Twenty Years Online

Above, you see the very first verifiable evidence of me being on the Internet: A USENET post, on the sci.astro newsgroup, dated March 20, 1994 — twenty years ago today. For trivia fans, it was posted from my apartment in Fresno, where I was working at the local newspaper as their film critic, and if memory serves, I posted it on a Mac Quadra (probably this model), whilst facing north (no, really).

This is what I looked like in 1994:

At least Krissy looks pretty much the same.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had been online. Prior to that I had been online via a local BBS in high school and the Prodigy online service, starting in 1992, but when I upgraded to the Quadra I also started looking around at that new-fangled “World Wide Web” thing I had heard so much about. Once I started looking about, in reasonably short time I had my own hand-rolled Web page via a local service provider (, now defunct) and begun reading an posting to USENET, most notably at alt.society.generation-x, which was a center of my online life until I got my own domain, started Whatever, and began blogging in earnest here. But as far as the memory of the Internet is concerned, this sci.astro post is where I first pop up. As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m immensely relieved that the Internet’s first note of me is of me asking about science, rather than porn.

This is the part where I would note with wonder all the changes that have been wrought to the Internet since that fateful day, two decades ago, when I dipped my toe into the cyber-waters, but you know what, blah blah blah blah blah take it as read. I will say, as all middle-aged and older folks must in situations like this, that it’s a little amazing that twenty years has gone by. Sitting there in my Fresno apartment, staring into my Quadra’s monitor as I use Netscape to visit Spatula City, really doesn’t seem all that long ago. I wonder how it will feel in another 20 years.

41 Comments on “Twenty Years Online”

  1. My first online experience was while visiting a family friend during New Year 1990 and they had an AOL account.

    Didn’t my first modem until 1994 then only got online with some local BBSs. Didn’t get an account with an ISP until 1996. I primarily was active on the rec.arts.anime area of USENET.

  2. The web was up and working pretty well by that time. The early days, not so much, with earlier browsers being all text and very poor hyper links and before that mainly just FTP and such between a few universities. It was very much like the wild west in those days. More fun then, but not as routine…

  3. It was just around that time that American Lawyer magazine launched a new computer-based, bulletin-board based, dial-up system for lawyers across the country to exchange legal information. It was called Counsel Connect. In no time at all, a forum was added for pure socializing, called The Cracker Barrel. I was the sole lawyer for an insurance company in run-off (i.e., not issuing new policies, just resolving old claims), living in a city I hated (Omaha, Nebraska), and dealing with issues I as yet had little experience with (environmental insurance coverage problems). I got lots of help as a lawyer, but more than that, I formed friendships that continue to this day — including friendships with people I still haven’t met in the flesh 20 years later.

  4. Way to make me feel old, John. I remember (somewhere on there was the best chocolate truffle recipe *ever*)…but before that, I remember sending email with bangpath addressing.

  5. I was a Usenet addict by 1989. Still haven’t hit rock bottom, but I must be getting close by now.

  6. Heh. I got a Q650 in early ’94 and went online with Delphi telnet service. I’d done BBS’ing in early ’80’s with my Ti 99/4A but had a break of about 10 years before getting the Mac. I remember posting a paper about Laurie Anderson in ’94 but haven’t been able to dig it up. Bummer.

    For what it’s worth, I still have both the Ti and the Quadra and they both run fine. Can’t bring myself to part with them.

  7. OK, that makes me want to go back and search Usenet to see if I can dig up any of my old posts. Sadly, Google Groups search doesn’t seem to offer an option to sort in reverse chronological order, so I have to page back through posts by OTHER Brian Moons, including a PHP programmer and a Christian pastor, before I get to my posts. My posts would probably be in,, or (yes, really).

    Prior to finding Usenet in ~1992, I was on GEnie, talking about Star Fleet Battles. Oh, those were the days!

  8. @Jack Lint: I was a total Usenet addict by ’89 as well. I think I first discovered it in ’87, but I was seriously addicted by 88 or so. I still remember the great breakup of rec.arts.startrek into the multiple subgroups.

  9. I was a Usenet addict by 1989. Still haven’t hit rock bottom, but I must be getting close by now.

    Usenet certainly has. It’s a shame. I used to waste an enormous amount of time there.

  10. I got my Masters in Library Science in 1995. For my required cataloging course, I indexed all of the web, usenet, and Gopher resources about birds and birdwatching. There were 104 of them…

  11. All I can remember doing online in 1994 was reading’s uber-troll Ariel Mazzarelli explaining away Argentina’s poor performance in the world cup by accusing Havelange and the English of fixing Maradona’s drug test results to get him thrown out of the competition.

