"No box is big enough to contain our imaginations."
Thus began The Spot
, arguably the first episodic web site
. Starting in early June, 1995, it featured daily diary entries and accompanying photographs of five (more or less) "twenty-somethings" living in a beach house
(also locally known as "The Spot") in the city of Santa Monica, California
. The site was presented as the project of Tara Hartwick
, one of the housemates, who convinced the rest of the residents to go along. The whole concept was variously described as something like "Friends crossed with The Real World -- but online."
Not only were one or more illustrated diary entries presented each day, but the housemates (or "Spotmates," as they were called) also responded readily to email, and participated in regular IRC chats. There was a very active message board on the site, where the Spotmates and the readers discussed the events of the day -- and argued about whether the site was real or fabricated. The Spotmates responded to any inquiries about the reality of the site obliquely, with statements such as "What is reality, anyway?" Fans of the site spent countless hours driving the streets of Santa Monica and scouring the site for clues, and there were strong arguments both for and against it being factual. Eventually the site's creators admitted that it was fictional, around the time that the site was nominated for a Webby award.
The Spot was actually the creation of Scott Zakarin, a filmmaker from New York who had been directing TV commercials for the advertising agency Fattal and Collins. He convinced his employer to give financial backing to the idea of an interactive fiction site, and the result was the most successful episodic web site to date. The site averaged (depending on measurements) between 80,000 and 160,000 hits per day, a level reached by very few sites even today.
In 1996, Fattal and Collins hired Sheri Herman to expand the site and introduce new episodic sites to the lineup. She organized the episodic sites as "American Cybercast", with the tagline, "The revolution will not be televised." Unfortunately, personality clashes resulted in the departure of Zakarin as well as several of his close associates, some of whom went on to form Lightspeed Media. Lightspeed, among other projects, launched a new interactive episodic web site called Grape Jam.
Some of those who followed the story believed that under the new management, American Cybercast expanded too rapidly for their financing (not to mention making changes that alienated many of the fans responsible for The Spot's initial success). After spending over six million dollars in the year after Herman's being put in charge, it filed for bankruptcy. One result is that The Spot closed its doors in June of 1997, two years after it first appeared online.
The community of readers of The Spot did not die with the site. Quite a few had begun following Scott Zakarin's new Grape Jam site and participating in the message board there. Many of them also moved to the "Spotfans" web site, developed primarily by Harry Zink, who had been both a fan and a harsh critic of the site. "Spotfans.com" contains an extensive archive of the original The Spot website, and had an active message board and community for several years. This community still remains active with many of its original members, although they have since moved on from Spotfans to a newer site in recent years.
The original five "residents" were:
- Jeff Benton
- (played by Tim Abell) Owner of "The Spot" (the house, not the site)
- Michelle Foster
- (Kristen Herold) Model and exhibitionist
- Tara Hartwick
- (Laurie Plaksin) Film student and "Founder" of the web site
- Lon Oliver
- (Arnaldo Kennedy) Aspiring actor
- Carrie Seaver
- (Kristin Dolan) Midwestern girl trying to make it in L.A.