I like to think Andrew Vachss was the very first best-selling author to have an official web site. Ever. And I'm not being immodest about it.
The Internet looked a whole lot different in 1995. It was primarily the domain of government agencies and educational institutions. The World Wide Web was literally in its infancy, and browser software was in its first stages of development. Heck, Microsoft wasn't even a factor in those days.
Most web sites were vanity spots where students posted pictures of pets or listed their CD collections. But the Internet existed long before the World Wide Web, and a number of resources—spread over newsgroups, mailing lists, FTP and gopher servers (remember those?)—collected information of all sorts. From sea-level data in the Pacific Ocean to canonical lists of Stephen Wright jokes, the Internet was a chaotic but formidable library.
It didn't take long before these repositories of data became pieces of interactive real estate—"destinations" to which a person could "surf."
The Zero started out as an attempt to catalog the public record of Andrew Vachss. Since a 10K image file could choke a sluggish modem line at the time, the site concentrated on text—text by Vachss, text about Vachss. I went to the library and searched some CD-ROM databases and browsed through microfiche—Google wouldn't arrive for another four years—to find a few profiles about Vachss.
His author bio stated he published articles in the New York Times and other publications, but I couldn't find a single one.
I posted something about Vachss in a Usenet newsgroup—web forums didn't exist back then either—which caught the eye of another user. I never found out who this person was, but he (or she) offered to hook me up with some articles. I accepted.
A week later, I received my first letter from Andrew Vachss himself.
In the two years I maintained the Zero, Andrew and I communicated through letters. He mailed me his clips and even allowed me to post advanced excerpts of books. Those scoops alone made the Zero a popular—and credible—site.
I knew the Zero was popular because the University of Hawai'i bandwidth traffic list told me so, and because the "guestbook," a primitive interactive portion of the site, was brimming with comments. But I didn't witness firsthand how the site would influence Andrew's own work—not until I read his comments in the "History of the Zero."
The Zero started out as an archive. Andrew turned it into a tool.
When I handed the site over to Andrew and his volunteers in 1997, the commercial world was only starting to figure out how to build web sites, let alone use them. Andrew had a considerable head start.
The Zero had a tangible effect on my own career. I was studying journalism when I launched the site, but when I graduated, I went straight into online media, a considerable departure from the print career I thought I was going to pursue. Today, I'm a web software developer, and the Zero was one of many steps that brought me to where I am.
Andrew has said before he started writing novels to reach an audience beyond what he could in a courtroom. It's nice to see the Zero reach even further that that. And I'm proud that those first few pages on a college server grew into the resource it is today.
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