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GFA at 20

Twenty years ago (December 2019), I was futzing around with a trial copy of Microsoft Frontpage Express. I put a few web pages together, uploaded them to tripod.com and called it “The Galaxy Far, Far Away”.

In the beginning, nobody came. I put up a counter on the site from the-counter.com, but the number only went up when I visited the page myself.

I used to dial long distance for internet, because our town didn’t have legit dial up yet. I uploaded my site on non-graphics, telnet-style internet-access. I couldn’t see my own site, but I loved every minute.

I started visiting other Star Wars fan sites and writing entries in their guestbooks. “Hey, big fan of your site. I really like the <oddly specific detail about their site>. I have a Star Wars site too. It’s at http://members.tripod.com/devan1”

Yes, that URL still works.

This was December 1998, approaching the height of prequel mania. I had exams coming soon, but Episode I only happened once in a lifetime. My memories of the time leading up to Episode I are some of my best— the anticipation, the online camaraderie, the excitement. I almost cried the first time I saw the teaser trailer in a little 100 pixel square on my homebrew Pentium.

And I flunked my exams.

That spring, my parents sent a check for $12 to Tripod, inc. for a whopping 100MB of storage for my site. Traffic was now in the 10’s of people a week, and I had a humongous photo gallery to support. By the time Episode I came out, it was time to invest some serious money. $35 for the domain name, $20/month for hosting, and GalaxyFarAway.com was born.

The Star Wars blog wars were just heating up. For example, Aldera.net launched and their entire reason for existence seemed to be: they broke the news that Hayden Christensen was cast as Anakin and they hated TheForce.net (TFn!).

I started attracting my own followers. And more absurdly, I started accumulating a staff. Here I was a 19-year old sitting in India, and I had a teenager I didn’t know posting about action figures, a lady from Texas posting book reviews, an Australian teenager developing graphics for the site (the banner is still his) and a kid from Ohio managing the forums!

That’s when IGN came to town. IGN was a content aggregator and advertiser for gaming and genre web sites. You could apply to become part of their “network”. Once you were in, you could host their advertising and get paid for it. It was chump change, but I was a college kid. I was a chump.

I applied and became part of the IGN network. And then IGN decided to go public. Their parent company was called Snowball.com, and before they went public, they wanted to secure as many sites and page views as they could. So they sent me a contract that said that as long as I was exclusive with IGN, they would pay me a fixed amount a month. I had my dad talked to them, what with being a college kid with no sensitivity to the legal nuances of dot-com IPOs. We gave them my sister’s address in Chicago and signed the contract.

And then the links and the checks started showing up.

The links were occasional links to stories on my web site from IGN.com. The traffic would sore into the many-100s, sometimes even more.

And the checks. The checks were $250 per month, just to be part of the IGN network while they did their IPO thing.

They did their IPO thing. It was a spectacular failure. The pre-dotcom era quickly became the post-dotcom era, and took the Snowball IPO with it. The $250 checks kept coming for a little while, but then they started drying up.

But GalaxyFarAway was still fun. In fact, things were getting serious. I got interviewed by BBC radio, by Rediff and by others. Traffic kept going up, and my staff was buzzing along.

Someone once tried to sell me the script for Episode II. Not kidding. They sent me a few sample pages. I ignored them, but they got arrested later. LucasFilm found them.

In around the year 2000, a company asked me if I would be willing to move GalaxyFarAway to their site and run their Star Wars section. They called the site Fandom.com. I stalled for a while (“I’m not giving up my autonomy”) but then I told them I would do it for $1200 a month.

They said yes.

Those were an insane few days where I thought I would be gainfully employed maintaining a Star Wars web site.

A few days later they said they had picked someone else. Turned out they picked T’bone Fender of the StarWarz Universe. Tough.

I kept maintaining the site through the early 2000’s. The staff whithered away, as people grew up, got real lives, real jobs. I got busy with life.

But the site still lives on. It had great Google-juice until a few years ago and averaged about 50,000 page views a month. It’s now down to half that, even though I haven’t maintained it in forever.

Here’s to the next 20 years.

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