Apart from learning to place many more pieces of cutlery on a table than were required, I think the answer to being a good host was, and still is, to provide a decent and handy location for a group of people to share vaguely similar interests and to start a few conversations and make sure there are no uncomfortable silences. And for me, that location was usually around a dinner table. Now it’s around a computer.
A likely dinner conversation at that time might have been a quick riposte of this obscure new thing called the Internet and how it would never work. But just like we did with the Internet’s parents and grandparents, the radio, the telephone and the TV, we ranted in public at the impending collapse of society, and then we rushed home, gathered the family, drew our curtains as far as our wallets allowed, and we couldn’t get enough of it.
We all love it, we all rely on it, yet none of us have a bloody clue how it works and we don’t care just as long as it does. If it doesn’t, we freak out because the Internet runs our lives and sometimes we get nasty. If we could just understand the basics, life would be so much easier.
Consider this: much of what the Internet has done is simply to move our preferred meeting location, our point of contact with other human beings, from a dining room, a board room, a shop or any physical meeting place, to a non-physical one, a so-called virtual one which resides on a computer, often in the form of a website, which now might physically sit on your un-laid dining room table.
Cutlery free, you can sit alone and start any conversation you want which will reach either invited guests (via e-mail, instant messaging or private forums) or potential new unknown friends (via a blog or website).
And now your six-seater dinner table has hundreds of people keen to come to the party, but neither your venue (your computer) nor your local transport network (your Internet connection) is going to cope and you will need to move to a bigger venue which people can reach more easily without having to go the extra Telkom mile, and is on a major public transport route. That’s where Internet service providers (ISP) come in.
‘Hosting’, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, still holds true for what they do. They provide online places where you and your extended group of friends can meet, and ISPs carry you to and from the venues. Whether that’s by e-mail, Facebook, forums or your spanking brand new website, they’ve probably played a part in matching you up.
As hosts, ISPs own a mega party venue, situated as close as can be to a major highway. The fact that your real office is in the dark end of nowhere doesn’t matter, because their venue isn’t and they’ll make your visitors think you’re keeping up with the Joneses. They do some lovely e-commerce glassware, SQL-studded napkins, an uncapped guest list, 24/7 concierge services and some spam filtering bouncers.
ISPs host anything from lectures, parties and conferences to sob stories, homeless kittens and plumbers for as little as R19 a month. That wouldn’t have bought me the ingredients for my consistently inedible baked onion starter back in the dinner era. As for that ad in the Yellow Pages, forget about it.