Category Archives: Internet History

What a Long, Strange Twip It’s Been

I know, I know. I’ve succumbed to the urge to add “Tw” to everything, in this case, it’s the word “trip, when related to Twitter.

I just rediscovered a site that has links to all sorts of Twitter tools, one of which is Twopcharts.  One of the reports Twopcharts provides is “My First Tweet.” Here is my first tweet, nearly 7 years ago.




It is, unfortunately, highly representative of the reasons many people hate Twitter.  Some feel that it is loaded overwhelmingly with “self-indulgent” tweets.

Like my first one.

Like anyone really cared about  my little jaunt to the CVS (or why I was picking up pictures).

I like to think that my tweets (closing in on 10,000 as if this writing) adhered more or less to the 60%/40% balance described in this article.  There’s no way I’m going back to measure it all; but I have a gut feeling that I’m close…and probably maybe closer to 80%/20%.

I wonder what my 2nd Tweet was.

You can reach me on Twitter @Kickstand447.

The Good Old, Bad Old Days of the Internet – Part 1

oldinternetI’ve just come across an RFC (um, a “Request For Comment” from the Internet Engineering Task Force‘s website) that I found rather, ah, interesting(…begging the question of how — and, more importantly, why— I happened to come across RFC’s in the first place. But never mind that…)

Do any of my Dear Readers recall the term “Netiquette”?  For those who can’t remember, that portmanteau means Internet Etiquette. The Mirriam-Webster online definition for “netiquette” notes that the word was first used in 1982, some 11 years after the first email was sent. One can only imagine the flame wars and other email and newsgroup contretemps that ensued prior to the release in October 1995 of RFC 1855, “Netiquette Guidelines.”

Prior to the overwhelming emergence of Internet advertising and the graphical interface to the World Wide Web — and, ultimately, the conflation of the two — there was an ethic of self-policing on the Internet.  Advertising was strictly verboten; and, in fact, the first “advertising” was considered spam.

The Miriam-Webster definition of “spam” defines it thus:

unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses

It’s interesting that the first spam to hit the Internet was a Usenet Newsgroup posting by the so-called “green card lawyers” on April 12, 1994. Because many users received Newsgroup postings via email (I know I did), this posting met the definition of  spam to a T:  it was a commercial email sent to a large number of addresses.

RFC 1855 touches upon this, as well as other email issues, some of which we continue to deal with 20 years later!  The RFC notes that it is trying to describe appropriate to new users of the Internet,or “Newbies.”

In the past, the population of people using the Internet had "grown
   up" with the Internet, were technically minded, and understood the
   nature of the transport and the protocols.  Today, the community of
   Internet users includes people who are new to the environment.  These
   "Newbies" are unfamiliar with the culture and don't need to know
   about transport and protocols. In order to bring these new users into
   the Internet culture quickly, this Guide offers a minimum set of
   behaviors which organizations and individuals may take and adapt for
   their own use.

It’s clear that RFC 1855 did little to stem the tide of poor etiquette on the Internet; but it was a valiant effort.

Does this bring back memories? Please let me know in the comments.

I’ve run across a few other amusing RFC’s which I’ll post sometime later.

When Web Pages Die (Yes. They Die.) and How To Save Them

120px-404_SymbolI came across a great article today in the online journal First Monday. This journal is always the source of a good, albeit scholarly, read.  I’ve been reading it for many years.

One of the articles in the current edition, Learning from failure: The case of the disappearing Web site, by Francine Barone, David Zeitlyn, and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, caught my web-nerd eye.  It also sparked some memories of an Internet research project I managed way back in 1996-97; but more about that later.

Although it seems to be a universal truth that what you put on the web stays on the web, that’s probably a valid conclusion only for social media (Facebook, Twitter, and their ilk).  Studies have shown that links do die; and that there are many more than previously thought.  Sometimes even the data owners don’t know that their links are broken.

The First Monday article discusses the “Gone Dark Project” at Oxford University which addresses dead URL’s (Uniform Resource Locators) and the resulting “link rot.” The case studies discussed in the article can also “inform practical recommendations that might be considered in order to improve the preservation of online content.”

