The news today that MSN Messenger is shutting down as of October 2014 brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.
I don’t think of myself as old but sometimes there are things that happen which make actually makes me realise that with every day that passes, I am turning into my dad.
I thought that with MSN Messenger logging out for the final time, now is a fitting time for a look back at how much we struggled with the internet back in the day. Fittingly, I have decided to throw some retro-speak into the post as well. Dope.
Kids these days simply don’t understand the pain we had to go through to get online.
Connecting to the internet
Unbelievably we weren’t connected to the internet 24/7. To get online, you had to have the the same amount of technology as NASA. You needed a half decent computer, a disc drive and an external modem the size of an encyclopedia (not the Wikipedia type, back then they were rather large books!).
The modem was connected to your computer using enough wires to run an entire computer network. Once you had all of the hardware and software sorted, you then had to use dial-up internet which used the phone line and involved clicking on an icon and pressing connect. This started a string of events accompanied by a strange sound that even today, I’m unsure about what it actually was. To kids today I can only assume they think it sounds like a load of robots having sex.
Broadband, fibre and wireless weren’t things back then, instead you got online using your standard phoneline for the small monthly fee of about $8000 for 50 megabytes. Most houses had one phone line so if your parents wanted to use the phone, as soon as they picked up the receiver you would be disconnected forcing you to wait for your mum to finish yapping with her sister before you could get back online and finish your MSN Messenger conversation.
This was the Facebook of old. A neat little program that allowed you to chat with your friends and random people you met in chatrooms. MSN Messenger had advanced features like sideways smiling faces and the ability to shake your friends screen if they forgot to answer you within the acceptable timeframe of 3 seconds.
Many hours of homework time was eaten up by discussion of school day events via MSN. If you remember MSN Messenger then you would also remember the significance of the letters A/S/L followed by a question mark.
That internet speed
Yeah um, downloading wasn’t really something you could do and you can definitely forget about streaming awesome shows like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Saved By The Bell. A 28kb modem was considered fast and most people had half of that speed, meaning that if you started downloading a movie back in 1997 you would probably still be downloading it today. Unless your download got interrupted that is, because irrespective of how far through the download you were, an interruption would corrupt the file and you would have to start again.
Since the internet was a new thing, companies really had to convince people to try it out. AOL would send out free trial discs for their software in the mail at least once a week. They also charged you for email (“you’ve got mail!!!!!“). I probably still have a stash of their yellow and orange discs in a cupboard somewhere. No joke, the AOL screen looked like that photo to the left… yep, AOL was so Raven.
Some people couldn’t even use the AOL discs because they didn’t have a CD drive. Sure, some people had fancy external CD drives but most of us still used 3 and a half inch floppy discs.
You could store literally 15 blocky photos on a single disc then use it about 6 times before that crappy metal cover would bend. Once it did, the disc would get stick and you would have to shove something into the drive to pull it back out again. So yeah, they were pretty useless.
Back in the early days of the internet, web designer wasn’t really a legitimate job description. People just knocked up their own websites using whatever program they had access to, and uploading them online was a monumental task in itself.
Standard rules were that if you could make something move with a mouseover graphic then you should, and animated GIFs look awesome. Also, 8 bit background music and Comic Sans font will really make your site pop. Geocities had a lot to answer for.
Terrible search engines
Websites were shit and so were the search engines that got you there. Google wasn’t really a thing. Instead, you had Ask Jeeves or go to Dogpile. Yes, there really was a search engine named are dog faeces and quite fittingly, it was shit. Actually, all search engines were shit.
You could literally search for “how to tie up your shoelaces” and end up on a website that gave you an in-depth history of model railways.
Myspace was cool
OMG you get a profile, you can upload photos and you get to connect with friends. Myspace was the first way you could truly stalk your crush online, long before the invention of Facebook. You could even get fancy and code some terrible HTML onto your page to make it unique and elevate you to a God-like status amongst your envious friends. Myspace even allowed you to make your favourite song play whenever somebody visited your page (alright, its didn’t play so much as stutter along because of the terrible internet speed).
I’m not gonna lie, back in the day Myspace was pretty damn awesome. Come on Zuckerberg, lift your game!
The Y2K crisis
As soon as the clock struck 12 on 31 December 1999, the world was going to end, planes would fall out of the sky, viruses would be unleashed onto the world, and the internet would ceases to exist. People were terrified about the year 2000 because, back at the start of computing, memory was so expensive that instead of writing the date as yyyy they just used yy to save space. Apparently nobody had put much thought into what would happen once they got to 99 and reset to 00. For years people freaked out about this and businesses made a lot of money making computers Y2K compliment.
At the stroke of midnight on the last day of 1999, the biggest anti-climax in history happened when everything just kind of carried on as it had done before.
All I can say is that kids of today didn’t miss out on much. Except for Myspace. Myspace was the bomb!
What memories do you have of the early internet? Let me know in the comments.