f Heights editors of the late ’90s could have imagined the importance of short domain names, we could’ve owned heights.com. That domain name wasn’t registered until May 1998, about 14 months after we purchased what has defined every subsequent email, social media channel, we’ve ever started.
In 1997, the average size of a website was about 15 kilobytes in size–about 0.375 percent the size of 2019’s bcheights.com. The Heights’ first forays into what was unironically reported as the “information superhighway” began just a year earlier in late 1996, when Heights editors started publishing on what became personal web server (the vestiges of which somehow still exist). But by April, we had our domain name, and our first in-house advertisement at the bottom of the editorial asked, somewhat sheepishly, to “Check out the new and improved Heights on the web @ http://www.bcheights.com Now featuring the Police Blotter. Look for your friends’ most embarrassing moments.”
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#800000″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100″ height=”300px” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”"The Heights was printing thousands of copies weekly with more ads per week than we see in a month—the Internet was an aside."” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
At that time, the website was almost entirely text. There was one photo and story on the “front” page, with the “more” link leading the reader to an unformatted text wall of articles from that week’s issue. The site was more of a pet project than anything else—while BC had email system set up by 1996 (@cleo.bc.edu), there was, rightfully, never an indication that all students would one day be checking their email for everything from class updates to Heights newsletters. The Heights was printing thousands of copies weekly with more ads per week than we see in a month—the Internet was an aside.
Perhaps even more than the print edition, the Internet archives are a reminder of just how cyclical the news cycle and Boston College happenings can be. The first fully archived website from the 1990s offers a front page article of students outside the office of then-newly elected University President William P. Leahy, S.J., that was essentially the print version ported to an Internet that still required a telephone connection to use.
By 2001, the proverbial dot-com bubble had not-so-proverbially burst, and we did what any too-busy college student would with new technology: We outsourced to someone who knew what they were doing. College Publisher, Inc. (a company that also, somehow, still exists) began providing the web infrastructure for our website, and all we had to do was post. Our logo became less Geocities-level debossed, and GIFs were still being used for their intended purpose of quick-loading, low-quality advertisements.
As dated as the website looks now with its weather widgets and kitschy polls, it was the best. We were the most visited weekly college newspaper among the 250 sampled in 2003-04, and while our scope of coverage was small, our website and layout was not dissimilar to the online presence of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Same thin layout, same links, and same weather graphics. There must not have been much else to look up online yet.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#800000″ text=”#ffffff” width=”100″ height=”400px” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”"The first Heights Facebook post on Sept. 30, 2009 declared, to an unknown audience, ‘Welcome to the Heights’ Facebook Page! Check back for updates!’" ” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
espite some color changes and more unnecessary gradients, the websites didn’t see a major facelift until 2009, occurring in conjunction with our 90th anniversary. The paper was far from digital-first, but we started to expand our social presence as the Internet became more accessible, faster, and transitioned from its reliance on bulletin boards and IRC chats to blogs and walls and updates.
This was long before Instagram stories, but right around the time that “Your Wall” was the gateway to your presence as an Internet-literate, socially adept college student. In true early-2010s niche Internet fandom culture, The Heights started a Tumblr blog, the B-Line. The first Heights Facebook post on Sept. 30, 2009 declared, to an unknown audience, “Welcome to the Heights’ Facebook Page! Check back for updates!” That status, and many of the ones that followed, didn’t receive any likes. In fact, a lot of our early engagements must have felt more like shouts into the void than worthy of anyone’s time to post.
Now we’re faced with an inverted version of this dilemma. We receive tens of thousands of hits to our websites and social channels each month, but we print only a fraction of what we used to at half the frequency per week. We are digital-first, but the question of “digital-where” has become absolutely essential. Now, Facebook draws mostly an older crowd of alums, Twitter is not really the home to many news-seeking BC students (but plenty of funny ones), and Instagram is great for building a Heights brand, cooking videos and all.
The power of readers to choose only continues to compound when these platforms are multiplied by their users. Anyone can choose, make, or be news to their followers, mutuals, supporters, or enemies. Cutting through this noise convincingly will perhaps be the greatest challenge of the decade and beyond. College students know of the importance of a free and independent press when considering national issues, but wanting to read it is something else entirely. It’s our job to make that desire as accessible and fair as we can, even if that means one more email in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
Featured Image from Heights Archives