Like so many other obscure hobbies and subcultures, alternate history began to fully come into its own among the fertile grounds of the world wide web. Over the years, we have seen the rise and fall of many sites and forums dedicated to the genre, with most of the online alternate history community gathering around a few central places such as Alternatehistory.com or the Alternate History Online Facebook group. As Mitro pointed out however, from time to time, there have been other places for the AH faithful to gather online, and I shall focus on one such site today, Othertimelines.com.
I had just begun my freshman year of high school, and having read my well-thumbed copy of What if? yet again, and during a spell in the library, rather than focus on my assignment, I decided to Google 'alternate history' and see what came up. The first site was obviously Alternatehistory.com, which just as it is now, is the web's largest AH related site - having your forum named after the genre of focus tends to do that. However, as a relative newcomer to the Internet, I had never used a forum, so I instead dove into the more web page based Othertimelines.com. From there, I was hooked.
The site was very distinct compared to other web based AH communities, both before and after, one such distinction being it was a more formal website rather than a forum. In addition, whereas most of the other communities have strings of history book like posts, as the name might imply, Othertimelines focused more on creating timelines, with the level of detail varying per TL. One other interesting aspect was that creation of timelines was a largely communal effort, with anyone who desired to contribute toward a TL being allowed to add to them. While this had it's downsides, and likely was a reason behind the sites eventual fall (more on that later) it was unique in AH circles, and helped attract newcomers like myself.
The fruit of all of this was the extensive TL library, that still remains on the site. While compared to the mature efforts of AH.com, many of them may seem raw and underdeveloped, and there is a fair amount of crap (I lost count of how many TLs had then-President Bush killed/impeached/raped by boars/etc) it also allowed for some of the most creative scenarios I've yet come across, allowing for plausibility to be overcome by the rule-of-cool on occasion. Some of my favorite examples of the site include:
-Sailor Monks: A group of early Christians flee persecution in the Roman Empire and eventually settle in New Zealand, forming what becomes a strong Pan-Oceanic Empire.
-Lee of the Union: Robert E. Lee fight for the Union, resulting in an early end for the Civil War, a peaceful end to slavery and start to racial integration, and a far more Utopian American society.
-Alamo Samurai: A Japanese samurai fights and dies at the Alamo. In the years that follow, you see a heavily Japanese-influenced Republic of Texas, an expanding Empire of Japan, an independent Hawaii and California, and a USA that just conquered Canada.
-The Ussuri River War: A massive TL that follows the expansion of the Sino-Soviet conflict into WWIII, with the USSR and USA fighting as allies against Maoist China. The best TL on the site, and easily an under-rated AH classic.
Of course, then there were the members forums. Though small compared to the utterly massive AH.com, or even Conterfactual.net or the AHO Facebook group, the site had a dedicated core membership, any of whom would go on to contribute elsewhere in the AH community. At least in my own case, it would prove to be my first time interacting with folks online (this was before Facebook after all) and proved quite the learning experience - the chief lesson of which being I was not the only one who spent many a day pondering ways history might have been different.
Of course, like many alternate history sites and forums that came before and after it, it would fall and fail. In the annals of the close knit online AH community, the fall of Othertimelines.com would become a legend of sorts. Around late 2006, the site began to be flooded by hackers and spammers, and thanks to the head admin doing little to stop them, they would in the end completely overrun the site. Following this, much of the site's more dedicated members (myself included) would set up a forum called OTL-in-Exile (the abandoned remnants can be found here) before moving on to Alternia, which as Mitro explained, would be torn apart by tensions between members. The OTL.com members who weathered the storm would eventually set up another forum called Different Worlds; most others, myself included, would finally give in and joined AH.com.
In it's time, Othertimelines.com was one of the more lively, successful, and creative alternate history projects on the Internet. Today, the site still stands, empty and abandoned, standing as a relic of the web, and its past added to the colorful history of the alternate history community. For all of you who desire to see the derelict of Othertimelines.com, you can see its bones on display for all to witness here. Though the site lies abandoned, its forums closed, there among the ruins are some true gems of online alternate history - as well as the scattered memories and humble beginnings for many of the genre-faithful, your humble narrator included.
Soldier, scholar, writer and web-voyeur, Sean CW Korsgaard has been active in the alternate history community since 2006, and was recently elected to succeed Mitro as President of the Alternate History Online Facebook group. In addition to his contributions at the Alternate History Weekly Update, he writes for several websites, including his own, which can be found here.