Paul Graham debriefing: Viaweb June 1998
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A few hours before being sold to Yahoo in June 1998, I took a screenshot of the Viaweb site. It seemed to me that it would be interesting to look at him once.

The first thing you notice right away is how compact the pages are. In 1998, the screens were noticeably smaller than the current ones. If I remember correctly, then our main page was placed just in the standard window, opened by the majority of users at that time.

Browsers then (IE 6 appeared only 3 years later) had only a few fonts, and those did not have anti-aliasing. If you wanted the page to look good, you had to process the displayed text into images.

You may have noticed some similarities between the logos of Viaweb and Y Combinator . When we started the Y Combinator, this was our domestic-wide joke. Considering how simple the red circle is, I was surprised at how few companies use it as their logos, but later I understood why:


On the page dedicated to our company, you can find the mysterious individual, whose name is John McArtyom. Robert Morris (also known as “Rtm”) was so removed from the public after his “ Worm ” that he did not want his name to be present on the site. I was able to convince him to compromise: we used his biography, and the name was replaced. After that, he calmed down a bit on this.

Trevor graduated from the university around the same time as the sale of “Yahoo”. Thus, he managed in 4 days to turn from an insolvent university graduate into a millionaire candidate of science. It is the article that celebrated this event.and became culminating in my career as a journalist. In it, I also attached a picture of Trevor, made by me during that meeting.


(Trevor also appeared as “ Trevino Bagwell ” in the category of web designers on our site. There were people that entrepreneurs could hire to develop online stores for them. We implemented it in case someone of our competitors wanted to intimidate our web designers. By the way, our assumption that its logo might scare our customers turned out to be wrong.)

In the 90s, to attract virtual visitors, it was necessary to shine in newspapers and magazines - there were no ways to be found in the network, which is now. Therefore, we gave $ 16,000 monthly to one PR firm to be mentioned in the press. Fortunately, newsmen love us .

In our article about getting traffic from search engines(I don’t think that the term “SEO” took place at that time) we called only 7 search engines significant for this function: “Yahoo”, “AltaVista”, “Excite”, “WebCrawler”, “InfoSeek”, “Lycos”, and “HotBot”. Doesn't it seem like something is missing? “Google” appeared in September of the same year.

Our site supported the possibility of online transactions using the Cybercash service , because if we had not had this opportunity, we would have serious problems with the ability to compete in the market of services. But the service was so terrible, and the orders coming from the stores were so small that it would be easier if the entrepreneurs switched to the ordering system by phone. We even had a website on our site that called for sellers to use this particular method with customers.who buy physical goods, not software.

The whole site was made as a bridge, which immediately sent people to “ Test Drive ”. This opportunity was new for us - to test our software online. In order not to show competitors how our code works, we put CGI-bin's in our dynamic addresses.

We had several regulars . It is worth noting that Frederick's of Hollywood received the most traffic. We set a tax of $ 300 / month on the largest stores of our hosting, because it was somewhat alarming from a financial point of view to have users with large volumes of traffic. Once I figured out how much it costs for us to provide traffic for Frederick's of Hollywood, and it turned out to be about $ 300 / month.

Considering that we kept all the stores on our servers (in total, they gathered about 10 million visits per month), we consumed, as it turned out, a lot of traffic. We had 2 lines of type T1s (bandwidth ~ 3Mb / second), because in those times there was no AWS. Even nearby servers seemed to us too risky an idea, considering that forever something was not going on well with them. In general, our servers were located in our offices. More specifically, in the office of Trevor. He did not want to share his office with people, so he had to share his office with six buzzing tower-type servers. We even called his office "Bathhouse" because of the amount of heat that these hulks exuded. Although, for the most part his stack of window air conditioners coped.

For the description pages, we used a template language called RTML . It had to somehow be deciphered, but in fact I named it so in honor of Rtm. RTML was Common Lisp, which was supplemented with macros and libraries, as well as a structure designer, which created the feeling that there was a system and order in it.

We constantly updated the software, so it really had no versions, but the press of those times got used to what they are, so we invented them. If we wanted to become really popular, we rolled out the version with the number an integer (integer). The inscription "Version 4.0" was created by our random number generator. By the way, the entire Viaweb site was created by our online software, because we wanted to see for ourselves how and what the client will use.

In late 1997, we launched a multipurpose shopping search engine called “ Shopfind ”. At that time, he was quite sophisticated and technically advanced: there was a “spider” in it that could “visit” almost any online store and find the right product.

Translation: Ivan Denisyuk


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