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7/5/2012
10:37 PM
Larry Seltzer
Larry Seltzer
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Guide To The Online World, Circa 1995

A 1995 Apple-funded cartoon map to the Internet reflects services and technologies that no longer exist. Today, only 17 years later, things are so different it's hard to believe.

In 1995, it was clear that the Internet was important, a very big deal, but there wasn't a lot of detail behind that assessment. Lots of companies knew what they wanted the Internet to be like. It's likely that what happened is a lot different from what they envisioned.

Thanks to a tweet by Jeremiah Owyang of a photo of the cover of a 1995 guide funded by Apple entitled, "Everything You Need To Know (But Were Afraid To Ask Kids) About The Information Highway," we know just how off target we all were.

Click here to see the entire image.

First, obviously this is a cartoon and not meant to be taken completely seriously, but there's clearly some sense of the state of the Internet and where it was going here. The book itself doesn't appear to be from Apple, just funded by a grant from them.

It's also worth noting that this wasn't Apple's finest era. In 1995, Michael Spindler was at the helm. Although he did begin the transition to PowerPC from 68K--a difficult and important step for the company--he also oversaw several big-time failures such as the Copland OS and Newton PDA. in early '96, Spindler was replaced by Gil Amelio, who did his best to destroy the company but failed. In the end he brought Steve Jobs back and the rest is history.

But in 1995 the online world was cartoonishly simple and vague at the same time.

In the upper left of the image below, we see some names--Genie and Compuserve--that many of you are too young to remember. As the sign says, these were "on-line services" which, before the cable and phone companies got into the business, were the primary gateways for users to the Internet. But the Internet wasn't the point of these services; they attempted to provide their own content and community. Only AOL remains from this group of services. Compuserve was bought and destroyed by AOL. Genie shut down on the eve of January 2000 rather than fix its Y2K problems. On "Communication Road," we see some classic services that remain, including e-mail, financial and travel services, and news.

In another part of the cartoon, below, we see an off-ramp to the World Wide Web. Having two separate highways for the World Wide Web and the Internet might seem confusing and that's as it should be, as it reflects confusion. Of course, the Web and many other items on the sign are part of the Internet, but that wasn't well understood at the time. As for "The Future"--isn't that poetic? The bus would seem to be Apple users, but the box on top looks a little too much like a coffin to me.

Traffic gets even more treacherous, below, where we see another burst of online services. There's AOL, still technically in business. Prodigy, which tried to do a better AOL than AOL, died many years ago. Then there's "E-World," an attempt by Apple at its own online service. It lasted less than two years and was formally dead in early '96, a victim of AOL's overwhelming dominance at the time. It's all kind of hard to relate to these days.

There's also the "Bulletin Board System," a term we don't use anymore, but that's because it's everywhere, including the comments section below this article. Finally, the cute "modem at work."

Finally, below, we see that Apple is located somewhere on or near the "Information Superhighway." Is that a mouse on the road? Awww...

In the 17 years since this cartoon appeared, our vocabulary for describing the online world has changed almost completely. Seventeen years from now things probably won't be quite as different, but the past will still seem as strange.

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