The Here and Now Project (hereandnow.net) was the first 24/7 full-audio and full-video streaming broadcast on the web. The project was originally conceived and created by Erik Vidal, nephew of Gore Vidal. One very large Cannon video camera was plugged into a server stack and began broadcasting the living room lives of seven Oberlin College students to the world in January 1999.
How did I get involved in all of this? It was a mixture of laziness and accident. The first “Internet House”, as it was called on campus, was a set of apartments above a futon store just down the street from the Oberlin Conservatory. I was settled on living with some friends a bit farther away, but when I heard about a closer room, I checked it out. I met with Erik and he mentioned something about a camera and the internet. Sounded interesting, but I was more concerned with being close to my classrooms on cold Ohio mornings. Leases were signed and during that first semester, there was a lot of set up and talk, but no broadcasting. The original housemates were Erik, Adam, Mel, Joe B, Sue, me, and later – Mandy. We joked that the broadcast would never happen, but with a little love from an angel investor the cameras finally started rolling. “We’re on?” “Does it work?” “Hi world!” These were some first thoughts on launch day. I was hooked from day one. I loved chatting with viewers. I loved just talking at the camera as a distraction from studying. I had a good time sharing my world and learning from the growing Here and Now community.
Here and Now went through several transformations in design and concepts.
Version 1.0 involved the one Cannon video camera with a very long cord. We had a dedicated server for 56k, 100k, and 250k streams all being pushed to then rebroadcaster, Broadcast.com. The 250k stream was quite the novelty in 1999! The main broadcasting room featured white walls and furniture covered in light fabrics to better display the housemates wearing mostly darker colors. Spotlights in the corners created a “set” sort of feeling. Microphones were placed around the room and sound was piped into a mixing board to adjust levels before being served up to the web. Stream and sound quality was of the highest concern and no expense was spared to this end. It was realized that the camera could be moved, although with some difficulty, to other nearby rooms, namely mine. I started sleeping on camera and learned how to somehow rest well under hot and bright spotlights!
Lisa with black hair, Hereandnow.net – Version 1.0 at the beginning of 1999:
The broadcast moved to a new house in Oberlin with different housemates for Version 2.0. Instead of the one camera, smaller Sony digital video cameras were placed in main rooms and bedrooms. (Not in the bathrooms!) It was up to the housemates to be sure the cameras were pointed on them if they were in a room. We always had the option to turn the camera away and the sound off in the bedrooms, and this was often done for privacy reasons. Directional mics from the cameras now picked up the audio instead of the previous separate audio set-up. On the main page of the website, viewers could view a jpeg push of each room to see where the people were. Viewers could then click on that picture and load the live stream for that room. I spent a great deal of time trying to remind housemates to point the cameras at themselves, even if they were just doing homework.
Lisa’s new look for Herenandnow.net – version 2.0
After version 1.0, I left for the summer to New York City to intern at Middleberg and Associates in online marketing and at Nasty Little Man to get some insight into the world of record company publicity. I fell in love with New York during that trip. We had quite a bit of press that summer with articles in Details, Entertainment Weekly, and the Le Monde. We were also featured in an exhibit about fame and celebrity at the MoMA. I returned to Oberlin College for my last year and joined on with Hereandnow.net as the Director of Content. I managed the homepage text updates and scheduled weekly “shows” (themed live chat time) with house mates. I felt that “shows”, while not exactly “real life”, were important as concrete scheduled times when viewers could always expect content and chat with one housemate or another. Some housemates were keen, others needed to be pushed and some actually refused. One of the most popular shows during this time was my own Bathtub Poetry. Viewers emailed me poetry over the course of the week. During Bathtub poetry, I read these poems live from the tub while chatting about current events in the house and in the world in general. Our bathtub was big enough to accommodate full coverage of nudity with the added bubbles. Erik used to help maneuver the camera as I got in and out of the tub to avoid naked accidents. I sometimes wore a bikini. I played with the idea of being fully clothed. It was fun to make the show content unexpected.
In the summer of 2000, the Here and Now Project started broadcasting from New Orleans, LA: version 2.5. We had all graduated and it was decided that since Las Vegas seemed cheap and MTV’s “The Real World” was filming in NYC that we should head to New Orleans, the southern city of Mardis Gras. We rented a historic home in the garden district, on the corner of 2nd and Camp, and set up the broadcasting system in much the same way as for Version 2.0.
This was the turning point for me and the Here and Now Project. Here and Now could have been something truly great, but, instead, it was run into the ground. By this time in my broadcasting “career”, I’d determined what I thought were the key elements of a successful live broadcast: engaging live content, chat and community that built relationships between the viewers and with the housemates, and archives of special events for people who either missed them or newbies who wanted to see what happened on camera during a slow broadcast day. I felt it was important to put our story “out there” as much as possible. Erik seemed to disagree with these concepts. He would hole up with Adam, the COO, in his bedroom for meetings. I was hardly ever invited to the meetings and when I was, my ideas were always grazed over. Erik concerned himself with a possible sale of the company, fame, holding lavish parties that destroyed the historic house, and spending company money at strip clubs (often more in one night that I made all month!). Cameras were focused on still art on the walls in hopes of sale – a complete waste of the technology. I spent hours creating archives of events only to have the finished product waved off as not being professional enough. In the name of traffic, our website was submitted to other sites that talked about porn. New female additions to the cast spent online time in their underwear chatting with viewers. This made me upset, as one of the distinguishing factors of the project was that we didn’t use blatant “camgirl” techniques to get viewers. Between this behavior and the “traffic” from the other sites, viewers started ordering me to “shut up and strip down”. I wasn’t having a good time anymore and long time viewers weren’t either. Many loyal fans left for good during this time. Without our fun and supportive community, I just stopped chatting. One morning I came down from my attic room to discover a pile of puke on the floor. (Erik’s) I updated the website with this information. It was interesting and relevant. A few hours after Erik discovered this, I was fired from my Director of Content position. In the end, I felt betrayed. I had always been the housemate doing the most for the content of the project. For months, my input had been ignored and then in two swift minutes I’d been discarded. I started spending more time away from the house with my then-boyfriend Jeramy. I decided that it was time to part ways with Here and Now. One morning, in early January 2001, I stole a few items of furniture and hit the road with Jeramy for New York City.