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The Wild, Wild West: Internet in the 1990s

A new Superbowl ad released this week by BMW was an amusing reminder of how far the Internet has come in the past 21 years. The ad features a 1994 clip of TV journalists Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel trying to explain what the Internet is – without much success. “What is Internet anyway?” Gumbel exclaims. “What do you write to it, like mail?” Couric was equally as clueless, asking someone off-camera for assistance: “Alison, can you explain what Internet is?” Although we may laugh at them now, their confusion was not unusual in the mid 1990s – the ‘wild west’ period of the Internet. This was a time where there were no major search engines on the Internet until 1996. To find a website, you actually had to know the site address. Crazy, huh? You could even buy special website directory magazines at the newsagent to help you navigate the web. Eventually, a bunch of search engines were launched that are now either obsolete or well past their glory days: Hotbot; AltaVista; Excite; Infoseek, Webcrawler; and Netscape. The most popular search engine in the world, the behemoth that is Google, was not launched until 1998. This was a time when the majority of Internet users used noisy, dial up modems to access the web (very, very slowly) and a website was considered cutting edge if it featured scrolling text, music, and company logos that bounced around the screen. anheuser-busch-1009

A 90s website from brewing company Anheuser Busch (responsible for Budweiser’s, Becks and Stella Artois).

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Even Apple wasn’t immune to 1990s website design trends.

This was a time when faxing was still prevalent in the workplace and emailing your business contacts still seemed like a novel idea.

Social networking hadn’t even been invented. When we look back, the Internet in the 1990s seems clunky and extremely dated and it’s hard to reconcile it with today’s world of high-speed broadband Internet, Facebook, Instagram, music streaming and Cloud storage platforms. However, the mistakes, triumphs and embarrassments of the 1990s have paved the way for a modern, high-tech lifestyle that we now often take for granted.