Online Reporting from a Ship at Sea was Not an Easy Task in 1998 (Part 3)

| 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."

Today virtual cruises are as common as shipboard Internet cafes. But when I saw Julie Benson 10 years later, in 2008, she was still the head of public relations for Princess and she reminded me about the first virtual cruise ever. Connecting to the Internet changed everything in the cruise industry. Today, cruise ships use the Internet for constant communication between the vessel and the line's land-based headquarters. But we were the first people, as far as I know, to make it happen. That is the story of the first virtual cruise. If you would like to follow my next virtual cruise, click into Silversea Prince Albert 2: Arctic Circle. Today we are so confident of the technology that we can announce a virtual cruise before the real cruise commences.

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More on Our First Virtual Cruise Technology In 1998, cell phones were still uncommon in the U.S. (think back to when you bought your first cell phone). Cell technology had progressed much faster in Europe because the continent (eventually the European Union) had already agreed on one common international standard -- GSM. Any cell phone purchased in Europe would work virtually anywhere in Europe. In the U.S. we had as many as five incompatible networks all competing with each other -- and even our digital GSM standard was not compatible with the European GSM.

Having been to Europe, I knew that cell phone coverage there was ubiquitous. Even though our cruise was traveling from Istanbul to Spain, I knew we could connect in any country. I hatched a plan to get a European cell phone, a PCMCIA-card modem compatible with that European phone, a cell phone account with international roaming (very rare back then) and a digital camera.

I got all the equipment I needed from sponsors who would benefit from the publicity we generated, but it took a lot of phone calls and explaining. Furthermore, offering these equipment makers publicity on the Internet was a hard sell, as the Internet was not yet a proven media for advertising.

Another challenge was to get dual U.S. and European technology, in order to test everything out before we left for Europe. In the end I couldn't test the European modem before we left because there was no network to connect with.

In fact, very few cruise lines even had web sites in 1998, and the Internet was so small that Cruise Critic was not even on it. Neither was the company I was working for at the time, Motley Fool (another AOL content site). Things changed drastically in the next two years, however.

In the end my European handset (telephone) was sponsored by the Finnish company Ericsson, which no longer makes cell phones. The Euro-GSM modem came from Xircom, another company no longer in existence. For actual phone service, we found out AT&T offered service in both the U.S. and Europe.

We already had a laptop and our AOL accounts, but this was a brand new ship, so the first things we really wanted to send were actual pictures of the ship sailing away from Istanbul. Fuji lent us one of their first digital cameras, a prototype at the time (like the cell modem). It shot pictures at the advanced resolution of 1.2 megapixels, which looked pretty good as long as you had plenty of natural light. That camera generated excitement in public every time I used it. People would stop and watch me.

I had a list of AOL access phone numbers worldwide, including Istanbul where our cruise started and Barcelona where it ended. We logged in from Istanbul and continued to log in all the way to Barcelona. The first virtual cruise was an instant hit, but unfortunately it was so long ago it does not exist online anymore, At least I could not find it in Google -- but keep in mind that AOL was not on the Internet yet, and Google had yet to be launched.

Back to Top of Article >> Online Reporting from Ship at Sea Not an Easy Task in 1998 (Part 1)

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