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WSI Turns Five!
by George Bova  

"Totally Biased.  Utterly Petty.  Completely Unobjective."


Inspiration for WSI came from 4000 miles away, via Dublin, Ohio.
Oh to be a Gooner!


The original flying sock debuted in 1998.

 
The Frank-o-meter!
Was Frank Thomas happy or mad?  WSI told the story after each game.

In 1996 a very clever Arsenal supporter from North London created the tagline above for his fan site, @FC, The Electronic Arsenal Fanzine.  I lived in Dublin, Ohio and was surfing the world wide web on my brand-new Compaq Presario with the monster 133 mhz Pentium processor and its cutting edge 28.8 modem.  Gary Craig had a pretty clever idea and I emailed him to tell him so. 

Uploaded in London, this insignificant bit is viewed 3800 miles away in Dublin by a displaced Chicagoan, himself living 350 miles from home.  Two years later White Sox Interactive is born.  That's the internet.  Everything you see here today started from this tiny manifestation of the global village.

Now five years have passed, and it's time to consider all the things WSI became after starting from such humble beginnings.  Join us on this eye-popping nostalgic tour!

1998-1999.  From humble acorns...

Six pages of freshly-minted HTML code were created and uploaded over Thanksgiving weekend, 1998.  Here is the original WSI main page.

The dirty secret about my five original columns is that they were old!  Eighty Years and Waiting (and Eighty-One Years and Waiting) had previously been published in 1997 and 1998 by Bob Meinig's long-defunct Go-Go Sox on the Web website.  There would be plenty of time to add new content.  The first goal was simply figuring out how to create HTML pages, how to make my links work, and how to upload the entire mess to my puny 5 MB of personal web space on MediaOne's server.  That was the first goal for WSI back in 1998. 

Having achieved that first goal, the second goal was to live up to our "interactive" name.  The silly hit counter (ubiquitous on nearly all cheesy websites back in 1998) dutifully recorded all my visits, but for the first few days I was the only one visiting!  A couple of weeks later I noticed the hit counter seemed to be going up by itself.  Then I got the first email reply from a Sox Fan.   This was a big deal because WSI didn't have a guestbook and it would be over a year before the first message board was introduced.  Here is White Sox Interactive's first interactive post.

First and foremost, I love your webpage! It's about time we had a fan
that stood up and gave the world the a taste of true Sox fans. I have
sent your link to several of my White Sox friends and I plan to list
your URL on my own White Sox links homepage. Keep up the good work.

                                                       Ann Green, 15
                                                        Frankfort, IL

Today Frankfort, tomorrow the world!  White Sox Interactive was on its way!  Ann was soon joined by many others posting their Pale Hose Pontifications those first few months and collected on this page.

1999-2000.  Bandwith, bandwith, whose got the bandwith?


The WSI flying sock debuts at Rivals, February 2000.

Building new features was the primary focus that first year.  Page after page was added and the 5 MB of space I had at MediaOne was barely able to handle all of  it.  Unfortunately the new visitors and increased traffic these pages generated soon outstripped my allotted server bandwith allocation.  MediaOne's tech support desk politely told me to go find another server.  Bastards.  Who needs 'em!  Little did I know that WSI's exponential growth would make bandwith the primary technical issue for me to overcome the next five years.  Everything was migrated to GeoCities, the second home of White Sox Interactive, but now I was paying the princely sum of $9.95 per month for a "premium" homesite with lousy server speeds, but saving my visitors from those obnoxious pop-up ads.  The Sox Fans kept coming in bigger and bigger numbers.  Exceeding bandwith limits had GeoCities giving me the boot a few months later and it was on to Webaxx, one of the few web hosting providers willing to provide enough web space and bandwith capacity to keep WSI spinning like a top. 

After one year, many of the signature features of White Sox Interactive had been introduced.  A personal favorite of mine was the Jaime Navarro Three-peat Report, tracking the progress of the Sox' mouthy and lousy pitcher in his quest to become MLB's worst pitcher three years in a row.  All of the pages were designed to render in Netscape's Navigator browser software, still the market leader back then.  Unfortunately they looked a bit awkward in Microsoft Internet Explorer.   Here is what our main page had morphed into by the end of 1999, inspired by Bill Veeck's original Monster scoreboard of the 1960's.  Obviously graphics was not my strong suit and it still isn't.  Thankfully others would soon step up to fill that need.  It was the totally biased attitude that had Sox Fans making repeat visits, already making WSI the largest unofficial Sox site on the internet. 

That's where I was in late-1999 when the phone rang.

2000-2001.  Such a Deal for you!




