans spam . . . a Phoenix couple lose their nursing jobs when it's discovered that they're running a porn site on the side . . . We're On The Net But We Don't Get It Dept.: Universal Studios asks a fan not to link to their site . . . a mass murder in Atlanta is linked to a frustrated day-trader . . .

August

Microsoft and AOL bicker over instant messaging . . . singer Carnie Wilson allegedly has her gastric bypass surgery broadcast live on the Web . . . e*trade and other online brokers move to offer after-hours trading . . . big bad Amazon picks on little amazon.gr . . . the Feds convict University of Oregon senior Jeffrey Levy of Internet copyright piracy for providing music, movies, and software for download via his site, despite the fact that he didn't actually make any money from it; this is the first conviction under the onerous No Electronic Theft Act of 1997 . . . European Union shrinks declare that anyone surfing the Net for more than four hours a day is clinically ill (and thus eligible for health care) . . .

September

The Net turns 30 . . . Melinda and Bill Gates drop some serious cash on three good causes, as three scholarship agencies receive a combined $1 billion gift . . . Sega launches Dreamcast—and hundreds of thousands are buying . . . Infoseek exec Patrick Naughton is busted for possession of kiddie porn and soliciting sex with a minor after an FBI sting operation catches him setting up a "date" with a supposed 13-year-old supposed girl (the "bait" was neither) . . . eBay auction items include a kidney, a baby, and Ku Klux Klan Xmas ornaments (not a package deal) . . . in a Y2K preview, threatened 9/9/99 chaos fails to materialize . . . Marc Andreessen quits AOL, to no one's surprise . . .

October

Sun Microsystems makes like Linux and offers Solaris as open-sourceware . . . after sports reporter Jim Gray badgers Pete Rose on national TV, a Web-led protest badgers NBC and various sponsors into smacking Gray on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper; thus emboldened by public support, Charlie Hustle will eventually take to the Net with his decade-long campaign for reinstatement into Major League Baseball . . . GFN.com head Jeffrey Newman and his partner, Jeffrey Parker, are married in the Net's first livecast gay wedding . . . the NetAid benefit concert is something of a bust . . .

November

Here Come Da Judge: Thomas Penfield Warren's Findings of Fact rock Microsoft's world, as the poor bastards charged with holding the MS press conference have to flip to page 206 to find something nice to say about themselves . . . AOL requires users to reaffirm that no, they don't want spam from AOL marketers and their friends (which part of "no" expires after 18 months?) . . . WTO reps don't get around to discussing the Net, but UNESCO folks do, and they're talking taxation . . . a California judge makes art-site proprietors etoy.com fly all the way to the States to have their domain taken from them by URL-come-lately toy vendor etoys.com; online support of the artists was complicated somewhat by overenthusiastic hack-attacks on etoys by erstwhile activists, but it was public opinion that convinced the company to drop the whole thing post-Xmas . . .

December

Amazon's Jeff Bezos picks up Man of the Year honors from Time . . . the Net goes downmarket as AOL partners with Wal-Mart, Yahoo with Kmart . . . China sentences a hacker to death . . . VA Linux sets an IPO record, gaining 698 percent on its first day out . . . FreePC closes up shop . . . tiny Halfway, OR, considers renaming itself Half.com for a few months . . . Hey, Guys, Knock It Off, OK? Dept.: President Clinton's Y2K czar asks hackers to lay off for a few days around December 31, even as virus-writers step up cootie production to take advantage of possible breakdowns . . . and as the curtain closes on the year, we bid farewell to the most pernicious and annoying part of 1999: the never-ending debate over whether the millennium ends this year or next. Who cares? Happy new year!

 
comments powered by Disqus