David Bowie is best remembered for his music - but he was also groundbreaking in his use of technology, not least his internet service, BowieNet, which launched in September 1998.

In a time before Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or even MySpace, most artists provided little if any online material to their followers.

But Bowie's platform not only offered a wide variety of exclusive content, but also several ways to interact with the singer himself.

"In my view, BowieNet had to be the most groundbreaking reachout to fans that I have ever seen any artist ever do," Craig Carrington, one of its users, says.

"He just had the attitude that if he was going to do it, he was going to do it right."

BowieNet also operated as a full internet service provider (ISP) in the US and UK, competing with AOL, Claranet and others.

For a monthly fee, members got an @davidbowie.com-ending email address and exclusive access to audio recordings, music videos and chat rooms, which the singer participated in himself.

"He would never announce it in advance, but he would get on to the chat board and talk to us. The handle he always called himself by was Sailor," says Mr Carrington.

"Sometimes he would bring on a special guest for an interview, other times he would say things like, 'I just discovered this new act, who you probably haven't heard of yet.'"

Other content included personal photos Bowie had uploaded and images of his paintings as well as access to some of his journals.

To be fair, not everyone was sold on the idea.

As one article from the time noted, a follower said she wished that Bowie would spend more time writing new music, while another questioned what message the email address would send out if he used it for business correspondence.

But one biographer said that, like much of Bowie's work, it proved to be influential.

"It was very ahead of its time," says Chris O'Leary, author of Rebel Rebel.

"Back then, other rock star web pages were kind of cupboard sites that maybe had one picture of them and a little bit of text and that was it.

"This was really the first attempt to create an internet community built around an artist. And it was very successful too."

Bowie also used the service to create what became known as the world's first "cyber-song".

Fans were invited to send in lyrics to help co-write a track, and 80,000 people responded.

The singer said he had read through many himself - "there were a lot of potty ones", he told one journalist - and eventually chose a submission by a 20-year-old American about the idea of having a virtual life on the internet.

Fans were invited to watch the track being recorded via a 360-degree interactive webcast - a technology that is only just becoming commonplace today.

The song, What's Really Happening?, later featured on the Hours... album.

BBC News