My First Experience with the Internet
December 08, 2021
I first stumbled on to the Internet in August of 1994. Until that point, I had been online in one form or another, whether that was playing games dialed into The Sierra Network or dialing into local BBSs. In 1994 there really wasn't a direct connection to the Internet available at home. You had to tie up your phone line to dial into a separate network or BBS which then happened to be connected to the Internet. The Internet was simply a sub feature of closed online services.
In my case, I was at home on the family Packard Bell PC packing either a 386 or maybe by that time a 486 CPU which powered a phone modem with blistering speeds somewhere between 1200 and 9600 bps. We either subscribed to or regularly picked up copies of Computer Shopper, a massive magazine at the time filled with all sorts of computer related articles, ads, and directories. Specifically, Computer Shopper contained pages and pages of BBS listings. BBSs were listed numerically by area code, so you'd scan through looking for your city's area code and locate your local BBSs. Calling phone numbers with area codes different from your phone number's area code cost extra, charged per minute. So you couldn't dial just any random BBS. It had to be in your city.
We lived in Miami at the time, which meant I didn't have to scan too deep into the listings to find the 305 area code. On this particular day in August I found a different type of BBS that was hosted by the Miami Dade County Public Library System. They called it the Miami FreeNet. I wish I could remember more about FreeNet. I've never been able to find any information about it online. I assume the name indicated that it was an open BBS (some were private and cost money to gain access). Whatever it was, it was local, free, part of the library system, and that was enough for me to dial in and start exploring.
I don't remember how I stumbled onto the Internet. Like every other BBS this one was text based. No graphical interface, no images on the screen. Just text and more text. It was the equivalent of a terminal window. I tabbed over to one menu item or another and perhaps ended up in a Lynx instance? Regardless of the web browser I was using, I know I ended up on yahoo.com. Difficult to forget a service named Yahoo! I know this took place in August of 1994 because from Yahoo! I ended up on the Woodstock 94 website. The Woodstock website was such an interesting experience because they were uploading digital images during the festival. That meant I could be at home experiencing the festival by downloading the same images in near real time. Of course the images weren't displayed inline. Each image had to be downloaded individually, waiting half a minute or more for each to transfer at 9600 bps. Once downloaded, the images could be opened in Microsoft Paint and taken in in all their glory. It really was a miraculous process, images transferring hundreds of miles across telephone lines. Apparently, Woodstock 94 was one of the first events to offer that type of online experience. Sadly, only partial descriptions of the "net-connected" portion of the event seem to remain online.
And that was it. That simple experience of "instantly" viewing images of an event happening across the country was enough to want to explore more. This experience was unlike anything else and I knew it was the future.
A year later I'd be dialing into the Internet more directly, this time living in Nashville, connected to the Nashville Computer Solutions Network (NCSN) and surfing away with Netscape and a fully graphical web experience. A year after that I'd be building my first website for money at 16 years old.