Category: net

1995: 20 years ago, I joined the Internet

Twenty years ago today (roughly), I joined the internet. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous affair, but was necessitated by MSN (not the website, the original ISP service that debuted with Windows 95) having shut down its service in Korea, forcing me to find a local ISP (and convincing my parents that 7,000 won a month (about $6) was worth connecting to this nascent world wide web. For that, you’d get access to Chollian’s ISP, and 15 hours of access to the “internet” via PPP dial-up.

I was 10 years old and my family had just moved to Seoul from the United States for reasons that I still am not quite sure of, and in the demise of MSN, the ISP, I had just lost a major connection to the English speaking world that I had left behind. Quite sad, I know, but all that was about to change. I chose a Korean ISP called “Chollian”–which literally meant “vision of a thousand li” (li was a unit of distance in old Korea). No reason why i picked it other than that I got a CD with a trial; think of those old AOL CDs.

I spent a while trying to pick a screenname and email address, and ended up with: aer95@chollian.net. It was 1995 and ISP emails were the only way you’d get reasonable email. (Go ahead, spam it all you want. I doubt it even exists anymore. Oh where oh where do the lost emails go?) Anyone who asks about the origins of the name will be regaled with a rather hilarious story of the hours I took to come up with it. (Okay fine: one involves my name Alexander {obviously}, the E. and the R. stand for “Enforcer” a screenname I used frequently in Duke Nukem 3d multiplayer matches, and “Riker” as I believed the good TNG number one was a badass, esp as Admiral). Need I remind you, dear reader, I was 10 in ’95 and personal identity was an important thing to a kid.

It’s hard to recall what my first experience online was like; certainly I had an awareness that “holy shit, I’m connected to the world!”. But in 1995, (especially in Korea where most families didn’t even have a computer), with barely 0.4% of the world on the internet, there really wasn’t much to do other than, well browse here and there and try to find interesting things. I had already been online over the past year on closed-ISPs which made it quite easy to have a curated, though highly limited, online experience (recall AOL, Prodigy, and MSN, which kept their own little communities? Lest we forget, this was a big part of the “online” world in the 1990s. I was involved with a Doom map making community rather early, and I was blown away by how much interesting stuff I could find and explore.). By comparison, the discovery experience for new world wide web user was quite brutally obtuse. Imagine you have never heard of the internet and you open a browser for the first time (one without a decent portal); without knowing that a search engine exists, how would you even know what to enter into the blank URL bar? I remember being confused even at the syntax of a URL: http://www.chollian.net <- a web URL is second-nature to us now in 2015, but in 1995, at first glance, it was quite foreign.

(On a side note, when my family moved to Korea one of my chief concerns was falling behind in my learning, and not being able to keep up if/when I returned to the US. My early use of the internet absolutely turned that around, and I was able to learn at my own pace, to my own interests. The internet absolutely was a formative experience of my childhood.)

But the “Internet” was quite different back then. I didn’t even know what a search engine was, let alone what to do if i didn’t have one of those mysterious “URLs” to go somewhere interesting. The blank page and address bar were like big question marks. It seemed like the only way I could find anything was via links from other pages; which turned my internet activity into some sort of scavenger hunt. I’m telling you, you kids today don’t know what it was like back then. My first modem was 14.4 kbps. That’s KILOBITs per second. I developed mental math to convert megabytes into time, (turned out to be roughly 10 minutes per megabyte, which is still ten times faster than New Horizons is sending data to NASA right now…), which was an important conversion when using the internet meant nobody could use the home telephone line. Trust me, however old you are, it is not easy convincing your parents that it’s ok that their phones aren’t working, and having them plan out their calls… lol.

But what was I doing back then? Most of the time, I was reading the news about what’s happening in the world (in English, before the internet it was quite difficult to find content in the language of my choosing), finding new shareware games to download and play, and/or picking up random fun things to do. I learned both Doom map making and Photoshop at around the same time.

By 1996, I was 11 and had at least one other friend from school that would explore the internet with. Yahoo chatrooms were particularly memorable. He would enjoy trolling people, whereas I’d find the most interesting person in each room to figure out/learn something new. We’d coordinate using an ancient IM platform called ICQ. I don’t even remember my ICQ ID. I was also an avid PC gamer at the time, and I’d frequent many tech sites oriented towards games and the PCs needed to run them.

Still, it was a very impersonal affair, and while the internet always was about connecting people, back then, it was certainly not easy, and most definitely not “encouraged” by the media, which seemed oddly terrified at the idea of a computer that was connected to gasp other people. I recall at least a few random people chatting and making sorta/kinda friends that existed somewhere in the world. It was like pen-pal discovery for the digital age. “a/s/l?” Do people still do that?

(Aside: I feel like the real-name orientation of Facebook has taken away some of the fun and mystery of discovering the human behind a screenname. “Add Friend” is just not nearly as intriguing as “a/s/l”, even if most of those interactions were rather silly and pointless.)

