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The Internet

Jurassic Web 430

theodp writes "It wasn't so long ago, but Slate's Farhad Manjoo notes that The Internet of 1996 is almost unrecognizable compared with what we have today. No YouTube, Digg, Huffington Post, Gawker, Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Wikipedia. In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web and were paying for the Internet by the hour. Today, Nielsen says we spend about 27 hours a month online (present company excepted, of course!)." I thought in 1996 all we did was idle in IRC channels while we wrote code in other terminals.
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Jurassic Web

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:20AM (#26982015) Journal

    It wasn't so long ago ...

    It was 13 years ago. Maybe I'm just young but that is an eternity in the world of computer technology.

    I would argue that you should really be looking at the hardware & communication infrastructure because internet usage (in my opinion) is really a product of how cheap the hardware makes the connection and usage.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:59AM (#26982519) Homepage Journal

      It was 13 years ago. Maybe I'm just young

      See my sig, kid.

      But you're right, I didn't get on the internet until a year later. It only cost me $12.95 per month, with "unlimited access" which really was unlimited. It even included an unlimited amount of personal web space that I abused horribly, trying to find the limit to my unlimited access and never could. I think all the game demos, patches, etc I posted was part of what made my Quake site so popular; once I got them uploaded to my ISP's server (which took quite a while to download, then to upload) others could download them from my site FAST.

      I wasn't paying by the hour as TFS says; I had paid Compuserve by the hour ten or so years earlier, but I never was on AOL. I did appreciate all the free floppies they mailed me, though.

      I would argue that you should really be looking at the hardware & communication infrastructure because internet usage (in my opinion) is really a product of how cheap the hardware makes the connection and usage.

      The infrastructure was mostly the phone line and modems. They really weren't that expensive, and neither were computers so long as you built your own.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mog007 ( 677810 )

      I have issue with the summary. Back in 96 I was paying a flat rate for internet access, and I spent quite a few hours fiddling around with it. Granted, about 90% of my time online involved MUDs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MetaPhyzx ( 212830 ) *

        I was paying for 100 hours a month, then unlimited by 1995 as well (but my "innanet" usage began in university in full earnest addiction circa 1993). Gopher, IRC and USENET. I think I spent more time 'hanging out' on IRC and in newsgroups than I do on the Web these days.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bonch ( 38532 )

      I was a freshman in high school, and the Internet wasn't as unrecognizable as the story summary implies. People played graphics-focused first person shooters online, used annoying chat acronyms like "lol," and flamed each other on message boards about stupid shit. I got home dialup access in 1997, and it was unlimited access with a flat fee. There were already banner ads, annoying Flash sites, and commercialization. I believe Drudge Report was even around then, with almost the exact same visual design t

      • by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @04:04PM (#26985849)

        Starcraft was released March 31, 1998. []

        Posted not to be a pedantic douche, but to point out that our memories are often imperfect. Starcraft, a revolution in online gaming in many respects, did not come out until 2 years after this article describes.

        Everyone posting in this thread about how they had all this unlimited, highspeed, MMO-full gaming with massive multimedia collections in 1996 - I'm sorry, but you're not remembering things very well. And it's easy enough to find examples that show why.

        1996 might not have been the $10/hr CIS days (that was 1994 for me), but it sure as hell wasn't anything like today. In 1996 we saw the very first TCP/IP games that weren't IPX tunneled through something like Web browsers existed, yes - and 95% of the pages out there were about someone's cat. Napster (ie: mp3 sharing of any large scale) was 3 years in the future. Software mp3 players [] had just appeared in the fall of 1995. Winamp, the first truly popular player, was a year away. Hardware players were at least 2 years away. Flash didn't really exist until the end of 1996 [].

        Anyway, that's just pulled from the first few posts I could find. Y'all are remembering 1999 at earliest. 1996 was a very different online beast. Splitting hairs? No, showing just how much changed in such a short period of time.

    • It was 13 years ago. Maybe I'm just young but that is an eternity in the world of computer technology.

      Is it really an eternity? What's so different anyway?

      Let's take blogging as an example. The concept of posting your thoughts online is a constant of the Internet (it isn't a new concept like some green Internet users/media think). It's just been refined (or redefined if you don't like the implication that it is better now, just more "user-friendly") versus the available methods of the past.

