For over 20 years, SFF Net hosted websites, email, IRC and newsgroups for many science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors and organizations. In the early days, if you were a genre writer, there was considerable cachet in having a website at SFF Net because they specifically catered to professional authors, who received additional perks and system privileges due to their status.
SFF Net was wholly owned and operated by Greyware Automation Products, Inc., a software firm in Dallas, Texas. As a consequence, it was largely run by Jeffry Dwight and Steve Ratzlaff.
The site was founded after Jeffry Dwight took over Greyware in 1995. He says:
I've always been interested in sysopping. Way back in 1985, I ran a dial-up BBS in Chicago, and I've been involved in several BBSes throughout the following dozen years. In 1990, I joined Genie and discovered the online SF community. I was a sysop on Genie for a couple of years and spent a lot of time in the SF areas. It was during this time that I made my first professional fiction sales and joined SFWA.
I set up a web server for Greyware, then realized there was plenty of bandwidth left over. Since I'd made it a habit to "pay forward" to the SF community, I told other pro writers that if they wanted a page, Greyware would give them one for free.
Rob Sawyer was the first to take me up on the offer. Within three months, hundreds of authors were making their virtual homes on Greyware. I started collecting links to other sites, and set up some web forms to allow people to add their own links in real time. I called this collection of links SFF Net (Science Fiction and Fantasy Network of Links). I also gave free pages to SFWA and HWA, and let the various SFRTs (Genie's Science Fiction Roundtable topics) put up pages, too.
SFF Net soon became so popular that Dwight had to spin it off from Greyware into its own service. A few years later, they stopped offering pages for free, but ultimately they didn't charge their users as much as the service actually cost. The bandwidth that the SFF Net pages took up eventually contributed to the owners' annoucement in January 2017 that they had decided to close the site on March 31st, 2017.
At the peak of the site's popularity, they hosted about 4000 authors and organizations. That doesn't sound like a lot of people now, but at the time that was a big chunk of the genre authors who had web presences. But SFF Net's popularity gradually waned as the Web grew larger and slick, commercial web hosts with lower prices and attractive features entered the market. SFF Net didn't modernize their services much, and their public-facing pages looked pretty old-fashioned after a while.
Still, even when the site was close to shutting down, SFF Net was home to about 300 authors and organizations. Some of their most high-profile customers at the end included Ben Bova, Patricia Bray, Suzy McKee Charnas, Hal Clement, James D. Macdonald, Robin McKinley, Joe Haldeman, Jim Hines, Robin Hobb, Kij Johnson, Geoffrey Landis, Elizabeth Moon, James Morrow, Laura Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Robert Silverberg, The Clarion Foundation, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, World Fantasy Organization, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Why did so many people stick with SFF Net over the years, even though there were other web hosting options that might have been cheaper or easier to use?
As always, part of it I'm sure was due to inertia: SFF Net was a reliable service and they didn't give their users many reasons to want to leave. They were surprisingly secure -- I never heard of anyone having their site hacked or of any user data breaches -- and their tech support was prompt and responsive. It never felt like a two-person operation.
A bigger reason was that it was a pleasant site run by good people. It was a labor of love for the owners, and the site had a folksy, family feel. When you hear about the owner of GoDaddy hunting endangered species and running sleazy TV ads and such, and if you're the sort of person who wants to vote with your dollars, SFF Net made it easy to want to stick around.
The shutdown of SFF Net represents the end of an era for a lot of long-time genre fans and authors. The site will be missed.