Fun Places on the Internet (in 1995)

What were you doing on the web back in the age of Netscape and Gopher?

The Smithsonian homepage in 1995
The Smithsonian homepage in 1995 Smithsonian

“Who hasn’t heard about the Internet? It’s mentioned on television, in the magazines, and on the radio. Everyone’s talking about it, and everyone wants to get connected to it.” So began the 1995 book, simply titled The Internet by Kerry Cochrane.

Do you remember your first time on the Internet? Mine was pretty typical for a kid in suburban America. It was 1995 and my parents had signed up for a free America Online trial using one of the millions of CD-ROMs that seemed to arrive at our house daily. My dad bought an external 14.4k modem for our Mac Performa and I remember tying up the phone line while talking in random chatrooms and looking up cheat codes for Dark Forces. The Internet was a precious commodity to me then — a metered experience that I had to track diligently so as not to waste a single minute. That is, until AOL offered flat-rate unlimited monthly billing in 1996.

Today the Internet has become a normal and essential part of our lives that we all seem to take for granted. Since high school I’ve probably used the internet every single day with very few exceptions. Today I get irrationally angry when a website doesn’t load within seconds. For a generation that has vague memories of life before the Internet, we now poke fun at just how oddly futuristic our behavior would’ve seemed just a couple of decades earlier.

But this future of online shopping and instant access to much of the world’s knowledge was not a given in 1995. As Kerry Cochrane explained in the introduction to her short book, everyone was talking about it. But there were plenty of skeptics. Clifford Stoll wrote an article for Newsweek in the February 27, 1995, issue expressing skepticism about this new-fangled contraption:

We’re promised instant catalog shopping — just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet — which there isn’t — the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

But despite the skepticism — which was completely warranted when you think about what the Internet looked like in 1995 — there were people like Cochrane who were explaining to kids like myself what kind of worlds the internet had to offer.

The first three chapters of Cochrane’s book The Internet is devoted to explaining the basics of things like email and how to find your way around the internet using Archie, Gopher, Veronica and the World Wide Web. But the last chapter is where things really get interesting. Titled, “Fun Places on the Internet,” the fourth and final chapter is like a bizarre time capsule of the Internet’s baby pictures. Because even though the Internet’s “birth” can be traced to the first host-to-host connection at UCLA in 1969, the mid-1990s was really when the Internet went mainstream.

Some of the “Fun Places” shown in the book were expected, like an early e-card site and the Smithsonian home page, while others were a bit strange, like a random elementary school in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. Do you remember your first time online? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. And yes, I realize many of you have been online long before I was even born so consider this a golden opportunity to be snarky about that fact.

And be sure to check out K. Annabelle Smith’s “Evolution of the Homepage” from this past June.

Fun Places on the Internet (in 1995)
Hillside Elementary School’s home page displayed in Mosaic for Windows (1995) Smithsonian
Fun Places on the Internet (in 1995)
Build-A-Card site displayed on America Online’s browser for Windows (1995) Smithsonian
Fun Places on the Internet (in 1995)
The KidsCom home page displayed in Netscape for Windows (1995) Smithsonian
Fun Places on the Internet (in 1995)
A “virtual exhibit” on the Dead Sea Scrolls from UNC Netscape for Mac