      Truth is, things haven't changed much on the net in 13 years. We're just implementing the same concepts with

  • IMDB was up (Score:4, Informative)

    by LotsOfPhil ( 982823 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:21AM (#26982025)
    The first (non obvious) big site that pops to mind is IMDB. Other than that I just remember IRC and BBSes.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:25AM (#26982067)

      Sadly, GeoCities existed then, and even scarier is: it still does.

    • Re:IMDB was up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:43AM (#26982341)

      Most of the current stuff is either refined, or regressed versions of what we had back then.

      Digg => Slashdot
      Huffington Post => There wasn't any shortage of bullshit artists back then either
      Google => Yahoo, AltaVista, etc..
      Twitter => IRC > Twitter. Twitter is like IRC, except there's only one channel, and everybody's on ignore by default.
      Wikipedia => Everything (up to the reader whether this was progress or regression)
      And there's the things that social networks and tag clouds replaced..... AOL, Web Rings, Geocities, etc...

      What should be more shocking is that in 12 years, there isn't actually all that much out there that is truely new.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 )

        What should be more shocking is that in 12 years, there isn't actually all that much out there that is truely new.

        Probably the closest thing to "new" is P2P filesharing. And major companies want to crush it.
        So there's your proof. Corporations really do inhibit progress.

        (Yes, I realize P2P networks existed well before Napster came along, but not in the same sense.)

        • by jd142 ( 129673 )

          Does hosting your own bbs count as peer to peer? I didn't do that, a little before my time, but many people did host files on their bbs boards.

        • Re:IMDB was up (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:57AM (#26982501)

          Nah, we were trading files back then too. The only thing that's changed is the protocols.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Carewolf ( 581105 )

          alt.binaries on usenet, open FTP servers, DDC channels on IRC

          While not P2P technology, the servers was not sued by RIAA or confiscated by the police. So P2P would have been a solution to a not yet existing problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )

        Wikipedia => Everything (up to the reader whether this was progress or regression)

        Wikipedia has roots right back in the first versions of WorldWideWeb. TBL's idea was that every web browser would be a web server as well. Every user would serve a few pages and browse a lot. His design also incorporated editing directly into the browser, so you could edit any page you had permissions for.

        This didn't really catch on, because a lot of users were on dial-up connections which were too slow for serving and were only online for a small amount of time per month and so could not be used for

      • I think you mean: Digg/Slashdot => usenet > 'blogs'

    • Re:IMDB was up (Score:4, Informative)

      by neomunk ( 913773 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @12:17PM (#26982741)

      I met my wife back in '96 on a telnet BBS. shadow.scc(or acc) to be specific.

      I was getting internet access back then via a hole in the library dial-up information access system. Mostly used for gopher access, some links to other libraries would allow you to escape out to a telnet prompt. From there it was just a matter of knowing where to telnet. BBSs came first, then after I learned the magic of a shell, it wasn't long until I figured out how to implement PPP. By summer '95 I had slackware installed and (thanks to a friend of mine) access at an early-adopter local dial-up ISP. Even though the whole web was "mine" at that point, I retained a special love for shadow, and ended up meeting my wifey there...

      Ahh, nostalgia.

  • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:22AM (#26982029)

    With terrible blinking text and eyesore backgrounds.

    They were all on geocities then. Now they're all on facebook/myspace.

    It was a nicer, gentler internet. Less advertising, less malware. Less crap and less people too... e-Commerce was a rarity. Naive users and online shops would transact via card-detail containing emails.

    There was still all the porn you could imagine though.

    • Bring back blinking text! And while you're at it, bring back the cowbell to rock music! Can't have too much cowbell...

      Funny how porn was one of the first major uses of the 'net. I think that was one of the major motivators of early-adopters. I can remember one of my buds signing up for that express purpose.

      And yeah, I spent many a night frittering away my time on IRC in 1996. Route66 was the place to be! Now I fritter on Slashdot.

    • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:33AM (#26982183) Homepage

      Is myspace fundamentally different to the homepage?

      They are still gaudy shrines to the ego, constructed of copy-pasted crappy code.

    • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:37AM (#26982249)

      "There was still all the porn you could imagine though."

      There was also all the porn I couldn't imagine too.

    • Gentler and nicer but with a whole lot less information, delivered at a much slower rate, and even if the information was out there, most search engines were far too inadequate to actually find anything worthwhile.

    • With terrible blinking text and eyesore backgrounds. They were all on geocities then. Now they're all on facebook/myspace.