That’s how I recall the internet back in the mid 1990s, a curiosity for most people, at least for me, with hardly any means for connecting with anyone. But by my local standards, I was already exposed to a small but growing population of internet users, barely 0.4% of the world population, and a phenomenon that would be hugely upend everything. It was pretty obvious by the late 1990s, especially in Korea, which like a crazy stampede, everyone suddenly decided that mobile infrastructure and the broadband internet were top national priorities. Hot damn. A bet well played.

All that changed with the emergence of social media, and real-time communication media; which turned the web from static place, into the living, breathing, web that connects a growing majority of the world’s people and information. Half of the entire planet’s population, three and a half BILLION people, are just an IM/SMS away.

How amazing is that! We’ve come a long way in 20 years, and the march goes on. Let’s connect everyone!

Facebook/Twitter Connect, Disqus brings blogs together

In the last few years, there were leaps forward in web services world that changed how we think of digital identity and how it comes to be used in the blogging world; the former occurred when the idea of delegated authentication came to fruition via OAuth, Facebook Connect, Windows Live ID DelAuth, and others; and the latter happened via Disqus.

Previously, online communities were like closed silos of people and content; each member could post on a family of pages that the service provider operated, be it Blogger, Xanga, Live Journal, or Facebook. You logged into a site, and you got to use that identity within the site. This worked if your community of readers and writers were all affiliated with the same site, but the general web trends at the time were of users being on multiple sites, having multiple identities. For the blogging community, this posed a challenge, especially if you were hosted your own blog; each user had to register in order to give them a personalized experience. It was difficult to track comments from anonymous users, and verifying identity was very difficult. It was a world of anonymous cowards and spammers.

Things changed in late-2008 when Facebook released Facebook Connect and the opening of their developer APIs. Facebook Connect allowed your identity on Facebook to be used (in a secure fashion) outside of Facebook, and allowed external applications to get Facebook data for use. While the principles of Facebook Connect had been around since  2006 under a more generic term (delegated authentication), Facebook was unique since it had nearly global membership (upwards of 90% in most U.S. colleges).

Facebook represented a new wave of online services where people began to care about “Real ID”. Whereas most digital identity in the past had relied on aliases (who remembers who CrouchingTigr45 was?), Facebook emphasized real names, and real connections. This had two implications; first, the user was much more attached to their identity (changing an alias = easy; changing your name = hard); second, the identity was no longer was mentally constrained to the site (you use your name outside of Facebook, don’t you?). With Facebook Connect, this meant that nearly everyone on the web (that mattered) had a way to carry their identity across unrelated services, as long as the service trusted the Facebook identity. Then along came Disqus.

Disqus

Disqus,  is an outsourced commenting system that can rely on either it’s own identity, or a connected identity from Facebook, Twitter, or Open ID. Instead of hosting the comments directly within WordPress, you can install a Disqus plugin on your self-hosted blog, and suddenly the singular blog is entitled to all the features of a massive web community. Bloggers benefited since it allowed individuals to participate immediately in the discussion, upping the community’s activity, and also provided services at scale that individuals may have had difficulty managing on their own. For users, it let users seamlessly use an ID that they already knew how to use.

Advances such as this don’t come all too often in the web services world; but every few years, it can greatly change how we interact with the social web.

This post was originally published by Skyrien on the Taco Bell on Ogden community blog.

Social Mores of the 21st Century

I’ve realized why I’ve been tweeting and Facebook PSUing so much: Because right now, I have an excess of a desire to share awesome things that I’ve read and experienced! So, instead of cluttering up my friends’ Twitter feeds, Facebook home pages, and incessantly getting CAPCHA challenges from Facebook, I’ll make a compilation post of the various things that’ve taken up my attention for the day.

 First of all, I recommend everyone to immediately pick up the current edition of Wired, and read up on the “How to Behave: New Rules” section; besides being the best “How-to” from Wired in a long time, it’s a very revealing series of small articles about the social expectations of our techified / webified culture, and what to-do, what not-to-do. I love Wired. Seriously, it’s one of the most intelligent, well-written, relevant magazines in today’s age. I want it read at all my major Life Events.

 And for the rest of you, un-Wired people (or those who only enjoy freebies), here it is in Online form.

http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/magazine/17-08/by_index

 They’re funny, short, and a refreshing read for everyone of this age. Here are links to my favorite ones:

Don’t Work All the Time — You’ll Live to Regret It

Never Broadcast your Relationship Status

Don’t Google-Stalk Before a First Date

Ignore the Ex on Facebook

Ditch the Headset

There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Friends

Texting in the Company of Others is OK

Don’t Blog or Tweet Anything With More Than Half a Million Hits

 What I appreciated most are about the articles, besides being well written are that each is solidly grounded in some body of academic research, and provides links to relevant content. I thought only Wikipedia gave you that kind of linking joy!

 Damn, reading all this is making me wonder about where to take my career from here. Everyone plays around online, enjoys good technology, and by working with web services as part of my daily life and job, I find it awesome that I’m in a position to be making a difference in how web services are used by people around the world. What to do with that position… is another story.

 Anyway, that’s all for now; I have a lot I want to share about my experiences in Korea… till next time!