Online Reporting from a Ship at Sea was Not an Easy Task in 1998 (Part 2)

| June 5, 2009

It wasn't always easy to "blog" live from a cruise. In fact, at one time there was no such thing as a "blog."

Anne and I were so nervous we were shaking, because we wanted everything to work so badly. Getting connected was a big enough challenge, but staying connected was even bigger. The Aegean had amazingly good coverage for a cell phone network due to a common standard throughout Turkey and the Greek isles. But we knew our connection would weaken as we sailed away, and we were about to make history as the first people ever to send a digital picture from a cruise ship at sea.

Our connection baud rate was very slow, even for 1998 when 56 kpbs modems came out. In those days, broadband was a luxury, found in only about 5 percent of homes and offices. If you were serious about getting online, you had a second phone line back then, and getting disconnected from the AOL network was a way of life.

It took us almost 15 minutes to upload the first picture, but we did it. We were the first people to connect to an Internet network from a cruise ship. I say it that way because we connected to AOL, not the Internet per se. Back then they were different networks, although the same concept.

After we sent the first picture, Anne said to me, "OK, now I need to write something to go with it." I agreed. "So, what should I write?" she asked, "I haven't seen the ship yet." At the time she was known as a "ship critic." In fact, that was her username at AOL, Shipcritic. That is why Anne's current blog is known as today. Her job was to review cruise ships, which she would normally do after the cruise ended.

But I said, "wait a minute, this isn't about that. We are here to report on minute by minute events of the cruise. What we want to do is make people feel like they are on this cruise with us."

"Bingo," she said, always one of her favorite phrases, and not because of bingo on cruise ships. "So what do we call this?"

"I don't know . . . "Electronic cruise? AOL cruise, a digital cruise?"

"Virtual cruise!" popped out of Anne's mouth. She pegged it. I knew instantly that the phrase would last forever. "Perfect!"

Amazingly, we could still connect about 45 minutes out to sea, but we had to dial the number for London instead of Istanbul the second time. We sent an email to her partner at AOL. "We want to call this a 'virtual cruise' and send you daily updates with pictures," she said. We followed up with the text Anne had written.

Her partner wrote back, "Virtual Cruise, we love the idea!" By that night, we had sent another picture and text. The next day we were docked in Kusadasi and we connected again. We opened up the Cruise Critic site on AOL and saw our picture next to Anne's text. The words, "Grand Princess Virtual Cruise" were the headline. Keep in mind, no one knew we were going to do this, not even Princess.

Julie Benson, Princess' public relations director, had heard about our virtual cruise from her home office by fax, which was the usual way ships communicated back then. The next morning she was knocking on our cabin door. "What are you guys doing?" she asked.

Princess was so excited about the idea, they offered to let use the ship's satellite phone system free of charge. I was glad the cell phone idea had worked but I knew the ship's system would be more reliable as we got farther out to sea.

We took my laptop to the communications room and connected the modem to their system just like any other phone. My laptop dialed into London AOL and we were connected. Although we continued to use our system when we could get a good signal, the ship's engineers were always excited to see us and they all watched with great interest and enthusiasm. We saw the twinkle in their eye and I knew then it was just a matter of time before ships would have Internet access.

Continue Article >> Online Reporting from Ship at Sea Not an Easy Task in 1998 (Part 3)

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