Wow, all of you came in late.
The first time I got onto the "Internet" was in the early 1990s,. using a 2400 baud (!) modem. Over the limited connections I had, all I could get was email and Usenet. And it was ALL text. These were the days of Windows 3.0, and the very concept of a GUI was pretty new to most people. I got Internet email through one BBS and Usenet through another BBS.
Around 1993 my university finally got a live Internet connection, with all of 1.5Mbps (T1) bandwidth for the entire university..Before that all they had was UUCP. Fortunately files were still small, and with few exceptions only the CS department was using it. So in the CS lab you could get access to this ancient Honeywell mainframe that dated back to the 1960s, or to a VAX whose set of manuals were bigger than the machine. And they had just added some cute new DEC ULTRIX workstations for the grad students' use. They had X! Windows and mice, oh my! No color, though; the monitors were grayscale, as were many in this era. I wanted, but I wasn't allowed to use them.
So around this time I found IRC and from there heard about a guy called Scott Yanoff
. His big claim to fame is he put together and kept updated a large list of Internet services. (Here
is an example, from 1992.) There was no such thing as a web search engine. Not even Yahoo! existed at this point. For that matter, there wasn't much on the Web; most of the files you might be looking for were to be found on FTP and gopher sites. Again, it was ALL text. What little there was on the Web, you had to navigate through the so-called Virtual Library
, a directory somebody put together which was the forerunner of Yahoo!'s directory and others like it.
Not to say search engines didn't exist; they did. Archie let you search for files on FTP sites, while Veronica let you search for files on gopher sites. These were, as you would expect, text tools that you would run from your Unix shell account from whoever would give you one (usually your university). Which is also how you got your email, IRC, Usenet and everything else. IP had not yet quite come to the home computer, so you would dial in to the server, and download stuff to your computer with (usually) Zmodem. If you were willing to wait.
Now around this time I heard about Linux, this new Unix-like operating system that was supposed to run on 386 PCs. I wasn't about to download THAT over a 2400 baud modem, so I grabbed a box of floppies, hit the computer lab on campus, (I lived just off campus) and downloaded SLS
onto a bunch of floppies and walked them home. After waiting hours to install all those floppies, I had a workstation almost just like the ones the grad students were using! I was hooked.
Usenet was actually a useful tool in the early days, even if you did have to wait days
for a response. That all changed one Endless September
in 1993, when America Online set up a Usenet gateway for its members, most of whom had no idea what it was they were looking at, and many of whom proceeded to immediately trash the network. Usenet never quite recovered from this and later assaults, like that from Cantor and Siegel
, the first commercial spammers, in 1994. I was around for this. It was a dark time, though I don't think anyone at the time realized just how bad it would get.
In 1995, the Internet was finally opened to the public with the dissolution of NSFNET, and things went crazy from there. (It was never quite closed to the public, but commercial activity on the NSFNET, which comprised much of the Internet's backbone at the time, was restricted.) Beginning May 1, it was possible for a commercial ISP as we know them today to begin operating, and they did, in droves. It also became possible to engage in commerce on the Internet, though this was much slower to take off. Around this time I was playing with Chaum's DigiCash, which could have been a solution to the e-commerce problem, but never quite took off. (And now we have Bitcoin.)
In 1995 I was using Linux at home; I had tried Windows 95 but I decided to get rid of it since Linux seemed much better.
The graphical web browser of the day was NCSA Mosaic
, but you had to have a powerful computer to run it. My poor 486 with 4MB of RAM was only barely up to the challenge, so I didn't use it much. Most people got on the Web by running lynx on your UNIX shell, or more commonly telneting to a server at the University of Kansas which would throw you directly into lynx and let you browse the web. And it was ALL text. Netscape
would eventually come along and solve the big problem with Mosaic, being that Mosaic made you wait until the whole page was downloaded before you could see it, and that could take a few minutes. Netscape would begin rendering immediately, which made it much more attractive for people on slow dialup connections (which was practically everybody).
Around 1996 I was fortunate enough to get into a beta test of what would be among the world's first cable modem service. I could download at 200 Kbytes/sec! Having tasted that very early, it was quite hard whenever I had to go back to dialup, as I would occasionally have to do several times over the next several years. It was also this year that Pepsi would launch a huge interactive website and a TV commercial with its URL clearly visible: www.pepsi.com
. It was the first of its kind, and you can see its legacy on thousands of entertainment and commercial websites today.