patrioticpair

I haven’t done a Throwback Thursday in over a month and it’s due mainly to laziness. I need to get my butt into gear to do things like transfer some photos from this old Mac that’s still sitting in one of the bedrooms to my current computer (I need to do that as well as transfer any other sensitive files before I can even think about donating it somewhere) and digitize older photos I took before the digital photography age (I need to spend a lot of quality time with my scanner and patiently do a lot of slow scanning). If I do these things, I’ll have plenty of Throwback Thursday material to last me several years. (LOL!)

I got an inspiration for my latest Throwback Thursday when I was working on the latest Link-O-Rama last week and I decided to share this link I found to an article about the Open Furby Project. That brought back memories for me because I once did a fan site that was devoted to Furby.

Here’s some background. When the World Wide Web first became a reality back in the 1990’s, I had an ambition to be a web artist in general and become a multimedia web designer in particular. My Unicorn With An Attitude animation series was part of that ambition. Basically I was seeing the Internet becoming a big thing and I wanted a piece of the action.

In 1998 I had a detached retina in my left eye. I underwent two surgeries in order to reattach it so I wouldn’t go blind. While I was recuperating from that sudden trauma, I saw an article in Wired magazine about this hot new interactive toy known as Furby that was going to be the hottest product of 1998. When I read the specs, I was smitten. Looking back I can see where the article overhyped the interactive features, which led readers to believe that Furby can actually learn things from you. For example, Furby first arrived speaking only its native tongue—Furbish—but it eventually learns English. But I saw that the English words it supposedly “learned” were ones that it was already programmed to speak. If you wanted to teach Furby how to swear or say something like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” you could say those words over and over again until you were blue in the face but Furby would never recite them back to you because it wasn’t programmed to say them.

So, getting back to my story, I wanted to get a Furby so I could see what it was like because I was impressed by that Wired magazine article. At the same time I decided to try creating a fan site just for the fun of it and also to show off my potential as a web designer. I saw that Furby article and I decided that Furby would be my focus. I had very modest ambitions for that site. Basically I knew I would make a big effort during the planning and creating stages but I thought that once it was done, I would only have to worry about updating it maybe once or twice a year.

The Internet at that time was way different from the Internet that we know and love today. For one thing, there was no Google. In fact, even though there were search engines (the biggest ones were Yahoo!, Alta Vista, and Infoseek), they didn’t have spider crawlers that trawled the web in search of links. Basically if you wanted to let those search engines know about the existence of your site, you had to fill out an online form and wait for the employees of those search engines to manually list your site.

There was no Blogger or WordPress or any other blogging sites. I decided to do a personal online journal about my interactions with Furby called “My Love Affair With Furby” and I had to manually code those pages. (I swiped the code for those pages from another web site that also had a personal online journal. All I did was to replace the content from that other site with my own.)

There was no YouTube or Vimeo so when I came across video ads for Furby, I downloaded those ads, uploaded them on my site, and then manually coded links to those videos so they could play online.

As for social media, the closest thing to social media was Usenet, which was a problem because even back in 1998 it was a haven for spam of all kinds. At that time there was an alt.fan.furby group that was actually moderated by someone at Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics subsidiary (Furby was released through Tiger Electronics) at the time because that person would warn posters if they used foul language. The downside is that it was impossible to ban people because of the nature of Usenet. Over time Tiger Electronics and Hasbro stopped moderating the place and alt.toys.furby became a free-for-all in terms of flame wars.

As for web server space, there were sites which offered free accounts such as the defunct GeoCities. The difference between those free web servers and the current free web servers like Wix.com and Weebly.com is that the earlier free servers didn’t offer templates of any kind. If you wanted to create your web site, you had to design and create a page yourself from scratch then upload it to the free servers.

I created the site, originally named The Fabulous Furby Fan Page, using an HTML editor known as GoLive (which was later bought by Adobe only to have it be replaced in the product line by Dreamweaver after Adobe purchased Macromedia).

So I uploaded the site on Tripod (which was a popular free web server host at the time) shortly before Furby was released on October 14, 1998. Within a few hours I began getting e-mails from frantic people asking me if I had a Furby. (At that point I hadn’t even purchased my first Furby yet.) About a week later I managed to snag one when they arrived at the local Montgomery Ward’s. I started to document my interactions with Furby and people responded with tons of e-mails.

