In 1989, Bart Simpson made his television debut, Danielle Radcliffe was born and Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed an “information management” system that would allow people to access pages hosted on computers across the globe.
Yes, Harry Potter is (almost) the same age as the World Wide Web, which turns 25 years old on March 12. (Radcliffe turns 25 in July). Before Berners-Lee and the release of Mosaic, the first popular Web browser, the Internet was a very different place.
“If you weren’t technologically sophisticated, you couldn’t really use it, because you had to use all of these arcane tools and commands,” Donna Hoffman, co-director of the Center for the Connected Consumer at George Washington University, told NBC News.
The Web and Mosaic, she said, “opened up the world of the Internet to anybody who had a browser and a mouse.”
To be clear, the Internet existed before 1989. In-the-know people might connect through a bulletin board system (BBS) or, later, through an email or forum with a service like CompuServe, but the idea of pulling up a website was foreign.
Berners-Lee, who received a knighthood for his work, changed that. He released his code to the world for free in 1990, turning the “Internet from a geeky data-transfer system embraced by specialists and a small number of enthusiasts into a mass-adopted technology,” according to the Pew Research Center’s “The Web at 25” report, released on Thursday.
In 1993, Mosaic, the first popular Web browser, was born. Hoffman, then a business professor at Vanderbilt University, loaded it on her Unix-based workstation and immediately thought, “My God, this is going to change the world.”
“I turned my entire research career around to focus on it,” she said. “At the time, people thought I was insane."
She was, of course, right to get excited about the impact that the Web would have. Over the next two decades, the Internet grew at an amazing pace.
Fun fact: In 1995, 42 percent of Americans had never heard of the Internet. Of the 14 percent of Americans who had Internet access, only 2 percent were using the top-of-line modems that reached the then-blazing speeds of 28.8 bytes per second.
It would be hard for an 18-to-29-year-old to grasp that idea today, especially considering that 97 percent of them use the Internet. It turns out that most people think that the rise of the Internet has been a positive development.
In fact, today more Americans think it would be “hard or impossible” to give up the Internet (46 percent) than television (35 percent).
Back in the mid-to-early ‘90s, Hoffman said, most big companies did not see this coming. They thought about the Internet as another avenue they could control to reach consumers, she said, like television or radio. They had no idea it would completely change how business in America was conducted.
The same thing, Hoffman said, is happening now with “smart” devices like watches and refrigerators that talk to each other and the cloud.
“I have that same tingling sense now about the ‘Internet of things’ that I did in the mid-90s about the Web,” she said. “It’s going to be revolutionary."