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Cyberculture Pt1: The Rapid Rise of the Internet...

Fri, 19 May 2017

Cyberculture Pt1: The Rapid Rise of the Internet...

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a researcher at Loughborough University specialising in "co-operative computing". It was interesting work and allowed me to develop expertise in use of "IP networks" well before they became available to the general public in the UK.

Initially, in 1989, my internet (lowercase 'i') was limited to accessing computers on the University campus. It was useful for "Talk", email, file transfer and X Windows, but was not much like the service we have today. It was possible to connect to the global Internet (uppercase 'I'), but this was done via a single 9.6kbps gateway that connected the UK academic network to the US. So, if I wanted to get a document from the 'Net I would first have to search through the index of "anonymous FTP" services for its location, then request the file from the server, the request would be queued, then downloaded from the US to a computer in London, where I would use the UK's X.25 network to transfer it to my own computer.

Then, in 1991, the UK's academic network moved over to using IP (first as well as, then instead of, X.25) and all of the things I had been doing locally could be done globally. The transatlantic link got a boost too and the result was amazing - I could download a document from the US with a single click! IP (which if you don't know stands for "Internet Protocol") glued everything together so seamlessly that the same technology you used to share files, or send messages, between two computers in the research lab could be used to do the same between two computers anywhere in the world. It was also very flexible, and new IP-based services arrived almost weekly and I would experiment with them all - anonymous FTP, Usenet, Gopher, WAIS, CUSeeMe, and so on.

Everything was still something of a well-kept secret though - in fact I remember being mocked by friends for having a "nerdy" email address on my business card. Most Internet users were academics, or people from computer companies or multinationals, and home Internet access was rare. I was able to dial-in to the University from my Mac SE at home, but most people didn't think they were missing anything. This was all about to change with the arrival of two things.

The first in 1992 was tenner-a-month home Internet access using dial-up from Demon Internet. This made home Internet use a reality, and kept it affordable. The second was the release of NCSA Moasic in early 1993. This gave the Internet a simple user interface via the World Wide Web. Plus, Demon gave you some "web space" to host your own documents.

The bits were in place and the Internet was ready to go.


Author: Sean Clark