Internet History – 2 x 10 Years

If you’ve been around that long, think back how the Internet looked like 20 years ago in 1998, 10 years ago in 2008 and today in 2018. To me, these dates symbolize three very different epochs.

In 1998, the Internet had seen its breakthrough and was largely based on dial-up modem infrastructure on the last mile with speeds anywhere between 20 and 50 kbits/s. From a population point of view, the Internet was mainly a thing for young geeks and nerds and the typical parent generation of that decade had no idea what was going on, much less the grandparents generation.

10-years later in 2008, the .com bubble had long burst but the Internet had seen a transformation like never before. What had remained after the burst was thriving and the last mile infrastructure had transformed away from dial-up modems to multi-megabit access via DSL over the old copper cable infrastructure and coaxial TV cables. And while 10 years earlier, the Internet was still mostly something for geeks and nerds, the Internet had reached a sizable potential of ‘normal people’ using the Internet perhaps at work but mostly at home from a desktop device. So while the ‘grandparents’ generation was not really ‘on-net’ by then, I would say that a sizable portion of the ‘parents’ generation was on the Internet after dinner.

And again 10-years later, in 2018, it’s clear that in the last 10 years the Internet has cut its cables, has gone mobile and reaches a wider audience than ever. While in 2008, most people used their mobile phones as ‘phones’ for voice telephony and SMS texting, the phone has morphed into a mobile and totally un-tethered Internet access device. Unlike 10 years before, when ‘normal’ people used the Internet after coming home from work and dinner, the Internet is now used by almost everyone, including the grandparents generation 24/7 from devices that are in their pockets and hands all the time. From this point of view it is fair to say that the nerds and geeks are but a tiny fraction of people using the Internet today.

If you are interested in a more detailed technical account of the evolution of the Internet in the past 20 years in all its facets, have a look at Geoff Huston’s two posts about the evolution of the Internet, the first one written in 2008, and the second one recently in 2018. As the Internet is extremely volatile, I’ve archived both as PDF files as they contain a great amount of detail and Geoff tells the story of how the Internet as we know it today got here in a very entertaining way!

Hat tip to LWN for linking the posts.

3 thoughts on “Internet History – 2 x 10 Years”

  1. You are talking about the world wide web. The internet was around for decades before, but it was not used by normal people until web browsers were available.

  2. I remember the first time I came across the world wide web – I think I read all of it in one afternoon 🙂 . Still it made a nice change to using green screen VT100 terminals on the local VAX-cluster to read text only!

  3. Interesting review! The Internet – or what you describe as the internet in the time frame you describe – has been part of two thirds of my life and you sometimes forget how it has changed.

    Also it has changed me. Altough that is hard to say, has it really changed me, or have i just developed along side?

    When I think about what has not changed, I have to think about the constant race of requirements of hard- and software vs. content and user experience.

    When i first had the chance to regularly visit the internet, my (or better saying my families!) computer was Windows 98, on a Pentium CPU with 48MB of Memory on a 64K ISDN line.
    It was okay’ish at that time. Soon Websites began to adapt to newer technologies, bloated in content (Flash uuugh) and the good average was not good enough for a perfect user experience.

    You upgraded your PC. You got 768Kbit/s DSL… Aaaand there was Web 2.0 and popular websites were bloated again with more Java Script and more graphical content.

    Another Update… another move towards even more Java Script.

    Today you need 4GB of RAM for a good user experience.
    Altough “good user experience” has changed a lot as well.
    Two browsers, eMail Clients, modern OS… 87 Tabs open in the two browsers…

    I don’t say that the development is bad, but sometimes its tiring to keep up

    Lets revisit this in 2028 and see how it changed from today

    Theres a german saying, i would roughly translate to “nothing is as constant as change”. And it is sooo true.

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