Scholars will argue about how the internet began. Was it in the 1960’s when the department of Defense created ARPANET to link scientific and academic researchers when the Soviets attacked? Could it be when the domain name system (DNS) was designed in 1983 to give us .com, .edu, .org and the like? Was it in 1985 when the National Science Foundation created NSFNET for research and educational communication? Could it be when, I hate to admit it, AOL appeared on the scene in 1989?
While the historians slug it out, let’s look at things from a socioeconomic perspective. The internet as we know it was made possible ten years ago this week with the introduction of the Netscape browser. Earlier that year saw the emergence of AOL (after six years it finally caught on) and CompuServe along with Amazon.com, but it was Netscape that brought the internet to the masses. Of course Microsoft played catch-up by giving away Internet Explorer with Windows 95.
The Alta Vista search engine and RealAudio appeared along with annual fees for domain name registration. The dot-com boom was on. The next year saw Yahoo, Ebay, Expedia, Travelocity, and ICQ instant messaging. AOL had 5 million subscribers which doubled by the next year. Netscape still held 87% of the browser market by 1996 with IE at 4%.
How interesting that ten years later Internet Explorer is 90% of the browser market (insert conspiracy theories here…) In fact, Netscape now ranks fifth under Firefox, Mozilla, and AOL as of June 2005. AOL, however, still holds the largest share of the ISP market (24%)compared to other individual providers, but that means that 76% aren’t using AOL. Google (45%), Yahoo, and MSN rule the search engine arena with early bird AltaVista still out there but adrift in cyberspace.
We’ve come a long way in ten years and so much has changed (for better or worse—you decide) thanks to the internet. A toast to Netscape Navigator on its tenth birthday: although we like Internet Explorer and Firefox better, you will always have a place in history.
David Samuel Thomas