Cyborganic (see cyborganic.org or .net or .com) is basically an online community. It was once also an Internet startup company, which filed for bankruptcy in late 1997. I wasn't present at the community's beginnings, but I was there for the very end of the company (and I'm still involved with the not-for-profit organization that it has evolved into). In fact, I was the the last employee of Cyborganic (unless you count the CEO and founder as an employee). Because I wasn't there at the early origins, some of this history may be not quite accurate, in fact my be apocryphal. But, it's how I heard things.

The story begins with 2 Jonathans in Milwaukee, Jonathan Nelson and Jonathan Steuer, who were good friends in high school. They both were involved in computers and online communities and both ended up in San Francisco and involved with the burgeoning internet culture in the early 90s. They parted ways when Nelson decided he wanted to make lots of money building other companies' websites and founded Organic Online, which became one of the biggest web design houses of the late-90s internet boom. Steuer, on the other hand, wanted to do something different and more community-based. After being the producer of the first version of HotWired, Wired Magazine's website, and then consulting for CNet, he was part of a group of socially experimental internet geeks - designers and programmers who were also heavily into the Bay Area rave scene, psychoactive drugs, and the utopian optimism of the early "internet revolution". A few of these people decided to make an attempt at turning this little social circle into a money-making corporation that would be about community.

The Cyborganic Corporation managed to get a first round of funding and then moved from the small flat in the Mission District where it had been based to a 10,000 square foot office space in downtown San Francisco. The website and a set of online tools for users had been built, but the business plan was still nebulous. This, along with the move to the expensive new location, turned out to be fatal mistakes. I was hired right as this was happening ("this is a cross between a company town and a cult", they told me when i was hired), in the summer of 1996. My original role was to develop a publishing system for a project called "Geek Cereal", which was Cyborganic's attempt to enter the content provider arena and have a place to sell banner ads. The idea of Geek Cereal was to create an online group journal, sort of an online version of MTV's Real World, only more real.

Geek Cereal ended up being a lot of fun to work on, but it didn't make Cyborganic much money. The company also failed to get a second round of funding, and by January 1997, all the employees had been laid off or taken a leave of absence, except for the CEO and CFO, who continued working on the business plan and looking for investors, and myself, the last tech guy. I was already doing enough freelance work to survive, so I agreed to put in a couple days a week there to keep the servers running, on the agreement that I would be paid later if the funding ever came through.

The funding never did come through, but it was worth it to me anyway, since I got to learn how to administer Unix servers and routers and networks. 7 months later in August of 1997 I was packing up those servers and moving them to Organic's machine room. By mid-september the company was completely shut down, but the servers remained in operation, first at Organic and then at my house and then at Jonathan's house, and we continued to host mostly for free the kinds of sites of friends and cool non-profits and artists and such that cyborganic started out associating with years ago. This loose arrangement continues to this day, with 8 or 9 volunteer admins (including myself) keeping things going. And so the grassroots semi-anarchic community has come full-circle.

So, thanx to Cybo, my disillusionment with and return to reality from the dot-com boom happened early, and I knew that for every wondrous shining startup success story in the next few years, there were hundreds of other startups that crashed and burned. This has made the current bust phase not quite as shocking, perhaps, as for others. But the other thing I learned is that bottom-up, freaky, hippy, geeky social bonds are often much stronger and longer-lasting than any top-down, venture-capitalized cash-hungry business.

... and many more...

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