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October 26, 2007

Come For The Games, Stay For The Porn

In comments, Rick Perlstein writes that, "I looked at my first web site (at the public library) in 1996." I don't remember when I looked at my first web site, but I remember what it was. Back when I was a gamer, some video game magazine -- I want to say EGM -- published a little infobox saying that the very first pictures of the new Mortal Kombat were going to be published on the developer's personal web site after press, but you could access them at this address. I had my father take me to the university where he works, as back then, that was the only internet access point we could think of. EGM had misspelled the URL, but we realized it was because they mistyped the developer's name in the address. And so that was my first web page -- some developer's personal site offering sneak pics of a video game.

What was yours?

Update: Best answer so far is Arthur's:

Around 1994, someone called me up to complain about being the victim of a stock fraud. Since representing such folk is my business, I asked him who he wanted to sue. He said he didn't know anyone's name. He explained there was this place called the "internet' where people promoted stocks. The client apparently wanted to sue the internet, or possibly usenet, itself. I found a way to get on line and spent a few days examining the early internet frauds before it became apparent that all the names were fake, and the internet, or usenet, were not susceptible to being sued.

Investors who lost their shirts shortly after going on line for the first time, who wanted to sue the internet (or later, the worldwideweb), contacted me several more times in the 1994-97 or so period.

October 26, 2007 | Permalink


I remember some people in my dorm checking Mosaic (nice and old school) for election results just after I got to college, in November '94. I was big into e-mail and IRC-type chat programs before that, in high school, but I don't remember ever seeing an actual website until I got to college.

Posted by: Haggai | Oct 26, 2007 12:18:51 PM

Basketball boxscores.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 26, 2007 12:20:27 PM

My first one was in 1992 and it was (commonly enough) the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. This was a far more common site than it might appear to us today, as it was one of the first organizations that tried to start a web directory of sorts.

Anyhoo, I had just gotten hold of the newly-released Mosaic browser (having worked as a student intern at NCSA) and up came the web. 15 years later? I don't think there's been a single day in my life where I haven't been on the web in one form or another.

Posted by: Ben Rodriguez | Oct 26, 2007 12:20:40 PM

"In comments, Rick Perlstein writes"

Ain't it about time you got linkable comments, Ezra?

Posted by: Petey | Oct 26, 2007 12:23:25 PM

I read about Mosaic and the Web in Wired, and eventually found a BBS that also offered Internet access (Techbooks, in Portland, OR; any other old-time netters in or from Portland may know what Techbooks evolved into). So the first site I connected to was NCSA, and then started following links from its daily-links list.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Oct 26, 2007 12:26:01 PM

Looking up a list for Chaos Magic. It was a Magic:The Gathering alternate that I played at a friends place, where before every turn you rolled on a 1d200 chart, and followed the instructions that altered the game in a bunch of ways. This was back in 95.

Posted by: Karmakin | Oct 26, 2007 12:27:41 PM

Hey man, you guys start sending me the big bucks, i'll hire an IT guy.

Posted by: Ezra | Oct 26, 2007 12:29:18 PM

I want to know why Ezra isn't pimping his interview with Paul Krugman. You can get to it through Krugman's blog at the NYT site.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Oct 26, 2007 12:33:31 PM

I actually started out with Lynx. It was a web browser, but just not point and click.

I vividly remember the moment when my friend Scott called me over to show me Mosaic for the first time. Utterly blew my mind. It must have felt the same way to Steve Jobs when he first saw the Alto at Xerox PARC.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 26, 2007 12:34:14 PM

Geez - first actual web site? I have no clue - probably a demo page at the NCSA website or something. That would be my best guess. Most likely it was something one of my more cutting-edge buddies found to show me this new program that was "better than gopher".

First access onto the actual Internet? Usenet. I clearly remember getting my account on the university machines and discovering that there were discussion groups like on the local BBSes but international - and with people who were actually kind of smart and not just somewhat clever participating in the conversation. And the flamewars were far more entertaining too...

Posted by: NonyNony | Oct 26, 2007 12:36:18 PM

Hard to say--over a terminal emulator and a text-based browser (Lynx), the web didn't look much different from gopher. Some time in 1993 or 1994? Somewhere I still have a notebook in which I wrote down all the ftp and later http sites I visited.

It wasn't until later in 94 that I was able to try Mosaic; probably the first site I could use a mouse with was the NCSA directory Ben mentioned. It was pretty hot back then.

Posted by: Other Ezra | Oct 26, 2007 12:43:54 PM

NASA. I was at college and I went to NASA to get pictures of Mars. They had a great CDROM jukebox system and you could get great images and data on all their missions. Instant access/instant satisfaction. It was revelatory. That was when I knew this was going to change everything, boy howdy.

Posted by: Jhombi | Oct 26, 2007 12:44:22 PM

Crikey, don't remember. Compuserve, gopher, lynx, the freeware repository at Washington U in St Louis. Text only for years. I can barely guess at the decade.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 26, 2007 12:45:48 PM

My high school operates on something like the 4-1-4 schedule that you have at a decent number of schools, (Hampshire, Middlebury, CSU Stanislaus, I want to Williams, etc). I was taking a computer programming course during the "one", and they took us down to the computing labs at Georgia Tech. They had these goofy Sun machines -- they must have been SPARCstation 10s or SPARCstation 20s -- complete with a three-button laser mouse that you had to use on a very reflective surface. I think the first thing I saw was yahoo.com back when it was just two guys in their Stanford dorm room. I think I used it to look up something on ... well, I have no idea. Probably Magic:The Gathering given the time. I had friends who had AOL before then, but that doesn't really count.

