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20 Year Internet Anniversary

by Randall Craig on May 23, 2014

Filed in: Blog, Content, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media, Strategy, Web

Tagged as: , , , ,

What were you doing on the Internet 20 years ago, circa 1993/1994?  At that time, there were only between 200 and 2000 websites, depending on how you counted.   Most people had no idea what the web was all about, and email was still a big leap for many organizations.

20 years ago was when I put two major websites online: KPMG, and the Toronto Star.  While I don’t currently have any connections to either organization (other than fond memories and a deep appreciation), they did serve as a model for many of the so-called innovations of today.  Here are two:

Content Marketing.  While the few other professional service firms were putting up brochures, we implemented the KPMG Tax Tip of the Day.  This demonstrated expertise by example, while at the same time captured email addresses.  The site had articles, relevant-to-clients news, and a contact form.  It didn’t have a “guest book”.

Insight:  It wasn’t just about the web – it was about building process.  A tax professional to write the tips in advance,  another to review and approve, a programmer to write the script to auto-post, auto-archive (and auto-email) the tip itself, a marketing person to promote the tip offline, and another person (there weren’t webmasters on day one) to add it to the site and test it.  The tools today may be different, but content and process are still key parts of any serious web effort.

Community Building.  A daily newspaper is not just a compilation of stories but a facilitator of intimate relationships on many levels.  Readers would “follow” (in the old sense) specific columnists.  Obituaries connected people to family and friends.  Letters to the editor were the ultimate social network, before there was a social network.  Even online classified ads were a way to connect to a marketplace of buyers in completely new geographies. Putting a daily newspaper online was all about developing an online community – a decade before Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter.

Insight: Since an online newspaper was something completely new at the time, developing it meant bringing the entire organization up-to-speed.  And it also meant educating advertisers and the readership.  No different than today: a web business is an entire ecosystem with many different connection points – it can’t be a tack-on.

This week’s action item: While you may not have a 20-year history on the web, everyone learns important lessons along the way. Think back to the first lesson that the web taught you – share it by email, or as a comment to this post.

Test yourself: Do you know what BBS, Usenet, IRC, Gopher, WAIS, Telnet, FTP, Mosaic, URL, JPEG, and GIF are all used for?  Can you decipher the acronyms?  Back then, the digital marketing canvas was vastly different.  Scroll to the bottom for the answers.

An historical parallel?  Compare the world of the web to the world of the automobile.  When cars were first introduced, becoming adept at engine repair was a necessity.   Today, everyone is a specialist:  mechanics are experts at repairing cars, Indy 500 drivers are experts at driving them.  For most others, a car is only a means of transportation: it must be safe, comfortable, a bit snazzy, and reasonably priced.  In the now-mature world of the web, there are specialists in strategy, user experience, branding, content, community-building, and a myriad of different technologies.  It’s no longer the wild west in web town.

Answers: And for the overly curious, here are the answers to the test. (With apologies for the simplifications.)

  • BBS:  Bulletin Board System.  These were private dial-up discussion forums, file archives; the first social network – even though they were not connected to the internet.
  • Usenet:  The first internet bulletin board, started in 1980, effectively replaced by web-based discussion forums.
  • IRC: Internet Relay Chat:  Think of this as the “first” chat software.
  • Gopher: A forerunner to the world wide web, a gopher site would contain a hierarchical menu of text links, eventually leading to a document. The browser and the web ultimately made this obsolete.
  • WAIS:  Wide Area Information Server:  An early search engine protocol, that allowed users to search across different WAIS servers. No longer functioning.
  • Telnet:  This is a protocol to connect to another computer using a command-line interface.  Still in use today, but most who need this use the secure SSH (“Secure Shell”) program instead.
  • FTP:  File Transfer Protocol.  Still available it is used to transfer files from one computer to another.  Today, almost all developers use a secure version (SFTP – Secure Shell FTP)  of it.
  • Mosaic:  The first browser: quickly replaced by Netscape.
  • URL:  Uniform Resource Locator:  How a resource – such as a file on a web server – is identified.
  • JPEG and GIF:  Joint Photographic Experts Group, and Graphics Interchange Format:  Both of these are standard file formats for graphics.

If there is a term that you do not know, please let me know: happy to help decipher!  – Randall

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Randall Craig

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About 

Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at randallcraig.com and 108ideaspace.com.

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