Practical Technology

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Before the Web: the Internet in 1991

I’ve been using the Internet since the late 1970s. So I already knew it well in 1991, when ZDNet was getting its start on CompuServe and it looked nothing like the Internet you know, love, and use every day.

Many of you know that the Web will turn 20 this year. I certainly do since, back in the day, I was the first person to write about this new thing called the WEB that would change everything about the Internet.

Of course, I had no clue about how much it would change everything. Indeed, I thought at the time that Wide Area Information Server (WAIS), one of the first public Internet search services would be more important than the Web itself. Looking back, I see I was already thinking about how important search would be to the Internet. I may have been more on to something. Today, we talk about “Googling” for everything from the latest news from Libya to our date tonight.

The pre-Web Internet was an almost entirely text-based world. There were ASCII-based end-user programs such as gopher, which let you use a menu to search through organized collections of files. You might think of this as a predecessor to Yahoo!, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

Much more typical though were command line driven programs such as Archie, which we used to try to find particular files. If this makes the pre-Web sound like a place that was only welcoming to techies in those days, you’re right, it was.

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