Compuserve CD circa 2000 Front & Bank

Do You Remember the First Time You Saw the Web?

<tl;dr> Where were you the first time? What did you think? Did you have an inkling of what would happen?

I was cleaning out the loft recently and came across this CD promising 200 hours of rfree Internet.

It got me thinking about my first time. My first time on the Web.

You’ll need to be of a certain vintage to even realise there was a time before the Web. It’s now so embedded into everyday life, probably pre-2005. I very comfortably fit in that category.

Yes, kids, there was a time when phones were dumb, maps were made of paper, music was carried in plastic, wi-fi was pure sci-fi, logging on meant dialing-up,  paying for every minute and pictures loaded line by line and Bluetooth meant an emergency dentist visit.

My first time was in a tiny, former storage cupboard turned office at Imperial College Union.

This theme would continue in my next office, in a converted toilet, but that’s another story.

A man in plastic shoes emerged from under the desk, holding the end of a network cable he’d nailed to the wall.

And that my friends, was the Internet, closely followed by the web once I managed to find NCSA Mosaic, one of the first web browsers written by this clever chap called Marc Andreessen.- wonder what happened to him? (See @pmarca)

The world wide web might have been new, but it certainly wasn’t shiny.

It was white and black and grey with blue links. And pictures. It wasn’t long since the first ever website hoved into view.

Early Website Collage

Tables? Yes, I think those were the latest innovation. And then came the <blink> tag, something that could easily be taken way too far.

Eventually, provided you had a lot of patience,  you’d be able to download music and video but iTunes and Netflix were something out of science fiction books.

There’d been some false starts along the way.

The £800 phone bill connecting to early bulletin board systems and Prestel for starters.

Downloading files via email – you’d get sent a file in bits, then would copy /paste it back together – I’m not making this up, that’s how we role in 1989.

That week of my final year degree project trying to choose a scroll bar to move text down a page.

Ah yes, early days indeed. Now I’m writing this on a touch screen phone during on the tube.

What struck me back then  was how the Web glued everything together. The hyperlink wasn’t just a technical thing, it embodied a metaphor for what this thing would become.

What made this different from other early online communities like AOL and Compuserve – there’s some names for the kids – was the openness, and it was the key to the early success. Something we’d do well to remember as Facebook et al close off large chunks of the online world.

It might not have looked significant, but it certainly felt that way. I didn’t have a clue of how dramatic that change would become. Did you?

Where were you when you first discovered the web? What are your early memories? What did you think?

The post is part of my 2016 New Year’s resolution, day #3 as you’re asking, to try writing a post every day for 30 working days. Here’s the post that kicked things off and here’s the full list. It gets easier, right? You’ll also find more of this and other stuff @toodlepip and on Facebook.

Pic (cc) Compuserve CD by Sam Michel. Reference for early websites: theChive.


Inquisitive. Hopeful. Jovial. Cantankerous. Digital marketer. Event organiser. Long-time fan of tech, collaboration and innovation. Exploring digital, social, business, technology, society, psychology & startups. Founder Chinwag, Digital Mission, Pitch NYC, ChinwagPsych. Former Exec Dir, Social Media Week London. More short stuff @toodlepip on Twitter.

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