Unsung Innovators: Brad Templeton: Funny man who invented the 'dot'

Came up with the first online business, too

After Brad Templeton created the Usenet rec.humor.funny list in 1987, readers were practically guaranteed a guffaw.

Templeton created RHF, as insiders know it, mainly in protest to what he calls the "unfunniness" of jokes on the Usenet rec.humor group that preceded his. Rec.humor's problem, says Templeton, was that it was unmoderated and had too much cross-talk, too many repeat jokes and too many overtly sexual and offensive jokes that invited countless flames. "And worst of all, it just wasn't funny," he says.

Templeton figured that a moderator would make all the difference. Turns out, his sense of humor mirrored that of many others, and one of the most popular Usenet groups was born.

Jokemeister Templeton was the son of two accomplished entertainers. Dad Charles Templeton was a popular TV evangelist who toured with Bill Graham and later became a nationally known journalist on CBC and then a novelist. Mom Sylvia Murphy was a singer on many Lawrence Welk-style TV shows in Canada in the 1950s.

Comedy and fame were in his blood. "I was in a theater company in Canada, writing, singing, acting and ... dancing badly," he says. But the bad dancer brought the first International ArpaNet connection into Canada in 1979 via The University of Waterloo. And he also created RHF.

And like many great ideas from offbeat brains, it didn't come easily.

"At the time, there was a voting system" needed to get a new Usenet group posted. If you received 100 more "yes" votes than "no" votes, you got your group. So in 1987, Templeton put his idea up to a vote. It lost -- despite receiving only one "no" vote, it got just 60 "yes" votes, far short of the necessary 101.

Brad Templeton

Brad Templeton One of the problems might have been that Templeton was requesting a moderated site -- in order to limit the flames and the bad jokes and so on. "It was against the spirit of the Net," he says, but still, he felt it was the only way to have a good joke Usenet site.

On August 7, 1987, he started it anyway. Voting was the preferred process, but just about any geek could physically post a group. So he did.

By September, RHF was No. 20 on the list of most widely read Usenet groups. By the next month, it was in seventh place, two ahead of longtime favorite rec.humor. By August of 1988, it was No. 2; and it was No. 1 by January 1989, according to Templeton's own estimates.

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