here do the cyber-big-shots go when they want to find the best talent in New
York new-media circles? The freshest ideas for the on-line world? The hottest
discussion of issues and technology? Free Twizzlers?
To the World Wide Web Artists Consortium.
Founded in 1994 to give New York's growing community of new-media developers
a forum to discuss the possibilities and challenges of an ever-changing
technology, WWWAC (pronounced WACK) now has hundreds of members, among them
the most important Web designers and software developers in New York.
)Entering one of the group's monthly meetings at the Sony Building is like
walking into a scene out of a James Bond flick where members of an
international criminal syndicate sit in high-backed chairs around an enormous
boardroom table while some mad scientist presents the latest technology that
will conquer the world.
Still, the WWWACies (as they are given to call themselves) are no lunatic
pack of sociopaths. They are the movers and shakers in the industry -- and
software companies, media giants, and on-line services all come to seek their
"For Internet business, it is the premiere group in New York," says Mark
Jeffrey, director of on-line ventures for The Palace Group, a division of Time
Warner that creates a virtual world on line allowing visitors to move avatars
around chat rooms and interact with others. More than 200 WWWAC members
turned out to listen to Jeffrey at a recent meeting, and to pepper him with
"You must meet the WWWAC to be taken seriously, and no group holds more
influence," Jeffrey says. "It's where the smartest people are, the 'young
turks' of the Internet, the ones who really get it. There are a lot of posers
both in Los Angeles and New York, but this crowd is the real deal. They'll
sniff you out if you're faking."
Guest speakers from companies like Netscape, Time Warner and America Online
have all paid a call to the WWWACies. The group fields a busy mailing list
filled with passionate flame wars (some call them "wide-ranging discussions")
over topics from Internet free speech and telecommunications reform to the
question of which is the best Web browser on the market.
The Twizzlers are another story.
)The invitation to the first-ever WWWAC meeting in the Village in September
1994 announced, "All you need to bring is yourself, some paper (or a
subnotebook) if you want to take notes, and your childish enthusiasm for the
future of the Web."
Howard Greenstein also brought along the rubbery red licorice snack,
engendering a tradition that he still maintains and earning him the nickname
"Twizzler Boy" among WWWACies. Greenstein, a then-recent graduate of New York
University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, founded the Consortium
with Kyle Shannon, who was publishing a zine called _Urban Desires_ on the
WWWAC meetings are held monthly these days in the Sony Building in midtown.
The "childish enthusiasm for the future of the Web" remains, as do the
Twizzlers, but there are serious deals to be made in WWWACland as well.
The general idea "is that we all can do more by sharing information with each
other," says Greenstein, now director of operations for Netcast
Communications, a new-media company backed by venture capital that plans to
deliver real-time multimedia content over the Internet and on-line services.
Greenstein plans WWWAC's meetings. "We can solve problems together and still
compete -- 'co-op-etition' or some such term," he says. "It really works.
Designers from different shops answer each other's questions, even though they
could be working on competing projects."
The WWWAC synergy worked early on for Shannon and Chan Suh, his partner in
the New York Web design firm _Agency.Com_. In business for little more than a
year, Agency.Com boasts a client list that includes MetLife, GTE, American
Express, Hitachi, Sun Microsystems, Apple Computers, HBO Home Video, and Time
"Agency.Com was conceived over beers after a WWWAC meeting," Shannon says.
Suh recalls: "I helped Kyle put up Urban Desires and I was launching
_VIBEonline_ then. We did our thing and realized we liked this better than our
New York's new-media community is remarkably close-knit. Small companies work
together and exchange ideas freely. Lawsuits are almost anathema. Much of
that cooperation can be traced to the attitude of WWWAC members.
"There is a tremendous amount of interaction, and because the group is so
established, the level of trust between even competitors is quite remarkable,"
says Shannon. "I think that two to three years from now, there will be
numerous companies that will trace their roots back to WWWAC."
)The WWWAC e-mail list, begun a year ago as an easy way for members to
communicate, has grown into one of the industry's must-reads. The dozens of
daily postings can be snappish, peevish, even a bit psychotic, but the
emphasis is on real solutions, not hype. Big software companies like
Microsoft, Netscape and Sun take their share of hits; bugs in Web browsers are
a common topic.
And the Federal Government also comes into the WWWAC cross-hairs; the
Communications Decency Act in the new telecommunications law drew scathing
criticism from WWWACies who turned the background color of their pages black
and added blue ribbons to protest Internet censorship.
When they don't have Bill Gates or Senator Jim Exon to kick around, WWWAC
writers often turn on each other -- despite the impassioned pleas for reason
by list administrators.
"Passionate people are always a little insane," says Greenstein. "But it
helps to be a little insane when technology changes so quickly that you never
know which tags work with which browser."
Maybe that release of frustration, in an industry that is both fragile and
growing rapidly, is the reason for WWWAC's success.
Then again, maybe it's the Twizzlers.