I think the lack of mystery in computer labs today makes me a little wistful. When we sat down at the SPARC Ultra 1s in 1998 they were new and weird and exciting and didn't feel at all like the computers we were used to. At this point, the biggest difference between a workstation running KDE and one running windows is that there are these monospaced-font things you type in that people call "shells" (or is that now an old fogie term and the new one is "terminal" thanks to MacOS). Plus a good chunk of the kids have programmed, and perhaps even programmed on Linux.

I feel old now. Get off my lawn.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 26, 2007 12:54:55 PM


Yes, I know, EGM was way better.

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Oct 26, 2007 1:01:32 PM

If it's a web site...
The early 80s CompuServe game ...long distance dial up...

Solving it finally had to do with moving the altar
and then you could live to conquer the besieged citadel full of nasties...or something.
Can' t remember the name.
We didn't keep after it very long what with the long distance charges.

Posted by: has_te | Oct 26, 2007 1:08:40 PM

First access onto the actual Internet? Usenet.

In the early days, of course, Usenet wasn't Internet-based, and used the UUCP protocol rather than TCP/IP. Later it was also to be found traversing the BITNET network, also non-TCP/IP. BITNET was an international network of university computing systems, mostly VM and Vax/VMS. My first exposure to Usenet was as a CMS user on a VM system connected to BITNET in (I think) 1988. For a time, Usenet spanned UUCP, BITNET, and the Internet. The Internet won.

Posted by: Herschel | Oct 26, 2007 1:09:42 PM

The early days of prodigy. All I remember was purple.

Posted by: Adrock | Oct 26, 2007 1:16:12 PM

I don't remember the actual first site. It was probably late 1993; I was working as a software engineer for a UNIX OS vendor, and had a pretty decent workstation, so I grabbed a copy of this new toy Mosaic I'd heard about. I suppose the first site I loaded was probably an NCSA demo page.

Back then there were no search engines, so everyone filled up their pages with links to all the other pages they knew about. If you clicked the links you'd find yourself hopping randomly from subject to subject to subject, never knowing where the net was going to take you. That's where the term "surfing" came from.

Some university students set up a site called "uroulette", which would send you to a random page from a an ever-expanding collection of URLs they maintained. That was my main source of web content for a long time.

In the middle of July 1994, the Shoemaker Levy 9 comet was headed for an impact with Jupiter, promising to make a big pretty fireball, and there was an event at a convention center near here to have hors d'oeuvres and watch the NASA images as they came in, real-time, over a feed from NASA. This sounded great, and I paid $10 to get in--and then discovered that their live feed from NASA was a couple of SGI boxes running Mosaic and periodically reloading the same couple of URLs. From the conversations I heard around me, I don't think many of the people present had ever seen the web before, but it was kind of an anticlimax for me. After a few hours I got tired, memorized the NASA URLs, went back to my office, and watched the rest of the show in relative comfort.

I think of that as the first time I used the web to get something specific, so I guess it's as good a "first site" story as any.

Posted by: Evan | Oct 26, 2007 1:17:42 PM

Remember, like yesterday, using an ftp-protocol to log in to the U of Edinburgh server. Time and space just disappeared.

One funny thing is I had a friend with a software company who would sit around and shoot the shit with me while I played with the internet. He'd check his e-mail every half hour and do a few minutes of work replying. But he never (still hasn't) "got into" the internet. Says that after a day of working with computers staring at the screen has little charm for him.

Posted by: serial catowner | Oct 26, 2007 1:24:40 PM

Summer of 1995, and I don't remember what I asked AOL for at the time... probably clicked on a news item of some sort & waited about five minutes for it to load. But before that I'd seen online chatting, because my kid brother was an early Q-link user-- the first $200+ phone bill was a bit of a problem, though.

Posted by: latts | Oct 26, 2007 1:26:08 PM

It was the Arpanet back in 1973. We followed the Yom Kippur War from MIT using the AP Extractor at SAIL (the Stanford AI Lab). We chatted with the guys at a "seismic station" in Sweden (obviously a nuclear detonation tracking station). We downloaded RFPs from RAND and ISI in LA. We used the Cheese Transfer Protocol, or at least tried to, to buy cheese from the co-op at CMU in Pittsburgh. There were all kinds of weird sites, including a PDP-9 in England (Indra), some weird ass Burroughs machine in Illinois, and, of course, all the happy campers at MIT and in the Boston area.

There were only 255 IP addresses back then, so you could ICP the whole Internet in an evening.

Posted by: Kaleberg | Oct 26, 2007 1:26:42 PM

This is a little embarrassing and I am going to date myself, but I remeber my first time was in 1970. Me and George W Bush got on the web to download the new Microsoft Word application so we could dummy up some fake National guard records. This was a long term plan to trick the Democrats into releasing those documents 35 years later to win the election.

It worked perfectly, the documents were exactly consistent with MS Word spacing, font, etc. It was a great experience.

Posted by: Patton | Oct 26, 2007 1:28:08 PM

CompuServe's Temple of Doom....I think.
Don't even want to... think that far back.

Posted by: has_te | Oct 26, 2007 1:33:18 PM

I'm guessing it was a Grateful Dead related site, probably a setlist website to check and see what they had been playing lately before we headed out to see a run of shows.

Posted by: Steve Balboni | Oct 26, 2007 1:38:42 PM

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