Attention: Bill Butler, Tim Moses and Tommy Williams, Please Check My Facts
I experienced a lot of nostalgia last night while attending SouthernAlpha’s inaugural Spark Nashville at 3rd and Lindsley. Listening to the panel discussion with Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland, I was fascinated with the stories of these “pioneers of the industry” when I happened to notice the familiar profile of Bill Butler in the balcony. If I were in a movie, the scene could not have been better scripted. For there, hovering with saintly presence above these “old” gents in their reminiscing about the old days (early to mid 2000’s) was a true visionary for technology in Nashville before there was any awareness of any kind by most anyone. How could this be, you might ask? Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a beverage. Raise your hands, clasp your hands with fingers intertwined and, with your best Wayne’s World flashback impersonation, come back with me....”doodl-oodl-oo, doodl-oodl-oo, doodl-oodl-oo, doodl-oodl-oo........”
August 2, 1993. Telalink Corporation was established by Timothy Moses, William Butler and Tommy Williams. While the debate remains to this day which company was the first Internet Service Provider in Nashville, I would put forth this date as one of the earliest known dates for the launch of a fresh start-up with the intent of networking computers for retail purposes. It is true that I have frequently commented that Telalink was the first Nashville-based ISP and, well, it’s my blog so prove me wrong, blog readers!
Bill, Tim and Tommy had already launched Telasar Consulting after they graduated from Vanderbilt and had made a name for themselves in Nashville as Mac experts, installing hardware and software, offering technical support to users, rollerblading onsite to provide whatever service the client needed. Bill and Tim’s geekdom goes back even further to their days at Battleground Academy in the 80’s when they successfully networked their computers by way of some innovative hacking that I am sure they absorbed through some cosmic phenomenon, not unlike what one may have encountered in “War Games,” “Weird Science” or “Real Genius.” Ah, the 80’s.
Telalink was launched with about $50,000 from friends and family and the primary use of those funds was to launch a service that would allow for computers to connect to other computers through an elaborate configuration of modems, routers, hubs and a cat named Feisty. While Feisty was not essential to the operation, she/it did provide for plenty of entertainment at 110 30th Avenue North, Suites 5 and 6, Bill, Tim and Tommy’s personal living space, geek hangout and workplace.
Telalink was nearly a bust. Remember, our good friend, the Internet, really didn’t reach Nashville until 1994. The problem at Telalink was that the technology was primitive, the connections were complicated, the phone company (yes, there was only one and it was known as BellSouth) was uncooperative, and the market was hardly educated. And, as much as they knew about computers and how to connect them, that whole “running the business” part of the business was occasionally an oversight.
Not long after the money ran out, the AMEX was run up and the Telasar funds were being diverted to cover the costs that Telalink was causing, Sprint came-a-knockin’ on Nashville’s door in the summer of 1994 with dedicated pipes to “the backbone.” Our heroes, sensing an opportunity, signed up for a 64K connection before the local Sprint sales rep. had a chance to learn just what she was selling. Meanwhile, the boys had already been learning about browsers (or browser at the time- Mosaic) and the oh-so-sexy HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Programming a site on the World Wide Web was quickly becoming the thing that the hip geeks were doing.
By August 1994, With Sprint connection in hand and a cheap ad in the back of the Nashville Scene (yeah, the famous back page ad section which included some of the more unsavory opportunities) advertising “Internet Access for $35/month, 60 hour Limit,” telalink.net was born. Yes, “.net.” Any schmoe could apply for a “.com.” but “.net” was the more elite suffix, signifying that you were an Internet company. Nashville, meet the Internet. Internet, I believe you know about Nashville by virtue of a previous introduction by Vice President Gore. Yes, indeed, the “Information Superhighway” is here!
To be continued.....
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.