A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[AH] How could the early Internet have evolved differently? (#alternatehistory)

With the 30th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web being celebrated last month, there have been some interesting retrospectives on early Internet experiences. The Guardian shared, for instance, a lovely collection of memories from readers who remember their positive experiences on the early Internet. (Who, indeed, can forget LiveJournal?)

My attention was caught particularly by a post written by Rhett Jones about some of the artifacts of the early web, like personal home pages and walled gardens, that did not take off.

Could at least some of these have survived, I wonder? Personal home pages may have been doomed, given the energy and skill needed to create them from scratch. What about walled gardens?

Before the web came along, companies like America Online and Prodigy were offering people limited access to the internet with their own special portals to curated content. It was kind of like Facebook’s web-within-the-web strategy of being everything to everyone. The attitude at the time was something like “How many options do people really need in order to check the weather or get the latest sports scores?”

As the potential for the web’s wild west started to come into view, these companies began to open up their platforms to the wider world that was slowly being built. However, their proprietary browsers didn’t play well with other programs and were getting creamed by more flexible options like Mosaic and NetScape Navigator.

The strategy of boxing in people’s web experience managed to hang on in one way or another until the end of the ‘90s, but it officially died when Prodigy announced that it simply couldn’t continue its “Classic” format because it wasn’t Y2K ready.

From my 2019 perspective, seeing how much of my online experience is mediated strictly through apps not terribly different from walled gardens, I wonder if these could have survived. Would it have been possible for more forward-thinking media companies to come up with walled gardens that were viable competition to the more open Internet?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2019 at 7:00 pm

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