      If you ask me, the facebooks/myspaces of today are way worse aesthetically. The worst you had to fear in those days was an embedded MIDI; now I've got high-quality MP3s streaming themselves without asking and fucking up the music I'm already listening to.

      Also, maybe they just didn't have the technology or bandwidth to piss away, but people didn't leave high-res 1562x968 pictures in co

    • With terrible blinking text and eyesore backgrounds.

      It did make looking at porn much more annoying, but part of me misses the challenge.

  • 1996 nothing... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FlyingSquidStudios ( 1031284 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:22AM (#26982031) Homepage
    I remember seeing Mosaic in 1992 or 1993 and saying, "this will never replace Gopher."
    • It didn't Netscape Did.

      • Well yeah, but I meant the whole world-wide web concept as a whole...
      • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:30AM (#26982147) Homepage

        Spyglass corporation's Mosaic was licensed by a company called Microsoft as the basis for a browser which they named Internet Explorer --- Spyglass had an absolutely fantastic deal where they got royalties on _every sale_ of the browser.


        • heh that's harsh. Was there ever a period during which MS sold copies?

        • SpyGlass sued MS and according to Wikipedia they settled for $8 Million.

          Internet Explorer 3.0 was released free of charge in August 1996 by bundling it with Windows 95, another OEM release. Microsoft thus made no direct revenues on IE and was liable to pay Spyglass only the minimum quarterly fee. In 1997, Spyglass threatened Microsoft with a contractual audit, in response to which Microsoft settled for US $8 million.[4]

          Wikipedia Article []

          I seem to remember rumors that the settlement was for $50 Million, but perhaps that was what they were suing for, and settled for less.

    • by N1ck0 ( 803359 )

      Who would use this internet thing when you could download warez and play doors on BBSs.

      • Actually back then that was the bulk what I was using the internet for. As some BBS's were going TCP/IP so you can telnet (days before encryption of you communication wasn't a big deal) in and go to these BBS's online without having to pay long distance, and Play Doors and downloads software world wide. As for world wide messaging that is what the FidoNet was for. Heck you can even send internet emails with horrible email addresses threw FidoNet.

        Telnet and FTP was the big way of doing things back then. Goph

        • by N1ck0 ( 803359 )

          Actually back then that was the bulk what I was using the internet for.

          Yeah I was thinking more 92-93ish...hell I think 94-95 was the last time I used POTS for net access.

          In 96 a company I worked for had the crazy idea of trying to use javascript to write webapps and running some sort of dynamically generated content in on the webserver using java and some sort of templating system. I'm glad that never went anywhere it would have been such a mess...

    • by lorax ( 2988 )

      If you were using Mosaic it must have been 1993 or later.

      Funny thing though, I remember saying pretty much exactly the same thing in 1994. (Although I was looking at serving GIS related files at the time)

  • by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:22AM (#26982033) Homepage

    "I thought in 1996 all we did was idle in IRC channels while we wrote code in other terminals."

    Yet another person who does not know he can find porn on the net.

    • Re:IRC channels? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by epiphani ( 254981 ) <epiphani@d[ ]net ['al.' in gap]> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:28AM (#26982107)

      "I thought in 1996 all we did was idle in IRC channels while we wrote code in other terminals."

      Yet another person who does not know he can find porn on the net.

      Yet another person who is apparently unfamiliar with DCC. Why do you think we idled on IRC to begin with? It sure as hell wasn't for the intelligent conversation.

      • God, I'm such an idiot. Despite the fact that I used IRC to download MP3s back in the 90s, I forgot that it's not merely a chat program. Bad Anita Coney, go to your room!

        • God, I'm such an idiot. Despite the fact that I used IRC to download MP3s back in the 90s, I forgot that it's not merely a chat program. Bad Anita Coney, go to your room!

          No, it really is only a chat program, in the way that MSNM is only a chat program. There's other features in there, but it doesn't really do any of them well. IIRC DCC is based on xmodem. There's an advanced forms of DCC based on zmodem. No joke. Why don't we just fucking UUCP each other while we're at it?

          The thing about irc that made it appealing for transferring files is that you didn't have to spawn another program, figure out how to run a server, et cetera. But with the appalling overhead of the combina

      • Remember !!!!!!~1.jpg? Good times.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by e-scetic ( 1003976 )

        Actually, seems to me there was a time when conversation on IRC was somewhat intelligent. In the early days it was all academics, scientists, engineers, grads, etc. Then it was a yearly flood of university freshmen. As it grew, quality of conversation declined. Then there was the AOL invasion (1996?) where everyone and their developmentally delayed hormone challenged nephews suddenly had access to IRC. It's never been the same again.