    I hated the bastard back then, but I have to say they don’t make trolls like that anymore.

  12. No reminiscing of Usenet would be complete without Serdar Argic and Kibo.

    In 1994 I was still limited to the local BBS over my blazing-fast 2400 bps modem. I had probably tried Prodigy briefly (remember them?) but being in the butt-end of nowhere their service wasn’t usable for us. I remember downloading a free Windows 3.1 Star Trek game from that BBS (with sound effects!) and it taking pretty much my whole allotted hour to download a megabyte; most of my BBS time was otherwise taken up by CzarWars, which is a derivative of Trade Wars.

    My computer (a Tandy 486SX) had come with a demo of The Sierra Network and more than anything I wanted to go online and play Red Baron against other people. It was first-person! It was a flight simulator! I could pretend to be Snoopy! Alas, it was never to be.

  13. From a science point of view it’s interesting that 20 years later we don’t seem any closer to explaining the large-scale movements of the universe. There’s still a lot of mystery in the world.

  14. I was working as a government lawyer (and still do) back around that time and was leading the charge to drag our office into the 20th Century by computerization (having had to put up with handwritten logs, carbon paper and Selectrics for much too long). We’d had the first Novell network (version 1.0!) in our local courthouse and shortly thereafter got a dial-up connection to the Web through Compuserve, if I remember correctly. My MIS guy and I were sitting in his office looking at the coffee-pot at Oxford website, among other things, and he looked at me and said “What in the world are we going to do with this?”.

    Not long after, a much older attorney in the office dropped by and started downloading porn.

  15. I feel old. My first usenet post was in 1987, asking for help with DOS TSRs, though I lurked back in 1984. I was active in the early 90s, espousing some wrongheaded political views I no longer hold.

    I’ve been online since the “Escondido BBS” back in 1982.

  16. Ha, I was on Prodigy too, I remember talking about _Twin Peaks_ there–baby’s first fandom! Which would be . . . junior high.

    I didn’t hit Usenet until college, and I can’t find a damn thing in Google Groups any more, but I am reasonably sure that one of my first posts was (1) to rec.arts.sf.written and (2) a FAQ.

  17. I used The Source and CompuServe, then we got bitnet on campus, followed shortly by an actual live connection to the internet complete with usenet. rec.pets.dogs (I was there before the split in 1991) and alt.folklore.urban were the places I spent my free time.

  18. Wow, Google Groups has become even less useable than it used to be. They’ve scrapped advanced search. The earliest post I can find for me on Usenet is 1999. Considering I first got on Usenet in 1991 or 1992, that’s ridiculous. Before that, I was on Fidonet, starting 1984 or so. And before that, I was on a strange little chat system called a D-Dial or DiversiDial, starting in 1982ish. And sometime before then I played around a little with PLATO.

  19. The earliest thing I can find with my own account is this post to, dated October 28, 1992:

    But if I look under the assumed name I was using while using a friend’s account, I find this from July 11 of that year.

    I was online prior to that, but I don’t actually recall any of my userids, and Google Groups won’t let you search usefully by username anyway, it seems.

  20. Ah, newbies! Had the advantage of being a CS major at UNC-CH in 1980. In other words, when I got onto Usenet, it consisted of duke—unc, since that’s when and where Usenet was founded. Also had the advantage of having worked with one of the founders prior to that, as Tom Truscott had previously written the DUCHESS computer chess program and I was the primary tournament director in the area. Stayed active, with a few gaps, until it generally fell apart, primarily on the rec.arts.comics groups, but initially all over (yes, for several years, one could read all of Usenet).

  21. My first post that I can remember was made to a local university’s online forum, in late 1989. I was 16 at the time, terribly insecure about whether anyone in the world liked me, and it was an act of courage to dare to post anything. The conversation was about the scent of ozone from cars, and I can’t remember exactly what my post said anymore, but the title was “gas, ugh.”

    Later on everyone else on the forum found out that I was 16, and a whole bunch of ageist drama started up. How dare people from high school try to rub elbows with the much cooler college kids and etc. Ah, good times.

    I don’t remember what parts of Usenet I first hung out in, but regularly read alt.chinchilla,,,,, and several of the local university’s groups, all through the 90s. I also once wrote an excellent FAQ for how to use the tin newsreader. For years, whenever I googled my real name, a post I made to about potatoes always popped up on the first page (I just looked again; it’s now on the third page).

