With every mistake we must surely be learning
I was having breakfast this morning with a new friend who happened to come of Internet age when I did with a similar set of experiences (he was one of the first 50 employees of Yahoo). As we started to wax nostalgic over the good old days, oh around 1995 or 1996, I felt like maybe we were dipping into sentimental garbage. But then I thought that, maybe some of the past is in fact prologue; or, even if not, there were pioneering services, that either implicitly or explicitly inform everything we do. We don’t talk about them enough, we don’t salute them, we may mock their simplicity or wacked user experience. But they gave us the muscle memory to build upon, to strive to create better things. They were for some of us our training wheels. So here’s to the crazy ones, some of the originals:
Bulletin board services – I first dialed into the SonicNet BBS from my apartment on T Street in Washington DC sometime around 1994 or 1995. The modem was at best 9.6 kbit/s. A green text on black background interface, impenetrable, but mindblowing to connect to . . . people . . where are they . . chatting, talking, messaging. It felt almost dirty, yet taught us we could, indeed we would, connect to the world.
Usenet – oh beloved usenet, maybe the original real time social network, interest based, with norms, rules, again people. I lived for rec.music and alt.binaries. Never translated into a browser based UI, maybe it was never meant to be. This taught us sharing.
AIM – instant messaging in general but when we unbundled AIM from AOL in 1996, for maybe a year things were really beautiful. We learned instant, but also I would submit we learned how to spread memes.
Webrings – my favorite of all. How would we navigate this wide open possibilities of the web? Directory services – sure – but they felt top down. Ok, let’s just organize it ourselves. Let’s share traffic. Let’s do it ourselves.
Of course, this is just my list. But these were how I learned to ride a bike. I won’t forget that.