We see the term “cutting edge” being bandied about by plenty of artists, but how many of them can claim to be as cutting edge as David Bowie was almost twenty years ago? He helped shape the future of online music and social networks long before a lot of other people had even laid hands on a PC. In fact, he even beat Napster to the punch by about a year, when he launched an online music destination known as BowieNet in 1998.
BowieNet is regarded as the first Internet service provider created by a music artist, back when just being cognizant of what an ISP was gave one a mantle of nerd credibility. The cost for access was $US19.95 per month, using a modified version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Your twenty bucks allowed access to news feeds covering music, business, finance and sports (via then-heavyweight search provider Lycos), exclusive Bowie content, and an unimaginably expansive 20MB of space in which to build a custom homepage (“Fill up 20MB? What, are you kidding me?”). If you were one of those bleeding edge types who was already hooked up with an ISP, you could stay with them and just pay $5.95 for access to the exclusive content.
Said Bowie as the service was launched, “I wanted to create an environment where not just my fans, but all music fans could be part of a single community where vast archives of music and information could be accessed, views stated and ideas exchanged.”
Also available: Custom e-mail addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org or davidbowie.co.uk) and live chats with artists and others. Not quite innovative enough? BowieNet was also home to a 3D avatar chat system, a web connected camera providing views of live concerts which could be controlled by users, and BowieNet Radio, which was an online radio station for which Bowie himself was the airstaffer.
BowieNet lasted until 2012, when the site managers announced on Facebook that they were shutting off the lights, boarding up the windows and moving out. It was a victim, as many other such endeavors were, of the explosion of free or lower priced, less targeted, platform-agnostic alternatives. But it stands as another reminder of just how far out in front of the pack David Bowie was for much of his career.