This is the largest scale project we have been involved in. It was built from the ground up starting in 1999. It was a social networking tool, a way to set up a discussion which looked like an Instant Message session but which happened in email.
Colin started work with Dean to bring the technology of The Jungle to a wider audience. Colin did all of the back-end coding, database design, and scripting while Dean taught him HTML to create the front-end web pages.
In less than three months the web service was up and running. After several years of suspense, the technology, software and business model received a patent from the United States Patent Office.
It went through various re-designs, but the operation of the site remained very consistent over the six years it was in operation. (It is no longer up and running, but you can see a snapshot from 2005 in the Internet Archive's Wayback machine.) In the last few years it went to a subscription model and it actually ran in the black, a rare condition in the dot-com era. Although there was a peak of over twenty thousand registered users, in the end there were about four hundred active tightcircles and five thousand users.
The tightcircle technology would eventually be re-launched as the closebunch.com web service, which is cleverly crafted by Colin to evade the very patent he was awarded.
One of the pages explained to new visitors what a tightcircle was:
A tightcircle is a place where a group of people can stay in touch online. Ongoing, online contact. It is like a conference call in email.
Even if you have just started using email, you can use tightcircle. It is so simple.
Just like regular email correspondence, each member can send messages into the tightcircle whenever they please. If you're a night owl and you normally check email at 3am, you can send in messages while Aunt Valda is sleeping. Then, when she's up with the sun, she can reply, and the whole conversation is captured in the digest Cousin Sam reads when he gets to work at 9am.
A tightcircle is a group conversation that takes place in email. Better than a simple correspondence, the conversation can include more than two people at a time. This doesn't happen real time, like an online chat or instant message session, but in email, which you can collect, read and reply to at your convenience. Because email messages from the various members are grouped together into one digest, there is a feeling of continuity, community and a conversational thread.
Just get a group together — whether it's your college buddies, your siblings, your work mates, or your bridge club. Anyone who is on a computer and has access to email can be in a tightcircle that you create.
You can create as many tightcircles as you want.
The beauty of a tightcircle is that it is as easy as sending an email message, only instead of going to one person, it is read by every member of the tightcircle. Those messages are collected, digested, sent out at regular intervals by the secret tightcircle mechanism, and voila! the digests arrive in your inbox as email.
You can even tell the tightcircle how often you want digests delivered. Some people check email three times a day, while others are lucky to log-on once a week. Just set the frequency and your digests will roll in as often or seldom as you like.