Startups

Check out this map of Philly’s tech scene in 1999 (you can win it, too)

The poster, made by now-defunct web training nonprofit LibertyNet, features tech companies and groups like SAP, Fiberlink and the old Eastern Technology Council. And others we've never heard of. We're giving it away.

Deborah Olatunji in a video promoting her book.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

What did the Philly tech scene look like in 1999?

According to this vintage poster we unearthed, it was very green.

No, but real talk, this map, made by early nonprofit web hosting outfit LibertyNet, is a fun piece of history, with gold foil, to boot. We spotted big legacy names like Mapquest, SAP, Safeguard Scientifics, the University City Science Center, Fiberlink and PANMA, as well as many companies we had never heard of (PolyProbe, anyone?).

  • We’re giving away one poster. If you want it, sign up for our daily newsletter. We’ll pick one new subscriber at random.
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“The Place That Loves Technology.” (Photo by Brian James Kirk)

The posters were part of a LibertyNet project called TechPhilly.org, a regional business directory funded by Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners. TechPhilly.org was run by former LibertyNet staffer Tim Siftar, now a Drexel research analyst and librarian who gave us the posters.

The big vision was that the posters, along with TechPhilly.org, would raise the profile of the Philly tech community (sounds familiar, eh?). LibertyNet, which trained nonprofits how to maintain websites, planned to do it every year, but the company was sold in 1999 to a boutique web consulting group and shut down the following year, Siftar said.

Here’s how Siftar explained it:

The Science Center essentially killed LibertyNet by selling it out to a Allentown-based “Region Online” boutique web consulting group. They had their own content management platform funded by a family-owned cable franchise legacy and really just wanted to raid the LibertyNet client list. They bought us out for the equivalent of the back-rent we owed the Science Center, then went belly up within a year, after cutting all the grassrootsy aspects of LibertyNet that made it cool and effective. It was a shame, because we were covering our costs with the consulting and training work by 1999, and had received many times what we owed the Science Center from local grantors who thought we would be around for a lot longer. But that was life in the early dot-com days.

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As for the 1999 poster, LibertyNet distributed a thousand copies of the poster at the regional tech conference ITEC, held at the Valley Forge Convention Center, Siftar said. They also gave 100 copies to each sponsor, with the sponsor’s logo in gold foil at the bottom. Sponsors included the city Commerce Department, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Technology Council, the trade group that eventually became PACT.

“I remember they were all excited because this company from Texas or whatever had some new super-high-resolution printing technology and we were going to cram all these logos and people into this map and it’d be totally readable,” said former LibertyNet staffer Nathan Gasser. “And for the most part, it was a pretty reasonable claim.”

Find some close-ups below.

It’s notable that Philadelphia proper makes up less than one-quarter of the whole map, with Delaware and Montgomery Counties making up the majority.

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Said Gasser: “It’s a riot to see all the little people hanging off of company logos — that was sort of the schtick — they set up a green screen in the Science Center and photographed everyone in different poses and then assembled them around the company’s logo.” Check out what he’s talking about below.

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