As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web today, I’d like to say that I was smart enough to get on the web the moment that it was possible to do so — which, if you weren’t one of Tim Berners-Lee’s colleagues at CERN, was in August, 1991. But in truth, I was a latecomer, relatively speaking. I didn’t surf the web until the fall of 1994, whereupon I immediately felt embarrassed for not having latched onto it earlier.
Once I experienced it for myself, it made quite an impression. I remember virtually everything about that first browsing session — why it happened, what I did, even the conference room I was sitting in and the orientation of my chair.
Would you mind if I got nostalgic for a moment? Or 10 moments, to be precise?
1. I was already an old pro at going online. I started dialing into online services in either 1978 or early 1979, via a roaring 300-bits-per-second modem which you connected to the phone line by sticking the handset into a couple of foam cups. Among the services I used early on were CBBS (the first bulletin board system) and the Source (the first online service targeting only consumers). I also belonged to CompuServe, GEnie, AOL and BIX — maybe all four at the same time at one point.
2. I knew about the Internet long before I used it. My father worked at Boston University, and had access to the service back when it was known as ARPANET and available only to government employees and academics. He raved about it. I’m not sure why I didn’t beg him to give me a tour.
3. I remember the first time I heard about the World Wide Web. It was no later than mid-1993, I think. My friend Bob Stepno, a more forward-looking individual than myself, told me about it and described it as “point-and-click Internet.” Again, I was intrigued but did not take any action to try it.
4. I remember what I was doing on the Internet before I used the web. I was sending e-mail to people on other online services, for one thing — and yes, there was an era when that was hot stuff. I also used information retrieval services such as Gopher, Archie and Veronica, all of which seemed exciting at the time.
5. I remember why I tried the web. I’d just started working at PC World magazine in Boston, and my boss, Eric Bender, thought we should know about this stuff. (I believe that PCW was already working on launching its own site.)
6. I remember who showed me the web. Pete Loshin, the guy who Eric hired to do a little workshop for us. He’s still teaching people about technology.
7. I remember which browser I used. NCSA Mosaic, of course — the definitive web browser until Netscape Navigator, which was just coming out in beta, displaced it shortly thereafter.
8. I remember the first site I tried. Yahoo! Pete explained to me that it made it very easy to find stuff on almost any topic, just by typing in a quick search. The site was roughly 10 months old at the time, and was not yet a full-fledged company.
9. I remember the first thing I did. I searched for Krazy Kat, one of my favorite comic strips. I don’t remember how many results popped up — it might have been as few as ten or so — but I was dazzled. (Today, the same query on Yahoo gets you 258,000 results.)
10. I remember what I did next. I signed up with an early ISP — I’m pretty sure it was PSINet, although I jumped around a lot for a while, and sometimes had more than one account at a time — and never looked back.
So what are your earliest memories of the web?
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