Posted by: Ken Brown | February 25, 2009

The Web as it Was

Slate has up a nostalgic piece on “the unrecognizable Internet of 1996” (HT Christ and Pop Culture):

We all know that the Internet has changed radically since the ’90s, but there’s something dizzying about going back to look at how people spent their time 13 years ago. Sifting through old Web pages today is a bit like playing video games from the 1970s; the fun is in considering how awesome people thought they were, despite all that was missing. In 1996, just 20 million American adults had access to the Internet, about as many as subscribe to satellite radio today. The dot-com boom had already begun on Wall Street—Netscape went public in 1995—but what’s striking about the old Web is how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for. Small innovations drove us wild: Look at those animated dancing cats! Hey, you can get the weather right from your computer! In an article ranking the best sites of ’96, Time gushed that Amazon.com let you search for books “by author, subject or title” and “read reviews written by other Amazon readers and even write your own.” Whoopee. The very fact that Time had to publish a list of top sites suggests lots of people were mystified by the Web. What was this place? What should you do here? Time recommended that in addition to buying books from Amazon, “cybernauts” should read Salon, search for recipes on Epicurious, visit the Library of Congress, and play the Kevin Bacon game.

It’s a nice  trip down memory alley, but somehow he forgot to mention chatrooms!–easily the most interesting thing to do in the early days of AOL (well, besides text-based RPGs, which were more or less the same thing).

My dad was a programmer so our family had computers in the house since the early 80s (one of my first memories was playing Crystal Quest on our Apple II). We first got AOL 3.0 in 1994 (I think), when I was in 6th grade, and I was on it constantly from then on. I don’t know about anyone else, but I found plenty of interesting people to talk to in their chatrooms and (later) instant messenger (both AOL and ICQ), and spent countless hours playing games (Gemstone III and Metasquares were two brilliant free AOL games until they dropped them for their new pay-to-play service in ’97–the start of their slide towards evil empire status). I also spent a fair amount of time geeking out on their Star Trek forums, but we can forget about that….

Ahh, good times!


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