Tag Archives: internet

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 Rise (and Fall) of Search Engines

Some months ago* I read an article in The Washington Post about  the demise of Ask.com.  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.]

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.

How Do They DO That???!!!

I have seen an increasing number of tweets questioning whether or not a popular link shortener —  bit.ly — may be collateral damage of the unrest in Libya, particularly if Col. Gaddafi hits the Internet “kill switch.”

Further reading indicates that bit.ly is less vulnerable to being blacked out because of Bit.ly’s redundant name servers spread around the world.  Bit.ly’s CEO responded to a Quora question with this.

So, I guess that answers that! And we probably don’t have to worry about dead links because of our widespread use of that particular URL shortener.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I wanted to know how URL shorteners work.  In so doing, I came across the term “domain hacks.” It is the magikal hackery that gave us del.icio.us.  Sublime.

The domain hack generally (but not always) uses the ccTLD (country-code Top-Level Domain) to construct the desired URL.  (The list of ccTLD’s is here.)

There are some other clever domain hacks out there. See some here.

Who knew?

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 (ibmpcug.co.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 “ibmpcug.co.uk” 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?

Welcome to the Machine

Monday, June 21, 1993, a day that will live in infamy.  At least for me.  That was the day that I first experienced the Internet. Picture this:  I walked into my new office (I had recently changed jobs) and one of my new co-workers began talking about something called the “Internet” and asked me if I’d like to see it.

I really can’t remember what all we looked at that day (and please remember this was before the graphical web), but I liked it.  So much so that by day’s end I had applied for my own account.

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 18:56:49 -0400
From: Express Access Business Office ce@access.digex.net>
To: xxxx@access.digex.net, sysadmin@access.digex.net
Subject: Welcome to Express Access!

Welcome to Express Access Online Communications Service, 
We are happy to have you as a customer.  If at any
time you have any questions about our service, please
feel free to call us at our offices and we will do
our best to help.
We hope that you enjoy using our service, and if there is   
anything that we can do to make things better for you,
please let us know.  Welcome to the machine.

Welcome to the machine, indeed.

As of today, I’ve been on the Internet 17 years, 2 months, and 26 days (but who’s counting).  The Web was just getting started, but we didn’t have the Mosaic client loaded on our “stand-alone” machine (maybe we couldn’t even get it through the dial-up service we were on at the time). It was command-line all the way at the time:  telnet, gopher, newsgroups, Listservs, and Pine email.  I learned more UNIX commands those early years than I ever thought I would.

An event that stands out was ordering a book online soon after I got my account.  I telnetted to “books.com” and looked at their offerings (as I recall, it was a file list that I saw).  I ordered, gave credit card information, and, voila! the book arrived in about 2 days!  Amazing! (I just now went to books.com & it resolved to barnesandnoble.com.  I wonder if books.com was really B&N way back then.)

Compendia of information about the Internet were showing up all the time back then.  Two that come to mind (and that I could locate online) are Brendan Kehoe’s “Zen and the Art of the Internet” (1992) and the original version of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Big Dummy’s Guide to the Internet” (1993).  You may remember additional ones.  If so, please mention them in the comments.

I can remember being enamored by the depth of information on gopher servers.  It was incredible how many layers of information could be found.  But this was nothing compared to what was (and is) available on the World Wide Web.  (While writing this blog, I discovered an interesting “History of the World Wide Web” from CERN.)

It was freewheeling in those days, and most any question you might have could be answered in one of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s RFC’s.  Anything you wanted to know about the Internet could be found there, sometimes in excruciating detail.  I’m in awe of the volunteers who served on the IETF and all the others that worked to get Internet standards formulated.  Where would we be without them?

It’s been a great 17 years, 2 months, and 26 days.  If you have memories of the early years of the Internet, please leave them in the Comments section.

Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1993 18:56:49 -0400
From: Express Access Business Office <office@access.digex.net>
To: xxxx@access.digex.net, sysadmin@access.digex.net
Subject: Welcome to Express Access!
        Welcome to Express Access Online Communications Service

   We are happy to have you as a customer.  If at any time you have
   any questions about our service, please feel free to call us at
   our offices and we will do our best to help.


      We hope that you enjoy using our service, and if there is
   anything that we can do to make things better for you, please
   let us know.   Welcome to the machine.

Can You Spell ASCII?

Welcome to another trip back in time.  This time we’ll look at … ASCII art.

The piece of ASCII art shown above was included in an email I received circa 1998.  Those of “a certain age” may remember when ASCII art showed up in email signatures, at the bottom of Usenet articles, and in forum posts.  Back then, most communication tools, computer displays, and printers used fixed-width fonts.  Pictures couldn’t be represented in emails or on Usenet.  So creativity prevailed:  Users used their keyboards and typewriters to create pictures.

The train shown above is relatively simple ASCII art when compared to other ASCII creations out there (examples here, here, and here). Even emoticons can be thought of as ASCII art, albeit at its most basic.

