Of webzines and the Babel Machine

Before blogging became mainstream, I launched a webzine called The Babel Machine Zone.

Of webzines and the Babel Machine
Photo by Brent Dalling / Unsplash

Way back in 1998, before blogging became mainstream, I launched a webzine called The Babel Machine Zone and ended up getting invited as a speaker at HP and Intel’s very first Synergy information technology symposium in El Nido, Palawan.

At the time, not a lot of people knew what a webzine was — not even my fellow tech journalists. I was just that guy who was always surfing what was then the Wild Wild Web, experimenting with all sorts of stuff, and keeping up with different digital trends.

Talkin' 'bout my generation 

In 1998, I was freelancing (a.k.a. bumming around) after leaving my full-time job as a staff writer for the Philippines’ pioneering information technology newspaper, Metropolitan Computer Times, and its sister publication, PCWeek Philippines, which was licensed from Ziff Davis.

I had a number of gigs after leaving PCWeek Philippines, including becoming the new editor-in-chief of 1969, a Philippine magazine about the internet, though sadly the issue I worked on never saw the light of day.

Even though the web was still relatively new — Sir Tim Berners-Lee had just invented the World Wide Web on March 12, 1989 while working at CERN — by 1998 newspapers and magazines were already publishing online versions of their print publications. A webzine, however, was an online-only magazine.

When I discovered the existence of webzines, I thought they were pretty cool and decided to launch my own tech webzine. Even back then, I believed in online journalism and wanted to write purely for the web. While I’m a member of Generation X who started out writing for print publications and grew up in the analog world, I was convinced that the future was online content. I couldn’t understand why publications were limiting the possibilities of the web by continuing to publish articles on print and just uploading the same content on the web.

The Babel Machine Zone

Honestly, my webzine was just a fun experiment while I was looking for paying gigs. It was with The Babel Machine Zone that I tested my belief that tech publications should evolve into digital lifestyle webzines, where you didn’t focus on tech for tech’s sake, but on how it was changing the way people work and play.

So for my webzine articles I interviewed and featured different personalities, including Philippine cyberspace legend Ken Ilio, the creator of Tribung Pinoy, (originally called First Philippine Page of Trivia when it debuted on Nov. 10, 1994), one of the earliest “super” Philippine pages, and Tanikalang Ginto, a comprehensive directory of Philippines-related websites; the all-female Philippine indie rock band Fatal Posporos; and the founders of different Philippine webrings, including Ulysses Ang of Pinoy Otaku!

Webrings, by the way, were a collection of different websites organized around a specific theme and linked together in a circular structure. They were all the rage in the 90s and early 2000s, making it easier to find sites for the topics you wanted in those pre-Google, pre-social media days.

Remember that in those days, even though the web was already becoming commercialized, individual users were still creating amateur websites that stood out because of the topics they covered, their unique style, or just their basic quirkiness.

I had a great time teaching myself HTML via The Bare Bones Guide to HTML, testing interactive features on my webzine, and interacting with different people online.

Synergy and me

In an awesome turn of events, this webzine got me invited as a speaker when Hewlett-Packard Philippines Corp. (HPPC) and Intel Microelectronics Philippines, Inc., launched their first Synergy IT symposium in El Nido, Palawan in 1998. This was thanks to now Science and Technology Information Institute Director Richard Pomar Burgos, who was then with HPPC.

Synergy was Richard’s brainchild, and he invited me to talk about online journalism at the inaugural symposium, because of my webzine and the work I’d previously done for the IT publications I joined.

Getting invited to talk about online journalism shocked not just me, but also my fellow tech journalists. After all, a number of Philippine print publications had already launched online editions. So it was an unexpected honor to be chosen when my webzine was only a few months old.

Synergy ’98’s main speaker was Science and Technology Secretary William G. Padolina, who discussed the government’s use of IT solutions, the need to make IT benefits more accessible to the general public, and the challenges of governing effectively in an increasingly electronic world.

The private sector was represented by Vincent Vanderpoel, country manager of HPPC’s Commercial Channels Organization; Manny Portugal, architecture manager of Intel Microelectronics; Bill Torres, president of Mosaic Communications and the Philippine Internet Service Organization; and Yu Ming Chin, country manager of Asia Online Philippines.

From the media, the speakers included Paul Icamina, science and agricultural editor at Manila News Features and Commentaries, and yours truly.

One of the most touching moments for me was when, after giving my talk, Bill said I could actually become a consultant for online businesses and publications.

“Others know the theory. You’ve actually done it,” he said.

I mean, this was THE Bill Torres. One of the fathers of the Philippine internet.

I think that’s the great thing about digital: that it’s a powerful platform that enables us to share our ideas, connect with different people, and make a difference — whoever we may be and wherever we may be in the world.

Embracing digital early on helped me interact with people of different nationalities from all walks of life, travel to different places, and make a lot of my dreams come true.

If all this was possible during the days of dial-up, imagine what more we can do now.