about tsw / user zone / history
Originally written by MJ Ray - updated and edited by Adam Svendsen, 2002 - updated and edited by MJ Ray, 2007
The brief history of TSW
Part One: The web comes to UEA
This is basically TSW's pre-history. I [MJ Ray] wasn't really involved that much at this point, so it's all a little hazy to me.
1994 - the Internet was becoming more widely used. Not that widely used, as Mozilla was the first choice browser in ITCS (then CPC) and the Vaxes were the default e-mail system for new users. "User friendly" hadn't reached that far yet.
Somewhere around this time Alex Bainbridge, the Union's Sports Officer of the time, created the Union's first website.
Some extremely forward-thinking societies (like the French society) started using e-mail and created their own website.
Along with the index of UEA clubs, the Union's site also held indices of other UK Student Union websites and UK Student Clubs and Organisations, although this last no longer exists as it got too big to maintain about 1997.
Alex hung up his web-writing hat in 1995 and it was gleefully snatched by fellow SYS student Andrew Savory (UEA's former webmaster).
Across in the School of Mathematics, who were one of the more active and clued-up schools on the WWW, Dr Dave Stevens started posting new links to sites that were innovative, useful or in some other way "cool". (Hey, it was 1995.) This was called "Cool Sites of the UK" and was really intended as a faster version of the American "Cool Site of the Day", but don't tell them that.
CHE(MISTRY) postgrad Tristan Roddis started writing a small internet column called "Hype" in the student newspaper of the time, Concrete. It's hard to overstate the impact of this column: it came as a welcome outlet for the more creative types interested in the internet, as well as a window on the more wild developments in websites and the social aspects of it. The brief snippet of information in the newspaper became a much larger piece if you looked at Hype's own website, a fact which spread by word of mouth and caused a lot of UEA students to realise for the first time that the internet existed and could be used for really wild things and having a good time.
Finally, it was also my first real involvement in the history of this website, although I never contributed more than a few ideas and a couple of sentences (mainly because I was heavily involved in another society around this time and it clashed with the Hype contributors meetings).
Part Two: The Union Expands Its Site
OK, so this isn't really that much about TSW, but it does show where TSW grew from and gives credit to the people who were either insightful enough to recognise what was going on or just generally willing to support this new student community as it grew.
After a long interregnum (and a review of various aspects of the Union's operation including their website) after Andrew, I was taken on to develop the Union's website in 1997, shortly before I graduated. Fortunately for all concerned, I stayed on to do another degree and in the September, the Union's website was re-launched on its own server (largely for political reasons).
I had hoped as part of this re-launch to include the other main student websites at UEA as part of the new front page, tentatively titled "the student web". From memory, this was a particularly bad time to do it, as only Mag-Net was actually willing to participate and they weren't very active at that time. Hype was no more, shortly to be replaced by the much more games-orientated "Inter@ctive" page in the event, where some of the old contributors got their fingers burnt by the new editorial regime. Another site was also approached (I think it was "the byte stuff") but nothing really came of it.
As the academic year progressed, it became clear that there was a real need for a focus for some of the talented webmasters that were growing up at UEA. Later in the year, I managed to somehow persuade Paul Russell and Tatsu Maekawa to help write a new alternative prospectus online. I'm still not sure to this day why they agreed. Anyway, while being nothing earth-shattering (although it did look pretty good for its time), it was generally regarded as a success and we decided to start on our way to really setting up "the student web" as something in its own right.
Part Three: A Shaky Start
The way was clear, with Inter@ctive now pretty much ignoring the internet and other large websites dying off as their owners graduated, so I approached the Union in Summer 1998 with the idea and pointed to the "Alternative Guide" as a success. The Central Services Manager, Bill Rhodes, and outgoing Academic Officer, Becka Currant, both generously allowed me to develop this aspect of the site, with the understanding that I was doing it as a normal student, not as an employee (and hence not paid).
After a pretty disastrous showing at SocMart at the start of the year (despite the wonderful rolling demo that Tatsu and Paul put together), I think we recruited about a dozen or so people. Looking back, I'm fairly surprised we even managed that many, as we were going about things in a pretty clueless manner. As the year went past, we lost about half of those people, leaving a small core of dedicated individuals. Two of the more notable ones are Simon Wilson, who came up with some of the basic design [of the old frontpages] and Nick Holway, who lent a hand with the news coverage. Unfortunately for the student web, both of these went on a year abroad in 1999-2000 and meant that we were basically restarting from scratch. Also, Tatsu graduated and left both UEA and the UK.
Much of the year was spent feeling our way, both technically and politically. I spent far too much time rebuilding and rebuilding the site, contributing to the unstable pile of crap that has just been replaced as I write this. The arrival of a shiny new server from Digital Networks UK at this point was very welcome, but didn't help us escape the techie side. We also had a couple of run-ins with various people and spent a while debating whether to try and make the student web into a society. There wasn't a lot of point debating this, as you need around 30 members to become a society properly.