“We wanted to examine what has happened to Web sites, valuable archives and online resources that have disappeared, been shut down, or otherwise no longer exist publicly on the Internet.” (From the Introduction)

This article seems like the the polar opposite of the project I managed way back in 1996 and 1997.  Try to remember the Internet as it existed back then …

  • The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee
  • The first graphical browser, Mosaic, was released in 1993.
  • There was no Firefox. (Version 1.0 of Firefox was released in 2004.)
  • Google was barely on the radar at that time. (First funding for Google was in 1998.)

(For more information, see Hobbes’ Internet Timeline. This decidedly old-school web page has been a favorite of mine since the mid-1990’s after I met the author at a work function. It’s still my favorite.)

So you see, it was truly the Dark Ages.  The contractors doing the work were using Yahoo!, Hotwire, and other tools available at that time to locate and catalog Internet resources.  The pool of information at that time was likely at least an order of magnitude smaller than what is available now.  Sites (or documents) didn’t go dark then so much as they didn’t ever see the light of day.  It wasn’t that items weren’t private, per se; it was merely (usually) that a unique URL had not been assigned to it.

The two studies are

At the time of these studies, there was a dearth of information available about the information revealed by these studies. I was very proud that, because of that fact, my contractors’ studies were both accepted to peer-reviewed journals, both in print and online.

But,  17 years later, I’m learning that things have come full circle.  In 1996, we were looking to discover what was new. In 2014, the ” Gone Dark Project” was looking for what has disappeared.

Plus ça change……

The Good Ole, Bad Ole Days of the ‘Net in ’94

InternetWorldAs I was cleaning out my office in preparation for a move to our new house, I ran across some old magazines my nerd self had been keeping:  “Internet World,” “On the Internet,” “Internet Society News”, and “Online.” 

One of the oldest issues is the January 1995 issue of “Internet World” featuring “The Best and Worst of 1994.”  My oh my, how things have changed in 19 years!  There were fewer mentions of the World Wide Web than I had expected; it was a relatively new protocol, and not very widely used at that.

The organization of the World Wide Web: I love the Web, but finding something specific on it is a nightmare. And because the Web is growing by leaps and bounds I just don’t see things getting easier anytime soon.” [Internet World, Vol. 8, No.1, p. 30.]

Finding information on the Web might certainly have remained a nightmare, were it not for the debut of Yahoo! in 1994 (incorporated in 1995) and Google in 1996/97 (incorporated in 2008).  In addition to Google and Yahoo!, a plethora of search engines and hierarchical web directories sprang up in the mid-90’s to help alleviate the difficulties.  I’ve written about some of them here.

As noted above, there was very little mention in the article of the Web or Web “addresses.  In fact, one Best/Worst list contributor noted: “I remember the first time I saw a URL address [My note: That phrase in itself has become somewhat of a redundancy.] http://www.something.something.something.’ ‘Ugh,’ I moaned. ‘A whole new language I have to learn? I was just getting the hang of Unix!” I immediately resigned myself to the fact that this might be the end of my days in cyberspace.”

And now for some of the resources cited as Best of the Internet for 1994:

  • Nethack – a dungeon exploration game to which even non-D&D accicts can become addicted.
  • “This Just In” – a Listserv™ mailing list.
  • Jeopardy – on the IRC gaming channel #jeopardy.
  • A sub-list of “niftiest Gopher menu/sites.”
  • SLIP, PPP, and the Web.  Yeah, back then we’d do anything to get a faster connection.
  • The Power Macintosh.
  • New providers, more products, and more books. “The Internet is proof that capitalism works.”

And some of the worst.  (Not surprisingly, there were quite a few mentions of Usenet news groups; anyone who has used them knows why.  But, truth be told, there were quite a few high-quality newsgroups.)

  • The Green Card Lottery (This was also mentioned in someone else’s list.  They note: “Worst event: Canter & Siegel spam the Net. Not what they did but the fact that anyone still cares to talk about it.”)
  • America Online.  Remember how early adopters of the Net use to mock AOL users as “not really being on the Internet.” (In all fairness, AOL subsequently remedied this .]
  • Net.sociopaths spammers, disbarred lawyers (See Green Card Lottery above], and others who want to (Yes, you can safely click on the link; it’s a Wikipedia page.)

