The Future of the Internet, Eleven Years Ago

It seems hard to imagine, but the Internet was still a wild frontier just a decade ago. But at a leading industry conference of the time, a group of seers offered some remarkably prescient predictions of what was to come.

Via Google Groups, this first-hand account of an Internet World conference offers a fascinating glimpse of the state of the Internet in 1993. Written by Jerry Richardson, it has the feel of a blog posting, capturing summaries of presentations with occasional firsthand commentary.

Google Groups is one of the largest and easiest to use archives of the Usenet, the blogosphere’s granddaddy that’s been around since the early 1980s. It’s a gold mine if you’re looking for informal history, particularly of events and milestones related to the Net.

Some of the gems from Richardson’s post:

Jupitermedia CEO Alan Meckler kicked things off with a few opening remarks. “Thinks Internet will be bigger than the PC in terms of marketing and entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s now 1977 and we’re in Steve Jobs’ garage,” Richardson quoted Meckler as saying.

The keynote address was given by Peter Deutsch (one of the authors of Archie, a key pre-web information finding tool). “Compares Internet to lemonade stands without lemonade right now. But this will change in the next couple of months.”

Deutsch also commented on the then-raging controversy over the commercial use of the Internet. “The argument is over. The Internet is a commercial venture. What we’re trying to do now is figure out the funding models. Also, who pays.”

Martin Schoffstal, President of PSI, Inc. (at the time, the largest provider of Internet access in the U.S.) foreshadowed the meteoric rise of Overture and Google: “Potentially, the Internet is an ideal marketing vehicle, because the Internet is already segmented (e.g., you can target a list of discussion group participants).”

Garrett Gruener, with venture capital firm Burr, Egan, Deleage & Company (and future co-founder of Ask Jeeves) noted favorable growth trends: “Internet is growing. Now 15 million users and growing at 15%/month. Doubles every 5 months. Very heterogeneous.”

Since there were no search engines in 1993 (at least in the form that we recognize today), Gruener hadn’t yet had his Ask Jeeves brainwave. “It’s not just about cheap communication; it’s about databases publishing. Their (sic) will be ‘islands of competence’ whereby a small database publisher can have the same status as Dialog.”

Brad Templeton, founder of pioneering online service ClariNet: “What’s coming: a fundamental change in advertising. Classifieds will take over (and will be very cheap).”

These are just a few of the observations found in this fascinating post. I love rooting around for this type of stuff in Google Groups—it’s a great reminder of how far and fast the online world has evolved in such a relatively short period of time.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the It’s 1977 and we’re in Steve Jobs’ Garage discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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