“If I was 19 again, I’d bypass music and go right to the internet.” Those were David Bowie’s words back in 1998 just before he launched his own ISP, BowieNet, which offered his fans “uncensored” access to the internet. The Guardian’s Keith Stuart has a comprehensive profile of Bowie’s early foray into the World Wide Web and the ways in which his music-centric social network platform preempted the emergence of sites like Friendster and Myspace.
Active through 2006, BowieNet was a “technologically ambitious” site for the early days of the internet. It used Flash and Real Audio to offer users animated graphics and downloadable music clips. The site housed archival photos, videos, and interviews with the star as well as a blog, career timeline, and news feed. It also offered access to music services like Rolling Stone Network and Music Boulevard, provided users with 5MB of web space to create their own sites, and handed out coveted BowieNet email addresses. Forums and live-chats—which were sometimes visited by Bowie himself—rounded out the experience.
For Bowie, this ISP wasn’t just a new means of marketing his material to the masses, it was the realisation of something he’d always understood about music: that the fan response completes the art. During a Newsnight interview in December 1999, Bowie found himself evangelising the impact of the internet to a mostly disbelieving Jeremy Paxman. “We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” he said. “The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment—the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.
He was envisioning something we all take for granted now—that link between popstar, Twitter, Instagram, fan base and culture; that frisson between the artist as an aloof creator and the artist as an active participant in their own community. He also understood the internet as an arts venue—if not the arts venue—of the coming era.
The full article delves deep into the ways Bowie foresaw not just the internet revolution, but the future of how social media would change the relationship between artists and their fans. You can still find parts of the BowieNet front page on Internet Archive.