WSI's totally biased attitude reaches new heights.


WSI's last graphic graces the defunct Rivals, April 2001.

The internet of the late-90's was filled with countless goofy schemes for making the greatest amount of money with the least amount of effort in the shortest possible time.  The initials used for these get rich quick schemes was I.P.O., initial public offering.   One of the mediocrities the internet turned into a millionaire became a goofy N.B.A. franchise owner.  The folks running the original Rivals.com got their hands on some venture capital and hoped to become the next Broadcast.com selling their enterprise to Yahoo or Fox Sports and making themselves rich in the process.  Instead they became the next Pets.com.  The venture capitalists took the keys to the office, vanquished the original owners, then slowly squeezed every dime out of the organization hoping to hold out long enough to get Yahoo or somebody else to bite on a dangled offer to buy the whole rancid mess.  This is the outfit WSI joined in February, 2000.

The fifteen months I published WSI as part of the Rivals network were a real turning point for the website.  The look and feel of the site you see today is largely based on the standard Rivals templates, albeit with far greater functionality and reliability than their technicians could ever deliver.  The WSI flying sock made its debut, a wholly-new and unique logo created especially for WSI by a graphic artist in Rivals' Seattle office.  The message board community came into its own, eclipsing even the one maintained by MLB at the official site.  With a newly enlarged staff of volunteers, the quality and quantity of WSI's coverage was vastly increased.  Growth, visibility, and mainstream recognition for the site increased exponentially, too.  It is a plain fact that nobody covered the Sox' 2000 championship season like White Sox Interactive.  Furthermore the viability of the totally biased concept to publishing was proven.  No less an authority than Rivals' own managing editor gave WSI credit for rewriting the rules to successfully growing a fan website.

Just one little problem.  Rivals was going broke.  Their advertising-based business model was broken and the only solution was to sell premium content.  That might work with websites covering high school and college prospects, and it might work with sites devoted to collegiate athletics, too.  However the notion it could ever work for WSI or any other baseball fan website was simply a joke.  When Rivals finally closed its doors in April 2001, we left and vowed never to make the same mistake twice. 

With great assistance from technogeek FarWestChicago, it was back to its independent roots for White Sox Interactive.  It was a brave new world and we were just getting started conquering it.

2001- present.  Coming of age.

Raising the WSI flying sock high above SoxFest, 2002. 
Talking Sox baseball with Bee-Zee, the totally biased Brookfield Zoo bear!

Most of the baseball websites from Rivals simply disappeared.  WSI didn't because West and I simply wouldn't let it.  West provided the missing ingredients the Rivals organization tried to provide but was too incompetent or financially-strapped to deliver.  A reliable and highly functional set of message boards is the most obvious manifestation of his work.  Less known is his work building the WSI news system database.  Introduced in early 2002, this database is what allows the WSI staff to organize and archive the mountains of content published by WSI, some of it stretching all the way back to 1997.  It is easily the largest such collection of free Sox information on the internet and it all works day after day without a hitch because of West's efforts.  How a guy this smart, years removed from growing up in Park Forest, could ever hook up with a goof like me, similarly years removed from growing up in Chicago Heights, is yet another mystery of the global village that only the internet could have made possible.

The WSI staff now consists of sixteen Sox Fans.  All are expert in their assignments as writers, columnists, programmers, graphic artists, and board moderators.  West maintains a dedicated server at F5 Web Hosting to meet the monster bandwith needs of the modern WSI.  The site runs smoothly because of the staff's efforts, especially Dave Schmitt and the moderator staff on the message boards.  If it seems our boards are troll and spam-free, it is only because these folks are so diligent in keeping it so.  The running joke is that any of us could make far more money working at McDonald's, but we like our WSI gig better because we don't come home from work reeking of cooking grease.

As the Tribune's John Kass recently noted, White Sox Interactive is just the thing for crazed Sox fans who deny their hungry kids new shoes.  It's been this way for five years.  Five years is an eternity on the internet, and it won't be changing anytime soon.

To the Flying Sock of White Sox Interactive!  Long may it wave!


The WSI staff stands ready
to serve totally biased
Sox Fans!


Another overflow crowd at
Pale Hose Burgers & Fries.
WSI routinely breaks its own
traffic records.


Troll attacks are no problem
at WSI.  The staff is armed
and dangerous!
 

If you want to learn more about the WSI staff, site history, or how things work behind the scenes, visit All About White Sox Interactive on the main page.  My personal thanks to all the volunteers and supporters of WSI these past five years.

     -- George Bova


George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.  You can write George at george@whitesoxinteractive.com

More features from George Bova here!

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