The good news is that I got a lot of attention with that site. The bad news is that I got a lot of attention with that site. At times the amount of e-mails I got from people was overwhelming. I had never had a situation like that before and I was seeing my e-mailbox get filled with e-mails from frantic people asking me where can they find Furby.

One day I was reading The Washington Post when I saw an article about Furby and it mentioned my web site. That article increased the hits my site was getting.

I could write tons about my experiences with that site but I’m just going to briefly mention the good and the bad about that site.

The Good

I submitted that site to the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in late 1998 and a month or two later I got an e-mail saying that the site was among the finalists for “Best New Site.” I got two free passes to that event. My then-husband and I ended up flying to Austin the following March. While my site lost to a skateboarding site, I still had a great time as we toured Austin for the first time (heck, it was my first ever trip to the state of Texas) and we checked out the various panels and events at South by Southwest. (We even made a side trip to San Antonio where we saw the Alamo and we visited a few friends of my husband’s family who lived in the area.)

I got fan mail from Dave Hampton, who was the inventor of Furby, which was really cool. We corresponded off and on for a few years (he was very busy as he not only worked on Furby but also the spin-off products like Furby Babies and Shelby). Our correspondence tapered off after Hasbro discontinued the original Furby product line in 2001 and I haven’t heard from him since. But it was cool while it lasted.

I got e-mails from all over the world from Furby fans, which was pretty cool.

The Bad

I got so many e-mails from people who seemed to think that I was the one who created and sold Furby. At first the e-mails were about if I had any extra Furbys I could sell (this was during the initial intense craze back in 1998 when Furbys were sold out everywhere and people were selling them on eBay for as much as $200 for a product that had a $30 retail price). Then the e-mails started to demand tech support despite the fact I had repeatedly posted on my web site that my site was a fan site that had no official connection to Hasbro at all. I got a lot of e-mails demanding that I send manuals to them because they lost theirs (I ultimately had to provide .pdf files on my site and tell people to download them from there). I even got a lot of e-mails asking what a certain Furbish word meant in English so I ended up posting the Furbish-English dictionary online. Despite my effort at providing information online so people can find whatever they were looking for themselves, I got the same types of e-mails over and over again, which showed that people aren’t into such things as reading comprehension.

People were total perfectionists when it came to my site. If I neglected to mention a newly released Furby color on my site, I would get lots of e-mails from people asking me why that new blue Furby or purple Furby with the orange belly wasn’t mentioned on my site. Those e-mails would persist until I gave in and updated my site to reflect the new Furbys released in those new colors or patterns. What rankled me was that I was initially attracted to the technology behind Furby instead of fur colors. Of course it didn’t help that Hasbro/Tiger Electronics took a Beanie Babies approach where it focused more on releasing a whole slew of Furbys in different colors every few months instead of upgrading or improving the technology behind it. Let’s face it, most people would buy one Furby for the novelty, then buy a second one to test the interactivity (two or more Furbys could communicate with each other), then quit buying any more new Furbys because the second Furby basically did the same thing as the first Furby. (As for me, I purchased one Furby for the technology and a second Furby for the interactivity. At one point I purchased a Limited Edition Patriotic Furby just to see if it was any different from the other two only to find that the only thing that was different were the fur colors and the Statue of Liberty adornments. I purchased only one other Furby, the Limited Edition Presidential Furby, and that was because that thing could sing “Hail to the Chief” and it also said phrases encouraging people to vote. At least that one was different from the others.)

I got plenty of hate mail from people who were offended that I had devoted a site to something cute. Some of those e-mails said that they could care less about my site. If that was the case, then why did they go through the trouble of finding my e-maill address, writing a message, then sending it to me?