Part Four: Light the blue touchpaper and...!
I sort of expected this to be my last year at the controls, as my funding runs out at the end of it. We had another fairly disastrous SocMart, this time because we were totally unprepared when the doors opened about an hour before the advertised time and people started streaming in. Despite that (and getting put in the sticky bit near the bar again), we were more successful at selling the site, probably because we had a bit more of a track record and more ambitions for it. Also, we weren't asking for a membership fee (because of the unique way the project wasn't funded... oof).
Over the course of the year, the group grew to 65 participants publishing over 400 pages. These meant that we needed a plan and some sort of organisational structure. The first attempt at these was amazingly wrong-headed, as we tried to imitate the organisational structures used by newspapers and magazines. This had one real success and one passable attempt, but generally didn't work. For the record, the initial editorial team was Tony Giordani, Tuan Kha, Nick Heppleston and myself. Other highfliers included Rach Nobes (savaging the Union's politicos), Adam Svendsen (design supremo), Kate Forbes (music freak) and Caz Apps (interviewing and taking on the news editor's job for a while), while Paul Russell, Nick Holway and Tatsu Maekawa were still in touch from afar, but there were far too many people to mention them all here.
Alongside all this, the group decided to rebrand and re-launch the site as simply "TSW" soon after the start of the year. The more printer-friendly "three blobs" logo was drawn by some combination of myself and Brett Parker and replaced the "student web" word and shadow emblem. It was all a giddying success and the audience for the site peaked at about 33% of campus just before the final exam and coursework season started to bite in.
Political moves by the end of the 1999-2000 academic year caused TSW to become a Union society.
Part Five: Re-structuring and consolidation - to the present and beyond... - Adam Svendsen
The 2000-01 academic year started in a state of chaotic flux, but got better.
I, Adam Svendsen, became Editor of TSW at the end of September, MJ Ray became News Editor, Caz Apps became the Membership Secretary and Brett Parker became technical director and Haj became the successful Reviews Editor with Simon McCallum running the Videos and DVDs section. We were also ably assisted and joined by many other people not named here.
In October and November TSW won The Independent/NUS Student Journalism Awards for Best Website and came runner-up in The Guardian Student Media Awards 2000 for Best Website. The TSW team, whilst continuing to do some publishing, then decided to devote the majority of the time to getting established: consolidating sections on the site, setting up and getting organised as a society, submitting equipment requests to the Union and experimenting with site engines that best met our needs, ready for acquiring and supporting a future (hopefully) large membership for the 2001-02 academic year...
The new academic year, 2001-02, began with a load of technical problems, unhelped by the new Union Computer Manager (employed to replace MJ Ray) accidently deleting some of our files and archives off the TSW server. Many of the old sites referred to above were lost. MJ Ray also left us as he had finished his studying at UEA and went on to set up Luminas with Paul Russell and Andrew Savory, whilst continuing in the very few moments he had spare over the next year to develop a newer version of the TSW site engine.
The SocMart went reasonably well with TSW attaining the required membership and our established practice of using a video/data projector to display the site next to our stall being a success. In the Autumn semester, TSW was joined by Angela Bird, who became the highly successful and productive new news editor. In November, TSW went to the Independent/NUS Student Journalism Awards ceremony to pick up the runner-up prize for best website. After Christmas 2001, James Taylor joined TSW to fill the vacant Technical Director position left by both MJ Ray's and Brett Parker's departure.
TSW continued throughout the year pretty much in its established form, ticking over publishing the material that we managed to acquire from our various contributors. At the end of the year, we were joined by Neil Milton who produced brilliant music and film reviews. I was re-elected the TSW president for the third year.
The new (& current) academic year, 2002-03, began with Neil Milton being made Chief Reviewer for the site and several significant contributions started to be made by Shoshana Wilson. The SocMart was a reasonable success with the acquiring of new members to help in the development of TSW, which is about to experience another major overall in the not to distant future and will continue evolving throughout the year.
And the rest is yet to be realised!
Part Five: Epilogue - MJ Ray
As I write this in 2007, TSW is long dead and the domain is squatted. I've taken a copy of this page from archive.org and now I write the final chapter.
I wasn't around for the last bit (2003-4?), so I'd love to hear how it ended from people who were there. Email me.
As far as I can tell, students were getting more pressurised by the spiralling student debts and ever-more-competitive courses, so didn't want to commit the time to producing something as complicated and fast-developing as tsw. Also, maybe Adam repeated my mistake of staying in charge too long, so it seemed too much of a big step up for anyone to take it over after he graduated.
Finally, the student union signed up to some sort of web advertising contract, which almost certainly meant no-one from tsw's technical team was getting paid for related-but-unrelated work, and I think the deletions mentioned above included the various Rabbit Admin Guides needed to train new techies about the current equipment.
I'm just speculating, really. TSW helped start several careers, including mine (although it maybe broke others). In its short 5-year life, it won a national award and got close twice.
"I'm blue, ergo I rock."
I'll always remember it fondly. Will you?
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