First thought: "25 years? Aaaah I'm old!"
Fortunately I still regularly get the feeling I had back when I wrote cloner.
"Why did I do it", she asked. "Was it malicious?"
No, not malicious. It was a practical joke combined with a hack. A wonderful hack.
Back then nothing was networked. We had these computers in a lab, and there was software for them on floppy disks. You stick in the disk and run the software. Simple.
The aha moment was when I realized I could essentially get my program to move around by itself. I could give it its own motive force, by having it hide in the resident RAM of the machine between floppy changes, and hitching a ride onto the next floppy that would be inserted. Whoa. That would be cool.
Insight without implementation is worthless, so to work I went.
That aha feeling is the burst that let's you know you just had a really cool idea. The moment you realize a hack is possible. NewHoo was like that. How do we build a web directory with human labor if we have no money? There were elements in Topix too that made us giddy when we thought of them. The hack doesn't have to be code, it can be little business insights. Even groups of people and individuals have hacks.
The essence of the hack isn't just realizing you can use a system in a new, unexpected way. It's getting a disproportionate effect from your effort. It's catalyzing potential energy stored in the system.
And the hack often changes the whole world. The user-generated content model we developed with NewHoo is ubiquitous now; it was the main inspiration behind Wikipedia. Viruses and exploits are of course all too common. You can't put the genie back in the bottle.
The only consolation is that the genie would have gotten out anyway. But it's fun to be the first to let it out. :-)