Meet the Internet
A little less than a decade ago, I reached for my latest issue of TIME magazine to catch up on world events. The cover story was on something called the "Internet." Being a forward-thinking kind of guy, this new form of communications interested me. According to the cover story, the Internet, once the domain of scientists, researchers, and the military, was given the go-ahead by our government to be opened to businesses and the general public. The story went on to list some of the few places in the country that an individual could board the "Information Highway." One such place was called "The Well." They'd been around for many years as a computer bulletin board that acted as a community gabfest for all types of people on all kinds of subjects. It was sort of a precursor for what Usenet is today. So I decided to head for this public onramp and experience this newfangled and wonderful communications and information medium call the "Net."
I soon ran into two problems.
First, since The Well was in the Bay Area, they didn't have a local-access telephone number that I could use in Phoenix. So in order to enter the Information Highway, I had to make a long-distance call to jack in. Second, at that time, to take command of the Internet was to know UNIX commands. Now, UNIX is not the most intuitive of computer operating systemsto say the least. Especially for someone who's not computer-language literate. In the words of one contemporary wag, "UNIX came out of Berkeley. So did LSD. This is not a coincidence."
After a few short months of this fiscal and mental torture, I dropped my subscription.
From the Net to the Web
But, as luck would have it, a young research student at NCSAthe National Center for Supercomputing Applicationscreated a thing called a web browser. He named it Mosaic, and it made the World Wide Web easy for everyone to usenot just UNIX gurus. Armed with Mosaic and finding a local ISP a few months later, I started to cruise the web in earnest.
I learned the intricacies of the web browser, the mysteries of Veronica, Archie, and Gopherand the power of an email program called Eudora. I would find that email in particular would help me learn more about the business of the Net than I could ever learn from reading the books I collected.
How? By joining the nascent email discussion groups. Every day I would literally get a seminar in my email inbox. My instructors were some of the most creative and forward-thinking managers and executives from many of the largest companies in the world. They were exchanging ideas, asking questions, and speculating on how to use this new medium for commerce. Though I seldom added my two cents, by just lurking I received an education that I couldn't have received anywhere else at the time.