The Palace (Wikipedia) was a virtual community that was conceived by me in the very early days of the public internet, and released to the public in 1995.
At the time, we usually described it as an "avatar chat" system. I conceived of the idea when I was a Time Warner employee in 1994, and wrote the software for the first versions of it, which ran on Macintosh and Unix computers. Other members of the team included my main partner Mark Jeffrey, Damon Williams, Elaine Alderette, Eddie Rowedder and Robert McDaniel. The team was greatly expanded (to about 40 people) when the company was spun out in 1996. From 1996 through late 1998 I was the CTO of The Palace, Inc (formed from an agreement between Time Warner, Intel, and Softbank), which eventually merged with some other Softbank properties to become Communities.com. The principles at Communites included former "Electronic Communities" founders & virtual community pioneers Randy Farmer, Chip Morningstar and Doug Crockford (of JSON fame). The company never really made any money (I don't think anyone has really "cracked" how to make chat profitable), and I was essentially forced out of the company when the merger happened. The company continued to limp along for a few more years, and eventually filed for bankruptcy.
The Palace has a flexible avatar system that allows users to combine small, partially transparent images to create a unique look for themselves. Once the member has created an avatar to represent herself or himself, the member can pick up various pieces of clothing or other items, such as hats, handbags, cans of soda, candy bars, bicycles, or hand tools. The [Dollz] that can be seen in many places around the Internet today originated in The Palace.
in 1994. I iincorporated many features of Idaho, an in-house authoring tool I had previously developed for making multimedia CD-ROMs. One of the latter features of Idaho was IPTSCRAE, a Forth-like programming language. The name is a play on the word "script", in Pig Latin.
Here's what appears to be a 1996 photo of me working on the Palace, taken in the days while we were still on Olive avenue in Burbank (although I'm not sure, this might be westwood).
One of the unique features of the Palace for its time, was that the server software was given away for free, and ran on consumer PCs, rather than being housed in a central location. This is one of the reasons why a handful of Palace servers are still running today.
Here's a collection of old pictures, design documents, memos and speeches to help document the early history of The Palace
Here's an 2002 e-mail I wrote which contains a detailed answer to the question "How did the Palace get started?"
The Palace website still exists, and is run by a small handful of die hard palace users.
In retrospect, I believe the thing that really killed the Palace, as a business, was the fact that I was a Time Warner employee when I made it, and there was great pressure (especially once the company got investment) to grow it into a huge business. If it had remained a small side-project, perhaps growing to a very small company (ala Craigslist) I think it could have flourished.