Marking 10 years online

Today marks 10 years since I was given my first e-mail address and started using the internet on a regular basis. The occasion was that I started university. The internet was only just starting to find its way into people’s homes, so the majority of people online were academic users. I kept the same university e-mail address – and used it as my primary address – until January 2006. In those days, no-one had an existing e-mail address when they started university, so it was common to use the new address for anything. I accessed my messages via a terminal, logged on to the university’s central IRIX sever, using PINE as my mail client. Most of the time, I browsed the web using the text-only browser Lynx. (I should add that I still have both programs installed on my computer.) I also had a Windows 3.1 account with which I occasionally surfed the web graphically using Netscape Navigator. Last week, Google marked its 9th birthday. Unsurprisingly, then, it was not my original choice of search engine: in those days I used AltaVista.

In some ways, the world wide web has moved on a lot since I first started using it. Web 2.0, blogs, RSS, etc. simply didn’t exist back then; internet shopping was seen as a risky business, limited to a few specialist retailers. But other aspects of the web are still the same: it’s still possible to find plenty of weird and wonderful websites on whatever subject interests you, and to access information in a way that simply wasn’t possible for the average person in the offline world.

How will the internet evolve in the next 10 years? Both e-mail and the world wide web have remained popular because they are free to the end user, and are based on open standards. The challenges that will face the internet in the future are issues such as net neutrality, digital rights management, and attempts to introduce proprietary standards – all things that could damage the internet as we know it, and hamper its future development. As the internet completes its transition from an academic network to a global medium, let’s hope it continues to be enhanced by the best practices of the commercial world, without gaining the worst.

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