Dillon and I were talking this morning about people who write checks and keep a running balance in the back of their checkbooks. I got thinking back and figured out I probably stopped keeping a paper check register in 1987 and stopped keeping an electronic one in the early 90’s. Nowadays, my bank keeps track of that for me and I can access it from my phone.
That led to the question, “When did the world wide of web begin?” And that question took me back…
I think my first experiences with any kind of online computing was during the BBS days of the 1980’s. I was a member of the “Hawkeye BBS” run by Ben Blackstock, a local attorney. For $15/year you could dial into Ben’s PC and access the various discussion lists and files that were kept there.
In about 1987 I started paying bills online with CheckFree. There was no Web and no dial-up access to the internet for most people at that time. Your computer called CheckFree directly and send payment requests. CheckFree wrote a physical check against your account and mailed it to the vendor for you. Or they would do an EFT transaction and write the check against their own account.
After I started working at Parsons Technology in 1988, Bob Parsons had me start using Quicken as a way to keep an eye on the competition. Quicken integrated with CheckFree, and MoneyCounts did too, eventually. Eventually Quicken had their own bill payment option and I think I used that for a while.
About that same time, I signed up for CompuServe. CompuServe was another dial-up service that was not unlike the BBS systems from ten years before. It was text-based — you got a menu of a dozen choices of things to do, entered a number to select an item, then you got another menu. All of this in the form of scrolling text — no graphics.
Parsons started doing tech support on CompuServe long before other companies, and we did beta testing there as well using a private forum. CompuServe had its own email service. When they eventually hooked up with the internet, my CompuServe email address may have been my first. As I recall it was email@example.com. Easy to remember.
Sometime in the early 90’s a friend of mine at church started going on and on about the cool things he was doing on the internet. He gave me a phone number to call and told me what to ask for to get a “PTP” account that would let me dial in and have access to the internet. I don’t recall if I was using a Web browser at that point or if it was all just FTP, USENET, Archie, Gopher, and other early protocols. I downloaded instructions to build a nuclear bomb, of course.
In about that same time period, America Online (AOL) came along. For you youngsters, AOL was like the Web in a box. You dialed into AOL and they served up graphical pages not unlike the Web. No Web addresses, though. Instead it was AOL “screen names” and “keywords”. So I was CRAIGR (screen name) and Parsons Technology was PARSONS (keyword). Even today you’ll sometimes see companies say to “enter the internet keyword ‘company name'” to find them on the Web. They’re still living in the AOL of the 1990’s.
Around 1994 or so, Microsoft started MSN, which was their answer to AOL and CompuServe. But the writing was on the wall and the World Wide Web was destined to be the online destination. Both AOL and CompuServe offered connections to the Web, and MSN kind of disappeared and Internet Explorer came along. It shipped with Windows 95. I tend to date most people’s awareness of the internet and the Web to Windows 95, which shipped in August 1995.
In the summer of 1996 I registered craigr.com and signed up with a company called SimpleNet for Web hosting. I created www.craigr.com. You can see a very early version of that site from December 1996 here. SimpleNet was eventually purchased by Yahoo, but not before I had a chance to visit them while on a business trip to California. The entire company was in a 3-bedroom condo with CAT5 cable running from room to room. It was pretty cool. They gave me a coffee mug and said I was the only customer who had ever visited them.