Colin Delany August 6, 2007

In Profile of Jeri Thompson, A Glimpse of the Early Political Web

Sunday’s fascinating Post profile of Fred Thompson’s wife Jeri contained a little glimpse of the Good Old Days of the early political Internet. Turns out, when they were first dating and her last name was still Kehn, she pitched him on a personal political website separate from his official Senate site:

On Aug. 5, 1997, Kehn sent Thompson’s Senate office a 12-page proposal to “design, develop, host and maintain a world-class multimedia Web site” at a cost of $45,000 per year. As her qualification for the contract, Kehn cited her job at a small Nashville firm that provided daily news summaries to health-care companies.

Two weeks later, Thompson’s staff sharply rejected the proposal, according to memos located by the Memphis Commercial Appeal in the Thompson Senate archives, stored at the University of Tennessee. “I consider this project technically vague and stunningly overpriced,” a staff member wrote.

I remember those days! When people threw around “multimedia” and “interactive” without the slightest idea what they were talking about — but every proposal needed those magic words.

There were some crazy deals floating around back then. A couple of examples — in late ’97, I was working at a small design firm a couple of days a week, and one project I helped on was a five- or ten-page brochureware site that was a subcontract from a PR firm. It was a “rush” project to promote some condo development company or some such, but we still had at least a week to build it. The cost? $25,000-ish, with half going to the PR firm (which probably did about ten hours of work on the project), and the rest to the design firm. I got bupkis — $20/hour for HTML coding.

Even better: in the Fall of ’98, a friend brought me in to work on a database-driven news site for a large charity coalition that shall remain nameless. The cost? $47,500, if I remember right. The friend, who provided the connection and got the contract but did about 20 hours total work on the project, kept $22,500(!) as her share. I got $15,000 for design and project management (nice), and the programmer (who did about 75% of the work) ended up with $10,000. And, of course, the site never went live — we got it working with no problem, but disagreements within the organization kept it dark forever. Alas, for me that was a rare deal — I was much more likely to be working on little bitty sites for a little bitty payoff.

These days, I’m sure that plenty of people are paying a lot of money for dubious results (I’ve certainly seen organizations and companies pay shit-tons of cash for information that a Google search would turn up within a few minutes…), but it’s hard to imagine now just how crazy things were back during the first boom. The domain “politics.com” sold for $1 million in 1998 or 1999! And anyone who questioned the effectiveness of any of a dozen doomed startups was said to not “get it.” Note for the future: when you’re presented with someone whose main argument in favor of their venture is that critics don’t “get it,” keep a firm grip on your wallet, walk away slowly — and don’t turn your back.

cpd

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