Thirteen years on the Internet

Over the years I have archived most of my incoming and outgoing e-mail folders. They serve as a great resource to check out what you were doing 5 or 10 years ago in the exact same day, analyzing what developments there have been over that time. Unfortunately in my case they only start from 1995-1996, so the first years are not “documented”.

My first e-mail address was created already at the end of 1992, which was an e-mail only account at a thick Ethernet connected Novell Netware network at Tallinn Technical University. We used DOS Pegasus Mail as the mail client. FTP access followed soon after, and for years that was our most used application besides e-mail.

As 18-year old students our main interests were downloading various free software, demos (as in demo scene) and MOD digital music files for MOD sequencers (mostly 4-track ScreamTracker files, played back on parallel port connected Covox D/A converters, not sound cards).

Google Groups archives show my first posts to the USENET from June 3rd, 1993. A bit before that I also subscribed to some mailing lists (mostly about raves, dance music and libertarianism).

I believe we got web access at the beginning of 1993, but we might have had it already in 1992, just that most machines were DOS-based PC’s and had no web browsers. First web experiences I remember were NCSA Mosaic browser’s own webpages, Adam Curry’s and O’Reilly’s GNN. We also had O’Reilly’s book “The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog“, by Ed Krol to help us understand what is available on the Internet. Tim O’Reilly just blogged more about his experiences from that time, about GNN, the book and start of Internet advertising.

We started the first commercial website in Estonia, Via Baltica News, in August 1994. It was the website of a print magazine with the same name, which was an English-language guide to the Baltic countries. There were a total of 20 or so non-commercial websites in Estonia at that time, mostly at universities and various research institutes. The idea to start something commercial came from some American working for a short while at the company, who had had some exposure to the web back in US some months earlier. I was hired as the webmaster, as I had some very basic HTML and webserver administration experience from the university. My tasks ranged from technical to design and content management.

We had a 64 kbps leased line coming to the office, costing almost 600-800 USD per month, or it could have been even an asynchronous 19,2 kbps line at that time. The first idea was to run the webserver from one Windows for Workgroups desktop machine running NCSA httpd software, but I managed to quickly move that idea first to Slackware Linux on the same 486sx/25 PC and then to buy a Sun Sparc Classic for around 10,000 USD. The Classic did its job great for years to come at different Estonian websites.

The site was basically a collection of articles as well as Baltic News Service daily news. We created a section for company profiles, each featuring one page company description with a company logo, and got 10-20 companies to sign up either for free or for a small ad fee. Anyway we did not do too well, as nobody understood what we were selling or what the Internet was. The main thing why Via Baltica News was closed down 1-2 years later luckily had nothing to do with the Internet, just that the print magazine went bankrupt. Even before that, in April 1995, I had left the company with a partner to start up Stallion, my own web design & development and Internet marketing company, again one of the first in Estonia. During 1995 we introduced many now known Estonian companies to the Internet and web, but being a bit too early on the market (or the market not being there), we were not too successful from the business side of it.

So what has changed over the 10-13 years on the Internet?

Promoting you website was not easy then and is not easy now. The relative number of people coming to average small company’s site is still the same. The reasons have changed: then there were not so many users on the Internet, now there are too many sites that it is hard to stand out. Top sites or leading companies in any area might be an exception, it promotes itself via word of mouth and your brand. If you are not the owner of one of those sites, to get results you have to spend time, money and resources on creating and managing good content, offering value to the visitors and promoting what you do. Miss any of these, and you are wasting your money. Only a mix of efforts gives good results.

Blogging and social networks are quite similar, just more advanced, to what USENET, newsgroups and mailing lists were in 1992-1993. Many people still read and write to newsgroups, but it is a dying breed, which I feel a pity about. But as blogging develops, there will be many USENET-like features, like grouping together blogs or blog posts of similar interest, so that you will not miss any of them. Missing out on something important is one thing many blog-readers often mention.

It would be interesting to know from those using the Internet for over 10 years, how did you get started and what are the earliest memories?