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Dole-Kemp Campaign Site Immortalizes '90s Internet Tech


Hey, guys. Kind of a rough political season, huh? Makes you long for a simpler time, like, I don't know, 1996 maybe? "Jerry Maguire" was the big movie.


TOM CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) Show me the money.

CUBA GOODING JR.: (As Rod Tidwell) Jerry, you better yell.

CRUISE: (As Jerry Maguire) Show me the money.

MARTIN: Celine Dion was climbing the charts.


CELINE DION: (Singing) I'm everything I am because you loved me.

MARTIN: It was the early days of the Internet, the World Wide Web. And while there's not a lot that survives from the pre-high-speed days, you know what's still there? A snapshot of 1996 in the form of the campaign website of Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp. Robert Arena was a 22-year-old kid when he built that site, and he took us on a tour. First, he set the scene.


ROBERT ARENA: Back in the '90s, high speed would've been a 56 K modem. So today, a 50-megabit connection would be considered somewhat fast. That is 1,000 times faster than the Internet speeds that we working with back in 1996.


ARENA: In total, there were 20 million people on Internet, and that's worldwide. Google did not exist. You might have had your own personal webpage at GeoCities, which was one of the top...

MARTIN: Oh, yes.

ARENA: ...Websites back in 1996. So you would've waited for everybody to get off the phone so that you could use your phone line, and your dial-up modem would screech to life. And then after going through your Internet service provider, you would have come to what was the very, very early days of the World Wide Web. So there was no Flash back in those days, we were just going to see things call Shockwaves, so websites were very flat.

MARTIN: OK, so here I am, looking at Robert's website, dolecamp96.org, and it does look tiny and a little flat. And then I notice something.

Can we talk about this coffee cup?

ARENA: The rotating GIF file.

MARTIN: (Laughter) There is a coffee cup on the front of the website...

ARENA: ...Steaming hot.

MARTIN: It is - the steam is moving. This is, like, groundbreaking stuff.

ARENA: Rachel, this technology is all over Snapchat and text messages right now.

MARTIN: It's true.

ARENA: I mean, that's really what this is. We are really trying to make a website that was interactive. But at the same time, you're stuck on a modem, so you can't really have video files everywhere. This was the technology to make something move back in 1996.

MARTIN: OK, but as much as Robert Arena is telling a story about nostalgia, it is also a story about foresight.

ARENA: We ended up with about 15,000 people volunteered for this campaign online in 1996.


ARENA: In today's numbers, that doesn't sound like a lot. But again, relative to where we were, that impact of that was something like one-quarter of our small business coalition was generated on the Internet. We actually did do fundraising online. If you gave $25 in the primary, you got a free Dole for president mouse pad mailed to you.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ARENA: But certainly all the customization features we were driving towards were really about list-building and really creating a one-to-one relationship with an individual voter. And that's really what Internet's promise was, particularly in the political space back then, was to bypass the traditional media and speak directly to the voter.

MARTIN: That's Robert Arena. He was the director of Internet strategy for the '96 Dole campaign. Oh, and one more thing.

ARENA: When we went to the general election, we redid our letterhead. And we were not allowed to put the website address on the letterhead because person at the time in charge of that thought that it would look like a typo.

MARTIN: And so to those of you working with fresh-faced 22-year-olds as I happen to, listen to them because everyone once in a while, they might have a pretty good idea.


DION: (Singing) Because you loved me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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