How Wired Magazine Changed the Way We Talk About Technology

20th-anniversary issue sneak peek

Metcalfe: Louis reported that back to me and I just immediately threw up. Then I felt this huge responsibility to come up with a name. I came up with Wired, and everything fell into place. It set the tone. It set a visual direction as well. It captured the punch, the edge, and the double meanings were rich.

Rossetto and Metcalfe wrapped up their affairs in anticipation of moving to the U.S. First stop: New York to pick up Plunkett and Kuhr.

Rossetto: When we got there, we found they had made other plans. They had bought a Jeep Cherokee, packed all their stuff, and instead of going to California, they were on their way to Park City, Utah, where they had bought a house. It was a big surprise.

Plunkett: I said I’d like to formalize our partnership. Louis and Jane were uncomfortable putting anything on paper.

Rossetto: It was so nebulous what we were doing. Who knew what you could promise anyone before you had a deal?

Plunkett: I said, if we can’t agree, Barbara and I can’t move to San Francisco.

Neil Selkirk (contributing photographer): They wound up producing the first prototype in my studio in New York City, ransacking drawers full of samples I’d done for magazines over the previous 20 years. They did sort of take over. Nothing was going to stop Louis.

Rossetto: We worked day and night for three days. I’d write up some stuff, we’d look through books for images, take them to the copy shop, back and forth at all times of the day and night. We collaged it together on 12 pages. We called it, “Manifesto for a New Magazine.”

The proto-prototype’s cover featured a dour-looking John Perry Barlow, who had recently co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a photo cadged from the New York Times Magazine. The table of contents included invented articles like “Still Dead Right: Neo-McLuhanites Face the 21st Century” and a report on the Inslaw scandal purportedly penned by John Markoff. It offered sections entitled Electric Word, Idée’s Fortes, Street Cred as well as a fax from the future.

Plunkett: Almost every story idea Louis put into the table of contents was eventually published in Wired during our first year or two. And he had written most of it in 1988: What became a brand-new overnight success in 1993 had been percolating since the late 1980s.

Selkirk: We went out for some insane Chinese meal. Then John and Barbara got into the car and drove away.

Rossetto: Bye bye, good luck. They took off.

The Long Pitch
Rossetto and Metcalfe spent the next several weeks in New York shopping the “Manifesto” to potential investors and meeting with rejection at every turn. So they turned their backs on the East Coast publishing elite and headed to California. On the way, they dropped in on Manifesto cover subject Barlow in Pinedale, Wyo., and cyberpunk novelist Bruce Sterling in Austin, Texas, and invited them to write for their new magazine. They also called Kevin Kelly, editor of Whole Earth Review, who had written that Rossetto’s first Amsterdam publication, Language Technology, was “the least boring computer magazine,” to tell him they intended to start a new publication.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, Rossetto and Metcalfe reconnected with Stickrod, who offered them two desks in his office, a converted industrial space in the derelict South of Market neighborhood.

Stickrod: I had just negotiated a deal to take over the ground floor. A bullet hole in the glass front door showed up the night before I moved in.

Rossetto: It was like Jane and I had arrived in a new world. Who would be our community? Who would be the subjects of what we were doing?

Fred Davis (contributing editor, fetish section): I had been working for Ziff-Davis as an editor at PC Magazine, PC Week, A+, MacUser. Louis and Jane showed up at my house in Berkeley, literally broke. They had a good concept, but to raise money, they needed a good story about the audience. I helped them put that together.

Eugene Mosier (art director for production): I had just left a job at MacWeek and I was trying to decide what to do. Fred Davis said, “Come to a party at my house, you’ll meet some interesting people.” The most interesting people I met were Louis and Jane. They told me their idea, and I said, “Wow! I’d like to get involved.” They said, “We don’t have any money.” I said, “That’s OK.”

Rossetto: We’d send out the “Manifesto” and business plan but, for all of our hand waving, people still couldn’t get what we were talking about. It became apparent that we needed to make a prototype that showed the editorial and advertising, the attitude that the magazine was supposed to represent. I’d been relentlessly clipping out articles that were representative of the kind of stuff I wanted to publish. Also advertisements. We mapped out the prototype section by section, down to the names of the departments. In effect, Eugene and I edited and designed a whole magazine over two weeks in December.

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