10 Years (Almost) of the Philippine Cyberspace Review

It kind of sneaked up behind me by surprise, but an online community I started in August 1998 will soon be celebrating a decade online. This is none other than “The Philippine Cyberspace Review” – otherwise known as the mailing list PH-Cyberview on Yahoogroups, which has been merrily chugging along on auto-pilot (and occasionally stirring up controversy) all these years.

It boggles my mind that the site is about the same age as Google, older than blogging, older than the social networking triumvirates Friendster/Facebook/MySpace, and just five years younger than Smart Communications. In Internet years, a decade makes you something of a Methuselah, or at least one of those ancient giant Redwoods at the Sequoia National Park.

The dated term “Cyberspace” is also a dead giveaway. The William Gibson-coined term was still de riguer in the late 90’s, a time where one had to “jack in” to dive into the online world (or “information superhighway” to use an Al Goreian phrase). In 2008, it’s all just the “interwebs” – and thanks to mobile and wireless tech, many of us live perpetually connected. We’re just an SMS, IM, or Blackberry message away.

All through this time, I’ve been accompanied by a merry band of geeks who have largely stayed with the list through thick and thin. Some of them include bona fide Internet pioneers, movers and shakers, and up and comers. I’d name names, but I’ve decided to spare them the embarrassment of being outed.

The list started at a time when I was tapped to give a talk at one of those Internet World confabs back in ’98. Internet World was a global set of conferences run by MecklerMedia and locally a company called Sequel Concepts (which ran the pioneering ISP SequelNet– now known as Infocom) managed to get the local franchise for the magazine and the resulting annual conference.

My topic was “The State of the Net in the Philippines,” a talk that I had given on and off for a couple of years back in the days when it was still possible to encapsulate the whole local Net history in a 45-minute presentation. This was just four years after the Net kicked off in this country (and I can give you the exact date for that too – March 29, 1994.)

Keeping track of local Net developments was something I managed to do though the early online communities like the old FidoNet networks, Usenet’s soc.culture.filipino, and early tech lists like Miguel Paraz’s PH-ISP (which fired up in 1996). But with my talk coming up, I figured the best way to get info and updates fast was to start up a forum myself.

So off I went and started a mailing list. I didn’t have access to mailing list software (at the time these were called listservs) or a mail server, but a web startup called Makelist.com was around that allowed anyone to crank up a mailing list community through a neat web interface.

And so the “Philippine Cyberspace Review” was born. I shortened it to “PH-Cyberview” for the list address. I scribbled together a list charter and on August 24, 1998, I posted a first message:

From: jim ayson (jim@w3bc.com)
Date: Mon Aug 24, 1998 6:02 am
Subject: Welcome to the ph-cyberview Mailing List

The Philippine Cyberspace Review (PH-Cyberview) is a discussion list for events in Philippine-oriented cyberspace. Our objective is to be able to track developments in this fast-moving field from a Philippine perspective. Topics include the Philippine ISP industry and local Internet services, technology trends, cybercommunities, announcements of new web sites and online resources.

The list is moderated, and the listowner reserves the right to step in if discussions go out of line.

To subscribe, send an empty message to ph-cyberview-subscribe@makelist.com

You’ll notice that makelist.com doesn’t exist anymore. It eventually became eGroups, which was later acquired by Yahoo, who rechristened the email communities as “Yahoogroups”.

To publicize the new list, I posted an announcement on PH-ISP (a mailing list created by Migs Paraz to cover the nascent ISP industry) and got a trickle of subscribers coming in. The first question posted by an early subscriber asked me what was with all these mailing lists.

At 09:06 AM 8/26/98 +0800, Raymond Baladad wrote:

>What is the difference of ph-isp and this new cyberspace review list ?

Raymond,

PH-ISP was put up by Migs Paraz of Iphil Communications as a discussion group originally for professionals working in Internet Service Providers (then a very rare breed in those days). As the mailing list of the ISP industry, discussions here have led to some important developments, such as the formation of the ISP industry association PISO. Even the organized opposition to the PLDT local metering scheme (which now has its own list) started on PH-ISP.

The Philippine Cyberspace Review, as correctly pointed out by Migs, has a somewhat broader charter. It intends to track the ISP industry in addition to other elements that make up the whole Philippine cyberspace “scene” -cybercommunities, cyber-events, site announcements, and cyberculture in general. Things move so fast nowadays, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on otherwise.

It’s an extension of the old forum “RP-Internet” that emerged from the Fidonet BBS era (pre-internet) and made a transition to an e-mail mailing list. I’m not sure quite what happened to RP-Internet – at some point I just stopped receiving it from CyberPhil… this new list is somewhat easier to control though.

Maybe some explanations of terms are in order for the Net newbies. Iphil Communications was an early ISP (now defunct). PISO was the Philippine Internet Services Organization, an industry organization of ISPs (now defunct I think). The “PLDT Metering Scheme” was a proposal by PLDT to implement metering on landline calls which was opposed by local Net users (everyone was on dialup then, y’see). FidoNet was a pre-internet network of bulletin boards run by hobbyists, and “Cyberphil” was a local association of bulletin board owners who ran a local Fidonet network. Ok, now I better stop – since just describing all this makes me feel really ancient!

At any rate, if you need to review any of this – the complete (and searchable) mail archives are all online and accessible to members. Take a trip back to 2000 or 2003 if you have to.

As for my “State of the Philippine Internet” talk at Internet World ’98 – it went pretty well, thank you very much. And long after that presentation, the mailing list just lived on and on and on.

The important thing to remember is that through all these years, PH-Cyberview’s objectives are really timeless, and that probably explains the lists’s longevity. The Philippine cyberculture of the late 90’s has exploded into the many bits and pieces today. You have the gadget geeks, the Apple cultists, the MMORG gaming subculture, the torrent freaks, the bloggers, the social networking mavens, the hackers, the podcasters, the You Tube vloggers, the Multiply sellers – each a fascinating piece of pinoy subculture, each worthy of dissection, study, and documentation for a future society.

The Philippine “Internet Scene” as it were, remains a fast-moving landscape. Part of it is as mainstream as the TV commercials for broadband internet you see nowadays. A YouTube video will get a quick commentary on a noontime variety TV show. But a lot of the cutting edge stuff remains underground and off the masa radar.

Ask your barangay captain for his Twitter or Facebook or Flickr account and he might give you a blank face. But he will have an email address – or even a Friendster page. Yup, and in a time when Friendster has gone off the grid in North America it has morphed into almost a uniquely Pinoy piece of net culture.

It’s in that context that there will probably always be a need for a Philippine Cyberspace Review, in one form or another. To keep us informed, or even to remind us of the recent past by reviewing past discussions. Maybe it’s time to move on from its mailing list roots. I’m open to suggestions.

In the meantime, in about three months, we’ll finally be celebrating the big one-oh. I’m thinking a party is in order, or at least an EB, to put a face to these names we’ve only known by their email addresses. It’s about time. Cue Prince – “Party like it’s 1999.”

Stay tuned. And here’s to the next ten years.

To sign up for the Philippine Cyberspace Review, visit:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ph-cyberview

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5 thoughts on “10 Years (Almost) of the Philippine Cyberspace Review

  1. Goodness this post (and just reading the words ph-cyberview) really takes me back. Am probably still subscribed there, if I can only remember which email I used. :p

    Great to see you blogging Jim.

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