How Wired Magazine Changed the Way We Talk About Technology

20th-anniversary issue sneak peek

Photo: Marla Aufmuth

Labeled “Spring 1992, Volume 0, Number 0,” this new version of Wired featured Stuart Cudlitz’s cover collage of a high jumper plummeting into an urban landscape reminiscent of a circuit board. The contents page retained the earlier “Manifesto” article about the Inslaw scandal, adding an interview with Camille Paglia and a behind-the-scenes peek at Industrial Light & Magic. Sections called Fetish, Electrosphere and Junkets joined Electric Word, Idées Forte and Street Cred.

Plunkett: If you combine the look and feel of the first prototype with the structure of the second one, it’s very close to Wired 1.1.

At this point, money was running low and Wired was in dire need of capital. Among the many contacts Rossetto and Metcalfe called upon was Nicholas Negroponte. Highly regarded and well connected among the tech elite, Negroponte had founded MIT Media Lab, a fountainhead of new ideas about the networked culture Wired would cover—and he was an extraordinarily successful fundraiser. His assistant told them he was scheduled to attend Richard Saul Wurman’s TED Conference in Monterey, Calif., in February 1992. Unable to afford tickets, Rossetto and Metcalfe traded their help at the event for admission.

Metcalfe: We met with Nicholas at 7:30. He said, “Looking at a business plan this early is like doing a shot of bourbon for breakfast.”

Rossetto: He methodically and silently went page by page through the prototype in that empty, darkened auditorium. When he was finished, he closed the book, looked at the two of us, and asked, “How much money are you looking for?”

Metcalfe: Oh my god! He’s going to help us! It was the most extraordinary thing that had happened to date.

Nicholas Negroponte (senior columnist): My decision to invest in Wired was a moment of bravado. The rest is history.

Scaling Up
With money in the bank and the prospect of more to come—Charlie Jackson, founder of Silicon Beach Software, soon followed Negroponte’s lead, and boutique merchant bank Sterling Payot promised $1 million—Rossetto invited Plunkett and Kuhr to rejoin the team. He recruited executive editor Kevin Kelly with the elevator pitch, “We’re trying to make a magazine that feels as if it has been mailed back from the future.” Then he roped in managing editor John Battelle, a Berkeley journalism grad who, as a school project, had proposed a “Rolling Stone for the digital age.” In September, with all hands on deck, the crew moved into its own office and set its sights on an improbable goal: to put out its first issue by January 1993.

Kevin Kelly (executive editor): From the beginning there was a filter: Were you insane enough, enough of a true believer to attempt this impossible thing? That was a requirement.

Metcalfe: Everyone was under insane pressure. Completely disconnected from family, tired, hungry—but just so on fire.

Amy Critchett (office intern): The fights! Oh my god! Louis and John, Louis and Jane. Professionalism wasn’t our driving force.

Plunkett: Nobody would say Louis was easy to work with, but I’ve never had a better creative collaborator by a mile.

Rossetto: John Plunkett not only moved type and images around the page, he had an infectious sense of humor and drama and the moment. I treasured our collaboration, even though it could be contentious.

Barlow: Jane had the real juice. She got people really excited. There were a lot of people that gave them meetings because of her. She had a lot to do with creating the energy in the magazine and, to a fairly strong extent, its attitude as well.

Metcalfe: In the end, we had a solidarity you can’t imagine. It was a band of brothers like I’ve never experienced before or since.

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