The web as we know it turns 20

I remember well my very first encounter with the world wide web.

Unlike many others working in the industry in the 90s, my background wasn’t in computer science or development at all. Mine was the far less explosive world of corporate communications, namely video and later print and multimedia.

So when in early 1993 I was invited by an associate to accompany him to Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology to check out this amazing thing called an internet, naturally I felt a little, well, technophobic.

My associate’s brother was a senior lecturer at RMIT and very kindly showed us a piece of software, a brand new ‘web browser’ called a Mosaic, over which he demonstrated some images of – if my memory serves me correct, photos transmitted from the Hubble telescope.

Something to do with astronomy…

He seemed to be very excited about the fact that you could log into a computer on the other side of the world and view images and reports direct from NASA.

As much as I watched and listened intently, I came away from the demonstration decidedly underwhelmed.

Try as I might, I couldn’t see why anyone apart from space enthusiasts would get excited about high tech reports and pictures from space exploration agencies.

Of course, I missed the point entirely.

The opportunity being presented to me had nothing to do with the content I saw on that day – which happened to be one of the earliest uses of the new capability of the web to transmit images over a globally connected network.

Instead it was the capability of organisations and individuals, with little more than a computer, a phone connection and a gadget called a modem, to log into graphical information being transmitted from pretty much anywhere.

And vice versa, for those with the know-how, the capability of publishing their information to a buzzing, enthusiastic audience – albeit ones that were at that time particularly computer-savvy.

Love at third site

And thus began a relationship like many other love affairs have. Initial disinterest followed by eventual reconsideration before blossoming into a full-blown passion.

Some years later this passion strangely enough led to an adult bookshop in Bunbury, WA, when visiting my parents. But not in the way you might be thinking.

A webcast I was involved in was going out live over the internet. The problem was that this was pre-mobile connections and the town’s only internet café was closed.

The only place left to log-on was the adult bookshop. So reluctantly and somewhat sheepishly I dragged my father through the shop to the awaiting workstations.

Needless to say my father was underwhelmed too, wondering why I had dragged him into a porn shop to watch some jittery images of some grungy rock band.

What was wrong with the telly for heaven’s sake?

The dawn of eCommerce

One of the key turning points of the web was the introduction of eCommerce or online shopping. Fearing that the transaction of funds online might fall into the wrong hands if not carefully planned and controlled, the then regulators of the web placed a moratorium on eCommerce until some protocols were introduced and tested.

That didn’t stop Pizza Hut accepting what were thought to be the first orders generated by a website prior to the introduction of the secure transaction-enabling ‘Secure Socket Layer’ in 1994. A year later, Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.com which endured significant losses before turning a profit some five years later.

Now 20 years on from that first cosmic encounter, the web has gone from a novelty of the computer lab and a new way of getting one’s rocks off into a legitimate fully-fledged communications revolution, and spawning revenue streams well surpassing that of television.

Thankfully it took my career in an exciting new direction as organisations large and small needed to resource this virtual world – as it has for now millions of others.

So Happy 20th Birthday graphical browsers. And thanks for what has been a stunning – if occasionally bumpy ride.

How did you first encounter the world wide web? Did you grasp the technology straight away? Tell us about it by commenting below.

n addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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