It was 20 years ago today

BalloonHQ.com logoIt’s been so busy lately between travel and projects I need to finish, I can’t believe another month has gone by since my last blog post/newsletter. And of course, I’m about to hop on a plane to Phoenix in the morning to take part in the Twist & Shout balloon convention. Rather than write about projects I’m in the middle of doing, I’m going to share a bit about my past. My first paid performance that made use of balloons was in 1985. My focus on balloons as an artistic medium, however, took off in 1992 when I created something that later became BalloonHQ.com, an information resource and forum for balloon artists, balloon entertainers, and balloon decorators. Back then, who would have thought an online community would become so important to my development as an artist? I wrote the following for BalloonHQ.com earlier today.

I can’t believe how many hours it’s taking me to write a single column. I really thought this would be an easy one that I could knock off in a few minutes. I hadn’t expected to get lost reading the BalloonHQ archive and all of the old memories. With each old post, I started wandering down another path. I found early discussions about the history of balloons, which started me on a quest to find articles I could recall from various people. I found discussions about the first T & Jam convention in 1999. (This was the first international balloon twisting/entertaining convention.) That got me looking through old photos from that convention which, in turn, sent me looking up old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I found email describing my plans to attend my first International Balloon Arts Convention (this was a convention focused on balloon decorating). In short, I found dozens of stories I wanted to tell. Then I decided to just stick with where BHQ began. Maybe some of those other stories will be told over the course of next twelve months.

Late in 1991, when the Internet was something that only a few people had access to, I was paying my way through a college degree in computer science by performing magic, juggling, and twisting balloons on street corners and at birthday parties. Magic and juggling were easily studied by spending hours at a time in libraries or with the existing magic and juggling clubs. Learning about balloon art was quite a bit harder. A few random books existed, and I studied every one I could get my hands on. That just wasn’t enough for me. I turned to the fledgling computer network. I invited other magicians and jugglers to join me by posting to Usenet (a distributed messaging system that predated today’s web forums). I began pulling people together to discuss our common interest. We were building an online community for a niche field that just didn’t have enough people for regular offline meetings. The term “social media” wasn’t to appear for several more years, but in retrospect, we were at the forefront of the social media movement. When the world wide web developed, we transitioned to that format. We existed prior to Yahoo!, Google and Facebook. We saw MySpace come and go. This is a huge deal, when you think about it. But initially, all I saw was that I was meeting people that wanted to talk about balloons. In that niche market, we never reached the size of any of those services, but we’re still here, still sharing ideas about our common interest.

We only had a dozen participants in the first year of BHQ. Today, we have several thousand. We serve as many as 500,000 web pages a month. We have a database that contains nearly 100,000 photos of balloon sculptures and decorations. Most importantly, we have an archive of every message ever sent out to the BalloonHQ community. This means that the history of our young industry has been carefully recorded for the last 20 years. The difficulty I had in learning about the art and history of balloons won’t be a problem for future artists being drawn to our medium. They’ll have a place to turn, both for stored information and for the friends that can help them learn the field.

I did a little digging and found the initial notes that I sent out to other networks while looking for others with interests like my own. Here are those notes that were sent to alt.magic, rec.juggling, and the very first note sent to the BHQ mailing list.

Coming up …

First Friday this month falls on Friday, Feb 3. The studio will be open 6:00 – 9:00 PM.

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