While I’m at it, I’ll add one of my own “worst”: Chain-letter email.  Just tell your mom or granddad that no, nothing bad will happen if they DON’T forward that email to everyone on her or his Address Book.

So, things really have changed.  My first web experience was definitely NOT geographic; I used the text-based Lynx to navigate the Web.  Later on, I used NCSA’s Mosaic, and a whole new world opened up!  Some people think the Internet began with the introduction of the World Wide Web and graphical browsers. Well, I beg to differ; there was much, much more before the web.  We just had to learn to find it.

What are your best and worst of the early Internet?

The Rise (and Fall) of Search Engines

Some months ago* I read an article in The Washington Post about  the demise of  It got me remembering all the different search engines I used throughout my 20+ years on the Internet.  The ones I remember are listed below.  How many do you remember?

  • Dog Pile
  • HotWired
  • Excite
  • Alta Vista
  • Archie—but that was just for FTP searching
  •  Veronica & Jughead
  • Excite (1993)
  • AskJeeves
  • Yahoo (started out as a directory, actually)
  • Lycos
  • Infoseek
  • Open Directory
  • HotBot
  • LookSmart

Check out this page for more information about the evolution of search engines.

[* “Some months ago” is actually over 2 years ago. I drafted this blog post and forgot about it. Got distracted. Oh well.]

It’s Like Part of My Nerdnik Self Is Dying…

… or will on July 1, 2013.  That is the date that Google has set for turning off it’s much-beloved (by me) Google Reader.

broken rssIt seems as if I’ve used it since it’s debut in 2005.  It it is a great way to keep abreast of new posts from web sites…without having to actually GO to the website in question.

This appeals not only to my tendency toward laziness, but also to my slight case of FOMO (at least as it pertains to information).

Somehow, there’s a bit of subversion to the action of using an RSS feed to access the media and other web sites.  It allows me to bypass the ads that are present on the sites and still read the articles.  How un-American. How un-Capitalist. How liberating!

Perhaps that is really why Google is ditching this tool.  They’re all about advertising,  you know; and there’s no way to insert ads in Google Reader, is there? It can’t be “monetized” (gawd, I hate that word!).

So I guess I’ll just use Feedly, or some such RSS feed reader. I’ll probably continue to use the Google Readers apps that are on my smartphone and tablet…at least until Google pulls those from action.

I wonder if the RSS dominoes will fall and web publishers will no longer use the Site Summary (the “SS” in RSS) that really makes RSS work.

Ah the golden age of Internet information sharing. Now it’s all about paywalls, monetization, and other ways to keep information at arm’s length.

Are we about to look at information through the rear-view mirror?

Oldie, Moldy (but Goodie) Web Sites

I ran across an old bookmark earlier today that reminded me of an old ftp (I think?) database called “As the Crow Flies.”  It provided the linear distance between two points.  Well, I couldn’t find “As the Crow Flies,” but instead found a substitute:  How Far Is it Between.

It reminded me of all the small, comparatively low-tech sites were strewn about the Internet (the Web wasn’t very big way back when I started using the ‘Net).

Here are some sites that I culled from an old bookmark list (probably from the late-Nineties or early 2000’s).  Some of the sites are still low-tech, old-style Web 1.0.  Others have morphed to keep with the time.

All are interesting.  But, as they (still) say on the ‘Net:  YMMV.

Enjoy the links!  Add some in the comments.

The Times (& the Pictures) Are Changing

Way, W-A-Y back when — in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s — the online people-to-people communication world consisted mainly of email. And email was a text-only affair.  Usually only a mono-spaced message in green letters on a black screen.  Or maybe white on black.  No pictures. No Arial. And heaven-help-us, no Helvetica.

The way to make “pictures” in your message was to create ASCII Art.  I wrote about this phenomenon in an earlier post.

But now?  Well there’s Twitter. And guess what? There’s Twitter Art (or, more appropriately, #TwitterArt).  Here’s an example:

Another way to be creative (or waste time?). Just remember that that you can use the full range of ASCII characters  to create your TwitterArt.

Have fun!

