Ten years on the web

Macworld San Francisco begins today. I am sure there will be some interesting announcements that send the Mac cognoscenti a-nattering. But for me, it’s an occasion to think back.

I attended Macworld SF in 1994, staying with a friend from my days in Japan, Robin Nakamura, who attended as well and was also a bit of a Mac geek. It was fun. The big thing was CD-based entertainment, like The Journeyman Project. The hottest Mac you could buy was a Quadra 840av, and I remember watching a demo of an amazing image-editing app called Live Picture, which looked set to beat the pants off of Photoshop at the time.

On the plane ride back, I was reading a copy of Macweek that had been handed out at the show, and got to talking with a guy in nearby seat, Greg Hiner. Turns out he worked at UT developing electronic course material; he invited me to drop by his office to check out this new thing on the Internet called the World Wide Web. I had an Internet account at that time, and was acquainted with FTP, Gopher, and WAIS, but hadn’t heard of this Web thing.

So a few days later, I stopped by his office, and we huddled around his screen as he launched Mosaic. It immediately took us to what was the default home page at the time, on a server at CERN, in Switzerland. I noticed the “.ch” address of the server in the status bar and said excitedly, “we’re going to Switzerland!” A gray page with formatted text and some pictures loaded. This was cool. This was not anonymous, monospaced text, like you get with Gopher. He clicked on some blue text that took us to Harvard, I think, and I commented “now Boston!” This was exciting. This was big, and I knew it was going to be really, really big.

I’ve still got a few of the earliest e-mails we exchanged, in which we traded links, and I am tickled to see that (at least through redirects) some of those sites are still live (see: mkzdk, John Jacobsen Artworks).

I quickly figured out how to write HTML and put up a web page to serve as a resource for my fellow Japanese-English translators, who I knew would want to latch onto this Web thing and just needed something to help them get started (ironically, the page is too old to be included at the Internet Archive).

And here we are today. I am writing this in a program that runs on my computer, and communicates over a (relatively) high-speed connection with a program that runs on my server to create and manage web pages. Many of my friends do the same, and I’ve made new friends just because of this simple activity. The boundary between one computer and another, between my hard drive and the Internet, is, if not blurry, at least somewhat arbitrary. I’m watching Steve Jobs’ Macworld keynote in a window in the background as I type. Things have changed a lot. And I feel like we’ve barely gotten started.

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