I had some less than pleasant encounters with certain Furby fans that would warrant a whole series of separate posts. (For example, there was one Furby flamer who not only posted insulting remarks to fellow Furby fans—including young children—but she did so using her real name. She also thought of herself as a writer although a quick Internet search revealed that most of her writings were limited to various Usenet groups.) There’s a series of posts on this blog called American Girl Outsider where she writes about her less than pleasant encounters with the American Girl doll fandom. Substitute “American Girl” with “Furby” and you’ll get my experiences with the Furby fandom. (The only difference is that Furby didn’t attract Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians like American Girl did.) I was once banned from a Furby board not because of anything I posted there (I adhered to that board’s rules to the letter when I posted) but because someone didn’t like what I wrote on my own Furby fan site. (Maybe one day I’ll write a similar series about my less-than-pleasant encounters with the fandoms that centered around both Furby and Asian ball-jointed dolls and how those two fandoms have totally turned me off of fandoms in general.)

The Aftermath

The first year I was working on that site once a week just so I could deal with that huge influx of e-mails. Eventually things died down to the point where I was able to get away with updating the site once a month.

At one point I decided to expand my focus to Poo-Chi, which was a line of robotic dogs that Tiger Electronics also made as a cheaper $30 alternative to Sony’s Aibo (which cost over $1,500). I renamed the site The Fabulous Furby and Poo-Chi Fan Site. Poo-Chi was cute but I soon found that he was more limited in his abilities compared to Furby.

I tried to parlay my site’s popularity into something that paid. At the time there was no such thing as Google Ads or anything similar so I couldn’t go that route. I sent resumes to various companies offering my services as a web designer while emphasizing the fact that my site had been nominated for a prize at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. But I didn’t get a lot of interest. I think it’s because of the subject matter. Had I devoted my fan site to something other than a toy that was originally created for children, I probably would’ve gotten at least an entry-level job as an assistant web designer for some corporation.

By 2001 I began to burn out on that site. By that point Tiger Electronics was winding down both Furby and Poo-Chi (both lines became less popular). The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 made me even less enthusiastic towards continuing work on that site because, compared to what happened, interactive robotic pets were very trivial. In early 2002 I finally announced that I was suspending all further work on The Fabulous Furby and Poo-Chi Fan Site.

About a month or two after I had quit working on that site, I got a notice from Tripod announcing that it was going to cut back on the amount of free server space for all of its members. (At that time Tripod had recently been purchased by Lycos.) Basically the website took up 37 MB of storage space and Tripod was cutting back free server space allotment for everyone from 50 MB to 20 MB. My choices were to either pay a monthly fee for the additional storage space (which I was reluctant to do because I had just quit working on that site), edit the site so it’ll be under the 20 MB minimum (which I was reluctant to do because I had just quit working on that site and I really didn’t want to do more work on it), or take the site off-line and search for another web host. I decided on the third option.

Soon afterwards my then-husband made this offer. He was a part-time Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland (he was going at night while working at NASA during the day) and one of the perks he got was web server space where he could put up anything he wanted. He offered to host The Fabulous Furby and Poo-Chi Fan Site for me. I took him up on that offer. The site remained online for a few years, even after my then-husband decided to drop out of the Ph.D. program. Every now and then I would search and it was still there even after my husband was no longer a student.

But then one day I searched and I saw that the University of Maryland had finally gotten around to doing its purges where it yanked the web accounts of people who were no longer students and my site was taken off-line.

These days if you want to see my site, you can only do so on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. As for my personal interactive pets collection, I have divested myself of most of it after I stopped working on my fan site. I gave away all of the Poo-Chis and various Furby spin-off products (such as the beanbag Furby Buddies, which didn’t do anything other than look cute and cuddly) to the American Rescue Workers.

Furby has had revivals in 2005 and 2012 but I’ve pretty much stayed away from doing any more fan sites. Other people have picked up the slack. In addition to the aforementioned Open Furby Project, there’s the Furby Wiki, GoFurby.com, a Furby Fan Club on Facebook, a bunch of blogs and posts with the Furby tag on Tumblr, and a bunch of pictures with the #furby hashtags on Instagram.

As for me, I don’t mind that I’m no longer a star of the Furby fandom. In fact, I prefer it that way. As I’m writing this post, I’m starting to think about maybe one day putting batteries in my old Furbys and maybe even make some videos of them in action. But that will have to wait until maybe summer at the earliest because I have a lot of other more important things on my mind at the moment so any proposed Furby videos will have to wait.

Well, anyway, here is The Fabulous Furby and Poo-Chi Fan Site as preserved by the Internet Archive.

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