There is no doubt that David Bowie shall be remembered as one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century.
Celebrated as a visionary and pioneer in both music and visual art, it has since emerged, thanks to the unearthing of a BBC Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman, that Bowie was also a visionary in regards to the internet and digital media.
“We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” he says, “what the internet is going to do to society is unimaginable.”
And he was right, even if Paxman bemoaned it as “just a tool” and a “different delivery system” at the time.
In fact, Bowie had his very own internet service, BowieNet, which launched in September 1998, at a time when very few artists had any music online whatsoever.
Offering a wide variety of exclusive content, including images, paintings, music and videos, BowieNet also provided fans with the opportunity to interact with their hero on its forums and chat rooms. For a small monthly fee, members also received an email ending in “@davidbowie.com.”
Speaking to the BBC, Craig Carrington, a former member, said that:
Sometimes he would bring on a special guest for an interview, other times he would say things like, ‘I just discovered this new act, who you probably haven’t heard of yet.’
Bowie’s biographer stated that like many things that he did, BowieNet was ahead of its time, stating that other rock stars at the time owned single page sites with biographical text and the occasional picture.
BoingBoing.net has been able interview Ron Roy, one of the people who worked for BowieNet from its creation:
BowieNet’s dial-up service sold full access to the Internet for $19.95 a month (or £10.00 in the UK), but it was also a fan club that provided exclusive access to David Bowie content such as live video feeds from his studio.
According to Roy the service had roughly 100,000 users during its peak service, and that Bowie was one of the first artists to release an internet-only single, with Telling Lies being downloaded by more than 300,000 people before being sold as a physical single in 1996.
BowieNet died in 2006 when technology finally outgrew the need for it.