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Editor column: Online access still evolving 20 years after first Tribune ‘site’

By Lisa Carricaburu

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published May 30 2014 03:32 pm • Last Updated Jun 14 2014 05:09 pm

If you’re reading this online, stop for a moment to consider what that would have meant 20 years ago.

On June 2, 1994, The Salt Lake Tribune launched Utah OnLine, the newspaper’s first digital edition, and it was something quite different from today’s sltrib.com.

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But it was cutting-edge nonetheless.

Early adopters of this new way of consuming news two decades ago called and left a voicemail requesting software that would enable them to receive a sampling of Tribune news stories, plus a list of obituaries and some access to archives, on their computers by about 11 a.m. each day.

Rip Term software on 3.5-inch floppy disks that they received in the mail allowed Utah OnLine subscribers to dial up and connect to one of six 9600-baud modems set up in a closet at The Tribune.

"That was back when a 9600-baud modem was fast," said Antonio Ramirez, sltrib.com’s lead developer, who joined our staff shortly after Utah OnLine launched.

Fast is a relative term. Delivery, even then, still was slow.

"We couldn’t use photos, even small ones," Ramirez said, "because it would have taken forever for them to transmit."

Utah OnLine was beyond cool for its time, though, and "incredibly forward thinking," said Kim McDaniel, a newsroom assistant in 1994 who later became The Tribune’s digital director.

Demand grew quickly for the service.

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"Salt Lake City was early to home Internet access and we definitely saw a quick and eager positive response," said McDaniel, whose job at the time included mailing disks to Utah OnLine subscribers.

The response to the service was enthusiastic enough to convince the newspaper’s managers of the digital edition’s potential.

"The Web as we know it now was still very much evolving then, so I don’t think it was certain that [Utah OnLine] would lead to a full-blown site," McDaniel said. "But once readers responded so strongly ... there was no question we had to expand it."

By the time a team was assembled to discuss and plan the next step, it became obvious The Tribune would build an edition for the Web, she said.

The first website launched Nov. 26, 1995 .

"It seemed like it took forever, but we still launched as one of the first 10 newspapers in the country on the Web as we know it today," said McDaniel, who now is a marketing/outreach specialist at Best Friends Animal Society.

Since then, sltrib.com has evolved numerous times. We’ve added apps for smartphones and tablet computers and have a website designed specifically for mobile platforms.

Later this summer, we’ll launch a redesign of sltrib.com that adapts to the device you use to access the site.

Technology evolves quickly and, with it, our expectations of where and how we should be able to access and share news and information.

That’s why on Monday, we’ll celebrate Utah OnLine’s anniversary and reflect on how far The Tribune has come in the digital delivery of news.

Lisa Carricaburu is managing editor. She can be reached at lisac@sltrib.com or on Twitter: @lcarricaburu

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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