In life, there are the classic hard choices: paper or plastic, Beatles or Rolling Stones, print or online.
San Luis Obispo County residents were given a choice almost 20 years ago when The Tribune launched its website, SanLuisObispo.com, on June 29, 1996.
In internet years, two decades feels like four lifetimes.
In 1996, cameras and phones were two different things. Towns had locally owned bookstores. Major local retailers included Mervyn’s, Gottschalks, Copeland’s Sports — all since closed.
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Snail mailboxes were regularly filled with floppy disks and CDs soliciting new members.
In 1996, the year-old Craigslist made the transition from being an email distribution list to a website. The world did not yet know Google or Xbox. Harry Potter, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace had not been introduced.
That year, Nintendo 64 was released, as was Alanis Morissette’s album “Jagged Little Pill.” Debut albums came from Jay Z, Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys. The movies “Independence Day,” “Twister,” “Fargo,” “Space Jam” and “Trainspotting” were released. “The Daily Show” debuted with Craig Kilburn as host.
Bill Clinton was president and was gearing up for re-election in a race against Bob Dole.
Houses in San Luis Obispo County with three bedrooms and three baths could easily be found for well under $300,000.
The Tribune was then called Telegram-Tribune. It did not publish on Sundays when it announced the launch of its online newspaper, www.sanluisobispo.com.
The branding was a little garbled, with references to “T-T San Luis Obispo the Telegram-Tribune website” and “SLOonline,” in addition to the now familiar www.sanluisobispo.com address.
The website was ambitious, not only publishing stories from the newspaper, but also attempting to be the community web portal by carrying pages of links to local institutions such as the Mozart Festival (now Festival Mozaic). It would be interesting to know how many of those URLs still exist.
A hopelessly optimistic feature was that letters to the editor included the writer’s e-mail address “so online readers can write each other.”
We would soon learn that a flickering screen and computer keyboard does not always inspire noble and exalted discourse.
It took a seven-member team three months of discussions and three months of intense development to create the website. Initially, it was seen as the junior partner to the print version. It was rare that a story was posted online before it saw print.
Then-executive editor John Moore wrote, “The main goals were having a website that was easy to navigate, loaded fast on home computers and emphasized content without ignoring the graphic opportunities available in cyberspace.”
Fast loading was important in an era when most accessed the internet through dial-up phone lines and modems.
Graphics editor Kate Stark created a logo that was reassuring to newspaper readers, looking like torn paper. Then-staff writer Jerry Bunin dived headlong into arcane HTML coding for the site, while at the same time writing stories. Readers were invited to attend a launch party at The Library bar downtown and email their feedback.
The website has kept the same address but has undergone several major design overhauls over the years and added features.
Photos From the Vault began as a web-only blog published on a parallel publishing platform before it was integrated into the website and print.
Unimagined when the website launched, SanLuisObispo.com now has apps for tablet and smartphone and publishes news without waiting for a print deadline.
According to Digital Development Director Sergio Holguin, “The Tribune’s audience has never been larger. Our website, SanLuisObispo.com, reaches more than 550,000 monthly unique visitors, and it gets more than 4.3 million page views per month. That’s in addition to our print readership. It’s by far the most-visited media website in San Luis Obispo County.”
There are more photos, video and supporting documents than when the site was created.
In 1996, photographers were still making pictures on film. Each roll of 36 exposures took 12 minutes to develop, and the first scanner the newspaper bought took almost 10 minutes to scan an image so that it could be used in print and posted online.
This is after driving to and from the event being photographed.
Today video can be live streamed and still photos posted as the event happens.
No doubt the next 20 years will bring changes yet to be imagined.