The rise of ASCII art can be traced to the 1970’s and early 1980’s with the growth of bulletin boards and later with Internet email and Usenet newsgroups.  ASCII art requires a fixed-width font (such as Courier).  In the 1990’s ASCII art began to wane when email clients and monitors were able to display variable-width fonts (such as Arial).

I once tried to design an ASCII banner/ribbon that I used in a “sig file” in my early email.  The idea was that my contact information would be ‘on” the ribbon.  I got hopelessly cross-eyed while working on it, so I gave up and “lifted” one from one of the many sig files out there.

I kind of miss the ASCII art.  Now nearly all of the email I get has been created on a “rich-text” editor, with a variable-width font.  Even though I have my email setting to Plain Text, nary an occurrence of ASCII art slips through.  Now, if someone wants to include a picture in their sig file, well, they just add a picture.  Gone (for the most part) are the days of wonderful, clever, and yes, artistic creations using just the keys on your keyboard.

Webrings. The Olde-Tyme SEO?

Again, I clicked an old bookmark I had squirreled away, and discovered something I didn’t expect.  I found a node in a webring.   I can’t remember the last time I was at a webring node.  I remember thinking at the time “Web rings. What an oddly tentative way of organizing Web information.”  I also remember asking “Why would someone create a webring?”

We like to create order out of chaos, and the World Wide Web can be considered organized chaos.  But, it may not be organized the way I like it or expect it to be.  Hence the webring concept, I guess.

But it seems to me that a webring needs lots of maintenance to identify potential nodes and add the node to the ring. There is webring software to do that; but it begs the question “Why have webrings?”

According to the Wikipedia article on webrings, “when used to improve search engine rankings, webrings can be considered a search engine optimization technique.”  There are lots of advantages and disadvantages associated with webrings.

I’d be interested in knowing if my readers are members of (or visit) other webrings.

(Oh, the webring I stumbled upon? The Beer Ring, which was included in Henry’s Beer Links. Don’t ask.)

Beer Ring

Travelogue of the Old Web – Part I

Yeah, well, I already ‘fessed up (here) to being a digital pack rat, so the focus of this post shouldn’t be too odd.

While sorting through my hard drive files today, I came across “oldbookmarklist-1.htm,”  an old bookmark file from an old computer I had.  I don’t have a date for it; but by the looks of things, it’s vintage 2002 or so; but it includes bookmarks that were captured in the ‘90’s.

I was clicking through some of the bookmarks and found that (in some cases) the site no longer exists or has been transformed into something completely different.  But in many cases the bookmarks were still valid and lead to sites that appear to be frozen in time. They don’t appear to have been updated, and provide a glimpse into what the Web was like back then.  (Yeah, you could go to the Wayback Machine, but my prose is way better than theirs.)

In these “travelogue” entries, I’ll take you down the path of discovery that sheds some light on the earlier days of the World Wide Web.  My old bookmark file has scores of URLs; and there are probably countless opportunities to examine “the old Web.”

First up: All Things Web (ATW).

  • The landing page indicates that it is vintage 1999. The “What’s News” link is labeled “as of May 28, 1999.”
  • It links to ATW’s Third “State of the Web” survey, which was done in May 1999. Main findings? Link rot is pervasive and pages are too big.
  • Frames, frames, & more frames.  Remember when the debate raged about whether or not to use Frames in Web sites?  ATW examines it here and here.  Is anyone else happy to see that Frames seem to have disappeared?
  • They have an entire section (“The Need for Speed”) devoted to discussing way to decrease “the actual and apparent load time of Web pages.” It is interesting to note that the AWS survey cited above reads:  “Pundits in the trade press have decreed 1999 to be the Year of Bountiful Bandwidth. (Of course, that’s also what they said about 1998!) The upward “creep” in page size suggests that some myopic Web designers may have actually begun to believe such drivel.” Thank goodness for broadband, eh?
  • The Web was fairly new back then, and Web authoring was new as well.  I recall many, many sites in the late 90’s and early 2000’s devoted to Web site construction.  AWS plays its part as well with a “Design Fundamentals” section.
  • But, some things never change.  The ATW authors note: “Don’t use reports of your browser’s popularity as an excuse for invalid, exclusionary, non-HTML markup tags.
  • Usability is key.  Although this is (almost) the last bullet here, “The Usable Web” is the first section on the ATW Web site.  User-centered design was – and IS – key.  My philosophy always has been that without users, why bother even having a site; so you should design it with users in mind.
  • Last but not least, there are the “ATW Perspectives, Essays on the WWW.” There are some interesting discussions of this “new” way of presenting information (the Web). Well worth a glance.

So, there you have it:  a look at a Twentieth-Century Web page.  It’s a very basic design (thankfully, no Frames!).  And notice how all the top-level links are visible on the Home Page, with no need for scrolling? Nice touch.

And, finally, using a technique I learned years ago (1997?), I “shaved” the All Things Web URL back to its root (www.panthos.com).  Well. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a page that read “Down for maintenance.”  Wonder how long it’s been down?

I’m not sure where my old-bookmark URL travels will take me next.  I hope you enjoy reading these travelogues and will come along for the ride.