        So the average mental and chronological age of the conversationalists

    • Alright fine, all we did was idle in IRC while we downloaded posts from in other terminals for later uudecoding.

  • Spam? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jacek Poplawski ( 223457 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:27AM (#26982091)

    And what the hell is Huffington Post and Gawker to put it inside this list?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Whether you agree with HuffPo's openly liberal politics or not, it's hard to deny that there was nothing like this kind of widespread online political commentary 10 years ago - certainly nothing that attracted the kind of traffic - or had the same kind of influence - that it now enjoys. Got to be a good thing - people need to be more interested in politics.

      As for Gawker... ummmmmm... errrrrr.... yep you're right.

      • Re:Spam? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Silverhammer ( 13644 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @12:29PM (#26982895)

        I could understand citing the political blogosphere as a whole, but to specifically mention the Huffington Post is just creepy. It's neither revolutionary nor reputable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bonch ( 38532 )

        Aren't you forgetting Drudge Report? It came out in what, 1997? It also kind of broke a major news story about a certain president that Newsweek was planning to cover up.

        The mainstream media outlets STILL hate Matt Drudge for scooping it.

  • by mandark1967 ( 630856 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:28AM (#26982105) Homepage Journal

    I don't think about what was there, then, I think about what we have lost since then.

    So many sites that were popular in that timeframe are no longer around. Internet Archives doesn't capture all those funny, cool sites that used to be there and are, sadly, no longer around.

    • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:55AM (#26982475) Homepage Journal

      What, like Hamster Dance? Shrines to music stars? MIDI background music that sounded awful on the hardware of the day? Streaming RealPlayer files so blurry you needed to be half-blind to make them out? Web Rings containing hundreds of links pointing to nothing at all? Personal homepages consisting of an export of Netscape bookmarks? Company web pages that were little more than brochures? (Often less than that!) Everyone on the interwebz thinking they're 1337 h4x0rz? (The 'z' was real popular back then.) XTrek competitions? MSN-only Pages that would only render in Netscape or IE? (Complete with a "this page looks best in X" buttons.) Frames?!?

      The web was definitely a more innocent place back then, but it was in no way a more useful place. What you are remembering is the subculture that went with the web of the day. If you had Internet access... man, you had something special. This crazy ability to make friends from around the world, to meet people who like the same shows or games as you, the ability to load up your computer with all the shareware it could hold, to access amateur content like MODs, MIDIs, animations done in GIFs, fan fiction, web comics, and even Java Applet games!

      It was an exciting and fun time to be alive and I'm glad I was a part of it. But like all things, its time has passed and very little content of value was lost. In fact, most of the truly interesting content is still around. It simply doesn't shine very well in the face of what the modern Internet can do.

  • Did it with Netscape Composer.
    Surprisingly, it still exists today... []
    (It's in french, but look at the layout and press ctrl-w )

  • by wiredog ( 43288 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:30AM (#26982141) Journal

    But kids who were not even in school then are driving now. People who were first graders then may well have voted in the last election.

    How many of us even had cell phones then?

    Even from a 43 year old's perspective, thirteen years can be a long time.

  • That was my baby, and we had been around for two years by 1996.

    Our archive of back issues is available to all. Go cruise our 1996: []

    One sample issue, NSD 2.20, leads with the launch of Quake and the new MSNBC, whose DNS entry was suspended for lack of payment.

    The main archive is here: []

  • Ugh (Score:5, Funny)

    by sean_nestor ( 781844 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:31AM (#26982163) Homepage
    It's 1996, and you're bored. What do you do? If you're one of the lucky people with an AOL account, you probably do the same thing you'd do in 2009: Go online. Crank up your modem, wait 20 seconds as you log in, and there you areâ""Welcome." You check your mail, then spend a few minutes chatting with your AOL buddies about which of you has the funniest screen name (you win, pimpodayear94).

    I can't believe I read this and immediately thought "...but AOL didn't allow screen names over 10 characters until 1999..."

    I'm a loser.

  • In 1996 I was addicted to telnet talker channels that ran on EW-Too, EW-Three, Sensi-Summink, and other MUD derivatives. I miss those days.
  • by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:36AM (#26982225) Homepage
    It is interesting to look at that time. Cookies were not widely supported at that time. I can only find the paper here: [] Times really have changed. Patrick
  • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:37AM (#26982237)
    No Google, true -- but choice of search engines. While Google was great between about '97 and '03 or so, it's become so gamed to be as bad as Altavista was in 1996 -- but now there's no real choice.

