Saturday, January 24, 2009

One Billion Served and Counting

I have been online longer than most people. I feel confident in making that sweeping statement because, to most people, being online means being hooked to the Internet. I was online almost a decade before the Internet started to become a serious contender in online communication and file sharing.

And I wanted to be online even before that. Back in the days when The Source and CompuServe were the only major players, I bought a series of cheap, hobbyist computers that I felt would get me to my dreamt about cyberspace. But, alas, in the days when even a tiny computer with 1 kilobyte of RAM and a membrane keyboard was barely affordable, I discovered that you needed more than just a computer to get online; you also needed a modem.

I saved my pennies and finally bought a modem for my Texas Instruments computer. Now I could get online, or so I thought. As it turned out, I also needed something called a terminal emulator. The software cost as much as the modem.

All this took place back in the early 1980s. I owned several computers back in those days, none of which had any actual functionality. Some could play a game or two, and I could hone my BASIC programming skills, but as far as productivity, forget it.

But sometime around 1984, I found a deal on a Tandy computer from Radio Shack. It cost less that $500, which was a hundred dollars cheaper than my first computer, the TRS-80. And it used these new-fangled 3.5-inch floppy discs. The computer came with 284 kilobytes of RAM, which I quickly upgraded to the maximum 640k. And, even though it set me back another 50 bucks or so, I went to Radio Shack and purchased my first real modem. It was a 300 kbps model.

With the software that came with my new PC called Deskmate, which included a trial subscription to the online service, PC-Link, I could now, perhaps, get online. So I plugged the modem into the computer slot, booted it up, and ran the PC-Link software. I actually didn’t expect it to work, but it did. In a few seconds, I was actually connected to a server, somewhere in the U.S. for the purpose of doing things like chatting live, sending e-mail, and looking up stuff on the online encyclopedia. I was thrilled.

It didn’t take me long to discover other magical services I could access with my modem. I could connect to computer bulletin board services, called BBS’s. They had forums and files to download. I also bought some software that would allow me to download the latest weather radar image from my area, or anywhere else in the country. They were low-resolution images and were updated no more often than once every 30 minutes, but it was pretty cool stuff back then.

Then, sometime around 1988, I discovered CheckFree. It was a service I could use to pay all my bills online. I was hooked. I haven’t written a check for a bill since then, although my online banking is now Internet based.

Throughout the early 1990s, I explored other online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy, and GEnie. They were mostly text-based, except for prodigy. But it was limited in what it offered.

I was introduced to the actual Information Superhighway as they called it back around 1995. My access back in those days was text based. A friend of mine who was superintendent of my local school district was a big Internet fan, an early adopter. He was always excited to explain to me about how the Internet worked and what you could do on it. He explained things like Gophers, Archie Searches, and Telnet. But it took until I installed my first Web browser, Netscape, that I understood what the Internet was truly capable of.

Over the next couple of years, I noticed businesses were all starting to include Web addresses in their TV commercials. The Internet was becoming a place where you could find information about anything, not just porn.

This morning, I read where monthly Internet usage surpassed one billion users for the first time. That was for the month of December. I was pleased that half a million of those users visited my site, It’s no juggernaut, but since I came online in 1997, my site has served up 12.5 million visitors. I was thrilled to get 100 visitors per day back in the early days.

I, and many others, now use the Internet daily to perform tasks we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing online 15 years ago. I order pizza, buy Christmas presents, do all my banking and bill paying, buy postage and print shipping labels, check up-to-the-minute high-resolution weather radar, get travel directions, find maps to almost anywhere, look at my neighborhood from space, take a virtual driving tour of a city, and monitor my home from anywhere I am.

With all the Internet can do, it’s not surprising that there were a billion visitors last month; what’s surprising is that there were only a billion.


Celestite said...

I started with a Tandy and PC link. Then moved into CompuServe but I never got Prodigy...didn't that morph into AOL?
Those first bulletin boards, text only, were great fun. One that I joined in 95/96 is now the biggest site of its kind in the world.
Amazing changes in a relatively short time.

Unknown said...

Jerry, this smade me laugh - I remember my first "portable" computer, given to me to do my work with what was then MCI Telecommunications. It was a 50 pound Compaq computer with a 6" screen in black and green -DOS based. I lugged that thing around for a couple of years, but it was better than using the Memorex CRTs we had at the office. Thanks for the giggle. By the way, I just found a site called EBill - there's a cool video that talks about the societal changes that have occurred with technology, and about online bill pay - you might be interested in it. Greetings from one of the one billion.....