The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The Last Fifteenish Years of WWW

Farhad Manjoo on the Web, c. 1996:

In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web, according to Steve Coffey, who’s now the chief research officer of the market research firm the NPD Group. (Today, we spend about 27 hours a month online, according to Nielsen.)…

The biggest site, by far, was; 41 percent of people online checked it regularly. Many didn’t do so on purpose: With 5 million subscribers, AOL was the world’s largest ISP, and when members loaded up the Web, they went to the company’s site by default. For similar reasons, AOL’s search engine,, was the second most popular page. Netscape, the Web’s most popular browser, and Compuserve and Prodigy, the nation’s other big ISPs, also had top pages.

Yahoo, which Media Metrix ranked No. 4, just after Netscape, was one of the few sites in the Top 10 that wasn’t affiliated with an ISP or a browser. Its main feature was its directory, a constantly updated listing of thousands of sites online. To produce the directory, Yahoo employees


Pretty sure I remember Geocities from long before I knew what a “blog” was. Surely there were things that could look like a blog to modern eyes at just about any time in history, but no one called those things by that name. (And in his defense, Manjoo seems to make this point in his discussion of

To the Usenet point: the average AOL user, who Manjoo cites as his example, has never heard of it and probably thinks it’s a disease. Even I, a relatively techno-savvy person, don’t understand much about it (though perhaps I’m too young).

I do think, however, that email is a GREAT point. Most people signed up to AOL (or whatever) to get an email address. In the days of dial-up it was much more interesting than most of the World Wide Web. (Vaguely related: I love seeing email address still being given out by people other than my grandparents. For novelty, I kinda wish I had my own.)

And a technological point: if you cut off the # and everything after from the hyperlink, you’ll not be sending clickers to the middle of the story. Perhaps you intended to leave it, but I thought I’d say something.

For me, IRC was a huge part of late-90’s webdom, and it always surprises me that we’ve simultaneously evolved away from chat proper while heading back toward it via Twitter-type platforms.

I don’t know, KB — chat feels more universal than ever! You have chat baked into Google, Facebook, your OS… It’s VERY interesting that we’ve basically developed a not-fully-synchronic chat — like chat + messageboards + blogcomments combined…

For David, I’ll just say that the biggest story for someone from 1996 isn’t all the things that the internet now does — the internet in all of its varieties could, slowly, do almost everything. It’s really the fact that the whole rest of what a 1996 user would have recognized as “the internet” is gone, and all of these things are now done via hypertext/graphic interfaces on the web.

The positive feedback loop between the graphic, window-based OS and networked hypertext is just enormous. Look at the new Safari beta — now browsing web sites via cover flow is almost EXACTLY like browsing for files in the Finder. That plus the speed breakthroughs have enabled these smaller social models, which already existed, to grow in scale, get more people involved, tackle more and more.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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