No cat videos?! What life was like before the World Wide Web

It’s been 30 years to the day since Tim Berners-Lee laid out his proposal for an information management system that he called the World Wide Web.

Those born after 1989 have never known a world without a web, but some of us with earlier birth dates are reflecting on how life has changed since www became a thing, and things that didn’t exist before the web.

  • Socializing Remember when people communicated in person, by phone and through letters? About two years after the web was invented, Steve Case’s online bulletin board called Quantum Computer Services was renamed America Online. And, by 1993 AOL rolled out its own email addresses and access to the Web for its users. Then, in 2004, Facebook began its reign as king of social media. Acquaintances and long-lost high school classmates became Facebook Friends, and personal communication — sort of — became the norm.
  • Banking When is the last time you actually set foot in a bank? In 1994, Stanford Federal Credit Union became the first financial institution in the U.S. to offer internet banking to all of its customers. So, users could balance (or not balance) their checkbooks from home. Fast forward to the age of smartphones, and now you can deposit a check by snapping a photo of it, rather than having to plan a trip to the nearest bank branch.
  • Music Oh, for the days of the WalkmanIn 1989, CDs were the most popular vehicle for buying and carrying music to go, while albums and cassette tapes aficionados held onto their old favorites. iTunes launched in 2001 as a way to play, download and organize digital music files. About the same time, peer-to-peer file sharing services, including Gnutella and Napster spent a lot of time in court, before being shut down. Now, streaming services including Spotify and Pandora are the most popular ways of listening to music.
  • Research Before the web, if you wanted to read a book or research a fact, it usually meant a trip to the library, bookstore or a phone call to a friend who might have known a particular answer. Long before Google became a verb, a “virtual library” was part of Berners-Lee’s plans. Early search engines were called Veronica and Jughead. By 1994, Infoseek and Yahoo! were offering some search features. WebCrawler could index entire pages, but was easily overwhelmed. Google launched in 1998.
  • Getting around In 1989, car travelers depended on maps — the kind that were infuriating to fold neatly enough to fit in a glove compartment, or the large books that contained pages that could require flipping back and forth between pages for a trip across town. Global positioning systems are built on satellites, but web mapping brought knowing where you are and where you’re going to the masses, in their cars.
Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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