In 1896, one of the first Lumière brothers films, “L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat”, was shown to audiences. The minute-long one-shot showed footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat station, and was shot at an angle which made it appear as if the train was about to smash into the left-front side of the theatre. Reports of early screenings suggest that many members of the audience, what with the entire concept of seeing moving pictures of previously recorded events being previously unimaginable, screamed in panic and ran to the back of the room, fearing that the somehow silent and monochrome train would smush their 19th century selves into person pâté.
Whip-pan to 98 years on, and The Web was the Next Big Thing. While not too many people actually had home access to it themselves, it seemed everyone at least knew of it (“The girls of the internet… rowr, I’d like to go on-line with them!” – H. Simpson). Indeed, many of them might have paid good money to spend an hour at an Internet Cafe much like the one we visited in Wrexham around that time, where they could have spent upwards of ten minutes waiting for a heavily compressed GIF of a cartoon steam train to load. What with the entire concept of being ‘jacked in’ to the InfoMotorway having been unimaginable to the undeveloped 1994 brains of these early adopters, many assumed the postage stamp-sized graphic was somehow real, meaning many screamed in panic and ran to the back of the room, and were subsequently banned from the cafe meaning they had to go to the one in Chester instead. It was an exciting time
Join us now as we take a look at issue one of .net magazine, the first (we think) publication dedicated to all things on-line to hit Britain’s newsagents, from December 1994, back when it was still quicker to read things from a magazine than on the web, and the word ‘online’ still had a hyphen in it. At this point, the internet was how popular?
16.5 million people. That’s not in the UK. That’s worldwide. Jeepers, eh?
WHAT THE EVERYONE LIKED TO THINK THE INTERNET WAS LIKE IN 1994:
WHAT THE INTERNET WAS ACTUALLY LIKE IN 1994:
In short, it was much more basic. Ceefax with photos. It was a hell of a lot smaller too, as the infobox on page 19 of the magazine suggests:
Back in the coal-powered internet era, it wasn’t all about the web. Almost as big around that time was Usenet, which in those days was primarily used for fake nude photos of Kathy Ireland. And yet, just look at those stats – over 180,000 Usenet groups (or ‘sites’, as the infobox has it), and yet a total of just 172MB per day is contained in them, or if you prefer, less than 1.5 TV rips of a 30 Rock episode. Even more surprising, every single piece of information contained on Usenet in the world took up around 61 terabytes, meaning that the entirety of Usenet could be comfortably contained on the hard drives of the computers on display in your local PC World. Gosh, eh? Post a photo of our shocked and surprised faces onto alt.binaries.pictures.idiots.
Despite it being slower and less graphically enticing than an MS Paint sketch of a tortoise, being an internet pioneer in 1994 (even though the internet had already existed for 25 years by that point, just before anyone leaves a comment) was a pretty expensive hobby. This proved to be especially true if you were a newbie, meaning you were more than likely to be suckered into shelling out £80 for a CD-ROM telling you a load of stuff you could just as easily find out from a £14.99 book. But hey, it was a CD-ROM! They used to be the future! As opposed to now, when they’re the kind of thing going unsold in a bargain bin at the back of a charity shop.
“MORE MODEMS, VICAR?” DOES NOT EVEN WORK AS A PUN. The essentials were hardly cheap, either. To get online, you’d need a modem. Said modem would set you back at the very least £100, and that for a pretty crappy 14.4kbps internal one. If you wanted to truly dive headlong into a brave new digital reality (/look at pictures of women in their pants a bit more quickly), you’d need a 28.8 “High Speed” model, preferably external so you could turn it off when you’re not using it, for which you’d be looking at an outlay of more than £200. But hey, download speeds of up to 4.8k per second? Bargtastic.
It doesn’t end there, of course. Got your computer, got your modem, now you need an ISP. The first advert for an ISP in ish one of .net is for Delphi Internet, which offers FULL INTERNET ACCESS, NOT JUST EMAIL! A MENU-DRIVEN INTERFACE! THOUSANDS OF DOWNLOADABLES! And, erm, “Special Interest Groups”. And only for a tenner per month! Yay!
Except, it’s not quite that simple. That £10 per month includes just FOUR HOURS of internet access for ‘free’ – after that, it’s a pretty hefty £4 per hour. And what with the minimum wage yet to be introduced at that point, you could just have employed someone to pretend to be the internet for less than that. Plus, on top of that, you still had to pay for phone calls to London for every moment you’re online, AND the prices don’t include VAT. In summary: yikes.
But hey, once you’ve done all that (oh, and bought a web browser to use, because they actually cost money in those days), you could take a look at the brave new binary world of wonder.
Like the BBC Radio 1 website. That’s it. In full. On the BBC website, which back then was at the snappily memorable URL http://www.bbcnc.org.uk/bbctv/.
Indeed, if you wanted to look at pretty much anything on the early ‘Web, you’d better have a good memory for complicated strings of text, not least because search engines hadn’t been invented yet. Admittedly, a large portion of the readership for this magazine would have grown up typing in pages and pages of BASIC from computer mags in the early 1980s, just to get to an unimpressive Battleships clone, so y’know.
And of course, when you get there, expect to spend FOREVER downloading each picture to see what it is. Oh, another rendered picture of some shapes. That was worth the five minute wait.
One thing that is interesting, how even the well-known websites that were doing the rounds back then were completely different. Boing Boing used to live at:
While IMDB used to be known as ‘Cardiff Movie Browser’ (yep, really), and resided at:
(Oh, shut up. It’s interesting if you’re us.)
Anyway, if you’d like to see more of What The Internet Was Like In 1994, and you’re incapable of travelling back in time while carrying at least £500 in 1994-money, we’ve scanned the entirety of .net magazine issue one and plonked it on Flickr. Go look, and try not to be too disappointed that the scans aren’t at a higher resolution (we haven’t got a Flickr Pro account, sorry).
And to close, in lieu of this update being anywhere near as good as we’d thought it was going to be, here’s a picture of Sarah Greene’s Guide To The USRobotics Sportster External Modem. Heck, yeah.