    No Facebook, no MySpace, no Wikipedia, less spam and far less Flash-based sites -- yes, those were better days. Not to mention a lot less Buzzwordery and fuckwittery.

    There was more porn, and it was more extreme and less restricted -- not so much video based, of course. And if you were a producer you could throw a site up and make money easily, now it's so hard as to be really not worthwhile.

    While there's definitely improvements, I can't help looking back fondly to a lot of things that are no longer with us. And the massive intrusion that some things on the web have become.
  • Web? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chih ( 1284150 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:37AM (#26982245)
    In 96, I was still a teenager. All I did was play doorgames on BBSs. LoD, LORD, etc.. I suppose you could say I surfed the web, but it was really only for pron :D
  • Oh how I wish someone would swing the banhammer on Facebook or Myspace sometimes. Good thing I don't read either :P
  • by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:42AM (#26982321) Journal
    With a little work we can get rid of Huffington Post, Digg,Twitter and Myspace. The rest can stay, but only if they behave themselves.
    • We should never have upgraded from Web 1.0

      I'm still waiting for the Web 2.0 SP1 that removes all the bloat.
  • I thought in 1996 all we did was idle in IRC channels while we wrote code in other terminals.

    Isn't that what we do now?

  • Ah...1996 (Score:2, Informative)

    by lymond01 ( 314120 )

    I was surfing the Eudora e-mail forums on my company's dial-out internet (in an office of 80 people we all shared a 26K Baud modem), trying to figure out how to share address books. This was before Eudora went POP/IMAP and was still just LAN mail. Mail was queued up in the gateway, and once enough was stored, the modem would dial out and release.

    In late 1997 we'd gone from dial-up, to ISDN, to 1/4 T-1...but that's a whole other era.

  • No Tub Girl?!?!?! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by svendsen ( 1029716 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @11:54AM (#26982459)
    It was a sad time. There was no:

    Two Girls on Cup
  • I get the impression that the article author was not on the web then. I used ATT Worldnet back then and paid a monthly fee for unlimited dialup. I recall using Infoseek and Excite to search for information, as well as use IRC. My tinkering on the net back then launched my IT career. Can't say I ever used AOL...

  • Yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @12:02PM (#26982543) Homepage Journal

    No Slashdot, no Facebook... all we did was work! ;-)

    I know some people complain about Google having been taken over by spammers, but it still works for me and what I search for. Anyone else remember doing every search twice--once at Yahoo! and getting too few matches, and then AltaVista and getting too many?

    • by wsanders ( 114993 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @01:09PM (#26983401) Homepage

      Back in the last century, Usenet was alive and well and not yet overwhelmed by f-tards. You could actually make friends on alt.sysadmin.recovery or your local [a-z]*.singles group, or ask a technical question on comp.sys.something or other and get an intelligent response instead of a death threat from a fanboy.

      That my friend is the biggest change in the net for me.

      Google News is trying to keep the flame alive but it's a lost cause.

  • Back then we still had a functional usenet, people generally used IRC a lot more, altavista was one one of the most popular search engines, was still up, and the personal webpage was a lot more important than today.

    We may overall be better off today, but where we were had its own charms, some of which are now lost.

  • So he says that back then people were self-important pricks who seldom went past AOl for their online experience. I didn't know everyone in the past was named Farhad Manjoo.

  • 1996? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Burnhard ( 1031106 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @12:36PM (#26982963)
    In 1996 I was spending a lot of my time out of lectures surfing The Hun's Yellow Pages. I was awarded first class honours, thus proving that porn makes you clever.
  • Malware!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Arslan ibn Da'ud ( 636514 ) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @01:24PM (#26983605) Homepage

    That's the main tech boom since 1996! Think about it. Viruses existed back then, and they were destructive. They'd crash your machine on purpose, but not before alerting you to their presence. Botnets? Definitely a 21st-century tech. There was lots of spam, but it didn't contain viruses, and the web was pretty safe. Even using IE :) The big-name viruses: Melissa, ILoveYou, Blaster...all newer.

    Heck Smashing the Stack for Fun and Profit [] wasn't published until 1998.

    The net hasn't improved much since '96. It's the bad guys that have. Where will THEY be in 13 years?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982