It’s Friday so I thought I’d write a fun entry.
How long have you been on the Internet? Me, I’ve been around since about 1994 when I accessed the Web via WebTV. I paid nearly $400 for that thing but as you can imagine, using it became cumbersome and I eventually bought a Packard Bell PC at Sears with some amazing specs: 8GB HD, 233 MHz processor, 256MB RAM. It also came with a printer and monitor, and I paid the amazingly low price of $1,999—on sale, no less. I had also purchased a Visioneer 5×7 pass-thru scanner and Iomega ZIP 100 drive for it since, you know, this was one hell of a machine!
But it was that machine that opened my eyes to all sorts of cool things in the Internet. Well, cool for the mid-90s at least. Let me now entertain you with what I remember, and see if you can recall these things, too.
Note that most of the links are through Archive.org since the current domain may be dedicated to something totally unrelated, so there may be many broken images when you click on them. When you do click, read through some of the claims as they are pretty damned funny. And keep in mind, folks, all of this was done on dial-up. Yeesh…
Are you ready to take a trip back to what seems like so long ago? Here we go! It might be a long trip so grab some snacks. Pop-Tarts for me, please!
Free ISPs: Hey, kids! Do you know why NetZero is called NetZero? It’s because back in the day it was free, provided you wanted to look at a banner ad at the bottom of your screen. Many others followed suit, including Juno (which used to be an e-mail-only service), K-Mart’s BlueLight.com and TheSimpsons.com before the domain was dedicated to the show. In fact, I had an @thesimpsons.com e-mail address and it broke my heart when they announced they were cancelling their ISP service, which meant the address had to go, too. DOH!
Free DSL: Just when dial-up was beginning to get too slow for my rapid-fire lifestyle, along came FreeDSL with their claim of offering, well, free DSL service when you referred people. A claim like this was probably too good to be true, and from what I remember, it was. I signed up for it and only got a few e-mails regarding the service. About the only thing they ever offered was some kind of “dial-up accelerator” which didn’t help in the least, and I soon gave up on FreeDSL and forgot about it. I suppose it’s just as well as they were gone soon afterwards.
AllAdvantage: Oh, those banner ads. What would the Internet be like without them? If you signed up for what AllAdvantage was offering, you wouldn’t have cared about seeing them as much because you got paid for having them displayed on your monitor! No, seriously! I signed up, referred a few friends and was cut a check for a cool $23.63! (I have a scan of the check somewhere and if I can find it, I’ll post it.) I think the next one was about $11 and by the time my third one would have arrived, they were gone. Bummer.
E-mail services: As is the case today, I have many e-mail address for many purposes: personal, blog, junk, etc. While at first I stayed with my ISPs e-mail service, the constant configuring of Outlook Express or Netscape Composer in order to retrieve my messages became a hassle. So I gave up using ISP-based e-mail and switched to Web-based and I haven’t looked back since. My first was RocketMail.com (with the .rm extension, not like the retro throwback crap Yahoo! is offering now!) It looked so damn primitive even back in the 90s. I don’t remember the storage capacity but I’m sure it was weak compared to today’s offerings.
Once Yahoo! took over I left and went to Hotmail which gave users a whopping 2MB of storage. I remember getting pissed off at a friend that sent me this new music filed called an MP3 because a) it clogged my inbox, b) it took forever to download and c) it was a Sarah McLachlan song. Then Yahoo! upped the ante to 4 MB. Then I discovered Onebox.com (who also offered services through ZDNet), an all-in-one messaging solution offering free e-mail, fax, voicemail and business cards (!) in one package. Its plain interface became so familiar with me as I used it all the time, that is until I got the survey asking if the service was worth paying for and what I’d be willing to pay. As you can imagine, it soon became a paid service and free users were cut loose. Thank [insert appropriate deity here] I had my Yahoo! address, which I still have today (since 1998).
I also recall using Pobox and Bigfoot forwarding services when I started getting too many e-mail addresses and when friends started complaining to me about changing addresses yet again. But even those became subscription-based or limited in their services. Damn, is nothing free anymore?
WebMillion: Way before Pogo and Flash gaming sites, I used to visit WebMillion for my fix. Billed as “the Internet’s Biggest Lottery,” registered users could play the WebMillion “lottery” up to 10 times a day. They also had some kind of scratcher games that gave you bonus chances at other prizes. It was fun (for the time) and I never won a thing, then one day I visited the site and it was all busted. WebMillion was no more, and I doubt that anybody every won anything from them.
RocketBoard: Speaking of losers, who among us signed up to get their free RocketBoard, the fabulous Internet keyboard with shortcut keys for e-mail and online shopping? The thing was going to change the way we browsed forever and was even featured in Newsweek magazine! Then AOL got their grubby paws on the project and, like everything else I’ve mentioned, it dissolved. As a matter of fact, RocketBoard’s founder went to work at McDonald’s just so he could get back in touch with reality after AOL shut down the project . But that’s okay; he’s now a CEO and doing pretty well for himself these days.
I understand a few people out there actually did get their RocketBoard but as for me, nope. Besides, I think I’d rather have one of these babies.
Neoplanet: In a world of plain browsers, I loved me some Neoplanet. It was, as far as I know, the first “skinned” browser and was hailed as “your Internet desktop” for integrating many Internet applications within the browser. Unlike everything else I’ve mentioned so far, the domain is still active and you can still download for the browser but skins are no longer available.
mIRC, IRC, ICQ: My first experience with chat rooms was in 1993, I believe. I used the name “aeromat” after seeing a piece of rubber flooring called “Airomat.” I thought “aeromat” looked cooler so I went with that because I couldn’t come up with anything else, as if all the cool user names were taken in 1993. I still use it to this day for user names on other sites.
Either way, aeromat chatted only a few times in 1993 as back then, chat rooms weren’t yet all the rage. In fact they were pretty boring. But once I got WebTV, chat rooms had started to gain momentum. WebTV introduced me to IRC and a room I frequented called #FriendlyChat where I met a bunch of cool people, one of whom I still talk to today. Another friend, Ian, had contracted AIDS as an infant via blood transfusion and I chatted with him the day before he died. It was really weird—and you’re still missed, Ian.
I also had a very low ICQ number since, well, it was the only messenger out at the time. Then AOL came along with their Instant Messenger, then Yahoo!, then MSN (post-NetMeeting)…yeah, you get it. By then I was over the chatting phase and today I hardly send IMs anymore since, well, they’re so 1990s.
So have I taken up enough of your time? I sure hope not. But if you’ve read down this far, then you probably enjoyed taking this trip back in time and I enjoyed being your guide. If you have anything I overlooked that you’d like to mention, or if I don’t have some of my facts straight, go ahead and have your say in the comments.
Have a great weekend!