Friday, June 28, 2013

Where It All Began

I was asked today when I started writing about food. It's something I've been doing for a long time, and the origin of this avocation is an interesting one.

I've never been a cook. Single through my 20's and 30's, I dined out a lot. And as a geek, I took notes about the places I liked the best, using my trusty PDA (think the contact, calendar, and notes part of an iPhone).

This ragtag collection of notes was at least in some semblance of order, and I wanted to share it with my friends. Enter the web. I'd recently started a web development firm (data.net communications), and I needed to devise a way for a client to publish information in a database to the web. Back then, this wasn't an easy thing to do. I didn't want to experiment with client data, but I had my trusty PDA restaurant list to use.

An idea was born.

The original one was called Albert's Austin Restaurant List. It was first published in 1994. Mentions of it can still be found if you search far enough. As a geek, I wrote a program to create the web pages based on the data in the database I'd extracted from the PDA.

We supplemented my notes with a database from a purchased list of all businesses in Austin. We sorted out only the restaurants, then manually categorized them. I remember this taking more than a week.

Reviews were added as I visited restaurants, and we got comments (In cool '90's lingo, "Buzz") from readers. We got noticed by Blockbuster Video, Budweiser, and Miller Brewing, all of whom sponsored the site at one time or another.

I was developing websites at the time, and had a few restaurant clients. So naturally I linked to their websites from the dining guide.

After today's conversation, I found the third version of the Austin Dining Guide in the Internet Archive; the first two versions predated the archive.

Here's the link to the Austin Dining Guide, 1997 edition. Be kind. The tiny page format is due to the limits of computer screens in use at the time.

The plan was to evolve it into a broader city guide, covering technology and other things of interest to those on the web at the time (in other words, geeks.) The beginnings of it are in place, but due to time constraints, it was never built out.

It was a fun project, but the rise of well-funded projects like CitySearch, Microsoft Sidewalk, and later Yelp spelled the end of small operations like the Austin Dining Guide.

Years later, after a move back to my birthplace of Houston I couldn't resist the call, and started the H-Town Chow Down blog. Thanks for reading.

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