  22. alt.folklore.urban, and refined my naturally sceptical inclinations from the mid-90s onwards. They made me a woo-smasher and appreciator of netiquette.

  23. Does anyone else think that John looks like a slightly chubby-faced Wil Wheaton in that picture?

    In 1994 I’d been on the net for TWENTY-TWO YEARS. When the picture was taken, my first web site, for DARPA, had been up for four months.

  24. I’ve been on the ‘net since 1989. And the fact that I still remember complicated games with regexes for newsgroup sanity means, at a first order approximation, nothing. But it is still useful for a wider range of things, especially when considering humans exist at the other end of one’s output. And that is why I like this commentary. And why I like our host’s Phelps response. I donated to a different charity, even though I can’t afford it right now – the occasion demands it. We can’t control our destiny, but we can steer it.

  25. Interesting, you must have just missed easy online access becoming ubiquitous at uchicago.

    When I arrived (I believe two years behind you in 1989), I remember being surprised at getting a mysterious email address. Once I dug into it, I discovered what it was good for, and soon found out about usenet, which blew me away (back when the signal-to-noise was tolerable).

    Then when I found that the rooms in Woodward Court (RIP) were all wired, and that I could access online goodness from my dorm room at any time — without dialing in! — I was flabbergasted. And hooked.

    Kinda sucked when I returned to the “real world” and had to revert back to dialup.

  26. Ah yes, the world wide web. I have fond memories of the sysadmin at the university I was working at telling me it was a fad that would never amount to anything. (Actually, “cette maudite Internet, ca ne vas jamais monter a rien”). Wonder where he is now.

  27. January 1986, i was at a. Superbowl party with my parents. Guy who lived there showed us his bbs feed with people sending one line messages about the superbowl. I was not impressed.

    Got online the first time in the fall of 1993. Had a group project and the professor wanted us to communicate by email. No internet in the dorms. So we had to go to the computer lab. We all thought the idea was stupid when we could just call each other.

    I have long since decided, i am not genetically inclined to understand technology challenges.
    Didnt get my first cell phone until 2007 and made my employer buy it because they wanted to be able to reach me at all times.

    This is from a guy who works in IT

  28. Where does Krissy keep the portrait that ages for her?

    1994? I was online in the form of email groups and peeking at usenet. Read quite a bit, not sure if I ever posted.

  29. Well this got me curious, so I googled for my college e-mail address. The earliest post from me that turned up with a cursory search was to rec.arts.books.childrens on August 1, 1994.

    But that is not the funny part. The FUNNY part….is that one of the first replies on the thread is from C.E. Petit (who I didn’t properly meet online until years later, on the Speculations Rumor Mill, IIRC.)

    I really think I had some other posts on usenet earlier that summer, but I’m not sure where to go hunting for them. I was online well before then (I started dialing up to BBSes in 1990), but not in a way that left traces that can be found now.

  30. My first contact with the internet was using Finger to see if the coke machine was up and cold at Carnegie Melon (from Cal Berkeley). Must have been in the early/mid-80s and still called the Arpanet.

    In those days porn was ascii art…

  31. I remember chatting with people on the other side of the world on BitNet relays in 1986. It was so cool – they were on *the other side of the world* and I was chatting with them. They weren’t americans, even. It was even weirder when I found out a lot of them didn’t like the US much. :)

    I Wizzed on a couple of MUDs (was a wizard on – potty-brains!), and was known for my beautiful descriptions, copious number of new rooms, and the fact I never created a monster or a quest. I would have been useless, except for the fact I was part of a team each time.

    When the Internet started, I saw it as just another network, though bigger. And though I was one of the first people to use the Web (I used it when there were still attempts to catalogue all the web sites in existence [back then there was a space in the middle of “website”) I failed to guess where it was going, at all. In fact, I preferred Gopher, because websites loaded *obviously* unnecessary photos that took forever to load on my modem.

  32. I was three years old. It’s somewhat humbling to note that this question would still be relevant.

  33. Couldn’t find the posts responding to JS’s question – did the discussion end up being about the “Virgocentric infall”? (I vaguely remember reading about that in the early 90s). Or was it related to the issues with the Virgocentric flow still not accounting for the velocity delta of the local galactic group? (also something vaguely remembered).
    Today’s search turned up this link discussing some of the issues:

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