smog.net was one of the first arts and culture sites on the web.
Remember the web?
I mean the early web. The pre-commercial web. If you were there, you remember the feeling of the place. And it was a place and it did have a feeling. That feeling was possibility; it crackled in the air.
It was the first time in history that publishing was unlocked and available to everybody. Well, everybody with a computer and a few hundred dollars to get online, anyway. But for the first time, we could communicate whatever we wanted to communicate to anyone almost anywhere in the world. Again, anyone with access to a computer (which, in the early 1990s, usually meant engineers and college students).
It was not the web we know and take for granted today.
The power to publish to the world was in your hands if you could learn HTML. And in those days, you could learn HTML in about half an hour.
It was difficult to get online. You really had to want it. Most of us used 14.4 or 28.8k (if you were rich) modems on dial-up connections. Those dial-up accounts were often billed by the minute. But if you were savvy, you could get online using free dial-up services like NetZero or Juno. Those services weren't fast (nothing was), but they were free.
There were so few websites that it was possible to list them all, and Yahoo! did just that. For a while, anyway. The day smog.net launched, there were fewer than 20,000 websites. As I write this, there are almost two billion websites. Most sites in the early days were intensely personal, built as they were by people, not companies.
The site that became smog.net began life on the mjptv.com domain (mjp were my initials at the time). It also lived on whiskeytown.net, and at some point, I called the site Monkeychow. Yes, Monkeychow. Which I learned was a real Purina product when I tried to register the domain name.
Early in 1998, I registered smog.net (I lived in Los Angeles, so...), and here we still are, 25 years, 9 months, and 27 days later. You still look great, by the way.
The following creative souls provided the work shown on smog.net. This is the most comprehensive list I can find. If I left you off, let me know, I'd love to include you!
Charles Bukowski, Damian Coleman, Ayin (formerly Carol) Es, Jared Harvey, Priscilla Lee, Jenniffer Lesh, Steve Norwood, Hannah XX (formerly Michael Phillips), Stuart Ramsay, Jackie Sullivan, and Renay.
You can see that it was a curated group specific to one person's taste; mine. That's how the web was, and smog.net was one of the first sites to present artists, writers, and photographers together on the same site. I think it was the first site to do that, but modesty and uncertainty prevent me from staking that claim.
At the same time smog.net was born, I also built a site for my old reggae band, Boom Shaka. I know for a fact that it was the first reggae website in the world, and it's remained online continually since the day of its birth, back in 1995. Not many sites live that long, and fewer still stay online continuously.
smog.net ran as an art site from September 19th, 1995 to May 16th, 2004. I encouraged submissions from anyone, which was manageable in the early days, but by the turn of the century, too many people were coming online, and I couldn't keep up with submissions.
I was particular about who I wanted to show on the site, and saying 'no' to people wasn't fun. That's not why I started the site. So ultimately, I decided to shut it down and work on an offshoot project.
Early in smog.net's life, I received an email from a fascinating artist, and we carried on an email conversation for a couple of years. Then one day, we met in person, and we've been together ever since. It's common to meet your partner online now, but when we told people in the early 2000s that we'd met online, they couldn't conceive of how that could happen.
I write this here because most of the early web has been wiped from existence (like the contents of smog.net), and the spirit and feel of the early web is something we should always try to remember. We can't ever recover it or relive it, but we should strive to embody it.