Archie, Veronica, and WAIS, Oh My!

Oh goodness! Here I go again. Wandering down the dark, long-forgotten corners of the Net.

I was dipping into some old Patchwork Jumble drafts when I got started down a particular rabbithole.  This one led finally to a very old issue of the Internet Scout Report that contained the following:

Expanded 2nd edition of Accessing The Internet By E-Mail: shows you how to retrieve files from FTP sites, explore the Internet via Gopher, search for information with Archie, Veronica, or WAIS, tap into the World-Wide Web, and even access Usenet newsgroups using E-MAIL as your only tool. Lots of new stuff as a result of comments received from around the world. Check out the updated Net Goodies section! New info on European mail servers. [emphases are mine]

(I’ve been an Internet Scout Report subscriber since, oh, the days when movable type was new. Well, maybe not that long; but at least since the days when the Web — or as it was quaintly called back then, The World-Wide Web — was only just beginning to be more widely used)

The Net has become a near monobi-culture now: Web and Email.  Facebook? Web. Twitter? Web. Google+? Web.

Yes, I know; there are the apps.  The latest, greatest one — available by invitation only at this time — is Spotify.  Yes, it’s an app; but you can’t tell me that it has (or will have) anywhere near the eyeballs looking at it as all the Web pages taken together (or just Google, for that matter).

Sometimes I long for the linear, unfolding  simplicity of a gopher site! The fancifully named “Veronica”! (Oh, and those who know gopher will know why I chose “unfolding” as a modifier just now.)

Anyway. getting back to the quote above.  How many of the boldfaced services did you ever use?

Tripping Over the “Bits and Bytes” of Internet History

And now it’s time for another trip back into digital history.  This time we’ll look at one of the online newsletters from the early days of the Internet and some of the “news of the era.”

I ran across a old printout of “Bits and Bites Online” (Volume 1 No. 14) dated November 4, 1993.  Folks, that was 18 years ago. (Please don’t ask why I still had it.  We’ll get to a discussion on that sometime later.)   Here are a few tidbits in that edition that caught my eye. (Now remember, this was 18 years ago.)

  • The price of workstations – DEC announced a new “top-of-the-line workstation” for $36,000 (yes, that’s thousands). DEC was touting this as a bargain compared to the $70,000 workstation being offered by IBM.
  • A small, but not-so-fast, printer – Office space at a premium? Check the new Panasonic KXP-4400 laser printer with only a 15″ X 15″ footprint.  Oh, and best of all? It prints at a blazing 4 pages per minute. [Just to provide context on the PPM metric:  A Wikipedia article on printers notes that “printers are generally slow devices (30 pages per minute is considered fast.”]
  • Doing Windows – The alpha version of Windows 4.0 “is making the rounds.” InfoWorld (10/25/93) took a look and reported that “the product still needs some work,” but that it will have “far more functionality and sophistication than Windows 3.1 when it ships in the latter half of 1994.”  [Well, 1994 was optimistic.  Sources here, here, and here indicate that “4.0” was released in Summer 1996.]
  • MTV Gets Plugged In (Kinda) – “MTV is officially on the net.” Well, “VJ Adam Curry is running an ftp and gopher site” with materials like “charts, audio, schedules, video, etc.”  And because the folks at MTV “are not ready to commit financially to the project,” Mr. Curry has to pay for the connection himself.  [I couldn’t find the original gopher site on the Wayback Machine, but here’s an article from Wired magazine about about Curry’s Internet forays.]
  • IMD…huh? – Oh, golly, wow! The [mail] server at the IBM PC Users Group in the UK ( “accesses a movie database to return information about movies, actors, directors, etc.” The newsletter author asks: “Anybody else know any other cool ftpmail services?”  [The domain “” is now for sale.  I guess after IMDB, there was no point….]
  • Access. Yeah, right! – The newsletter notes that “B&B is available for downloading on America Online in their telecom files area, and in Compuserve’s telecom forum library.”  [Not sure if any of my Gentle Readers retain access to either of these services. If not, the B&B author has archived all issues (except 1) on his website. They can all be found here.]

Hope you enjoyed this brief look at life “before the Web.” Not sure where I’ll look next.  Any ideas?