A dog sitting in front of a computer turns to another and says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Like the classic cartoon, 1997 sees the web finding a place for everyone online.
Very talented blokes these ones, and a few years ahead of their time as well. Powerfully influential on many that came afterwards - who did not think their name was silly, and could understand what the songs were about. Outrageous ideas, well arranged and beautifully played, and then they split and created yet more beautiful things in the form of Golden Horse and Pie Warmer. - Roger Shepherd
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Track of the Year by Records
Peter Mullet, operations manager for the non-profit ISP PlaNet, proclaimed hopefully in an interview in the mid-‘90s that, "People are judged by the quality of what they put on the Internet, not who they are, who they know or where they are from. It wipes out elitism". That optimistic prediction has never quite proven true – and today, when images, video and audio are much more simply transmitted online, it can be quite easily determined whether you are a dog or not.
“People are judged by the quality of what they put on the Internet, not who they are, who they know or where they are from.”But more positively, 1997 did see an online explosion of representations of non-mainstream lifestyles and thinking. It was also the year that the largely male-dominated Internet began to be more evenly populated by both genders – though it would be some time until the ratio represented the population at large. A local organisation looking to address this was Web Grrls NZ which formed in 1995 to, in their own words, "put the 'grr' back in girls", as well as providing a support mechanism for women looking to use the Internet for business or personal reasons.
1997 was the year the term ‘weblog’ was invented, shortened by lazy surfers to ‘blog’ within a couple of years. At first, weblogs were simply lists of recently unearthed ‘cool stuff’ found online by the author. Over time they would branch in a number of directions. From life-exposing online diaries to self-promotional journals to opinionated blogs. By the end of the millennium there was a sub-genre of "talking about yourself" for everyone.
In 1997 the struggle was still in getting your weblog online - it was a few years until tools like Blogger launched to allow those without the technical nous to set one up. In New Zealand some ISPs were making it a little easier by giving customers free "web hosting" space that they could build a website on but plenty of work was still required. Many of those who would become web designers over the next decade cut their teeth in places like Ihug's home pages directory. Unfortunately, many (4586 in fact) had their web pages unceremoniously and irrecoverably deleted by a hacker seeking revenge on Ihug the next year.
In the US, this growing wealth of independent content, despite the often limited appeal of individual sites, was starting to add up to a migration of eyeballs away from mainstream media to the Internet. Luckily for them, technology was seemingly to the rescue with a brief bubble for ‘push’ technologies that removed the need for us to click on any links. Software like Pointcast acted as an Internet screensaver, displaying news headlines and tidbits on our screens without any intervention. This attempt to turn the Internet into an idiot box was foiled well before anyone could ask what the point of it was as the bandwidth required to deliver the content was in limited supply.
Meanwhile, those going a more lo-fi route and concentrating on quality written content were starting to see success as we got used to reading more on screen. Local sites like Scoop allowed businesses and politicians to effectively "blog" their press-releases by posting them on the site for journalists and the public to find them.
It was also the year that Gaynz.com launched to provide news and a forum for the country's GLBT community. Minority groups had been early adopters of communications technologies in New Zealand since BBS days, when specialty forums and even whole boards existed, allowing smaller communities across the country to stay in touch.
Colin Jackson had put a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi online on the first Government website two years earlier – and once the Internet got over the technical hurdle of how to represent the Macronised ā in Māori, it became a capable place for our indigenous people’s content and conversations to be shared… although it wasn't until 2002 that the .maori.nz suffix became available for domain name registration.
New Zealand's rowdiest minority, the teenager, came online in the mid-to-late ‘90s and immediately splintered into sub-cultures as teens do. The Goths hung out in the #route666 chatroom and the angst-ridden teen girls exposed their private inner lives to the world through online journals on sites such as Diaryland and Livejournal, becoming known as ‘journal girls’. What teenage boys got up to was as best left unsaid then as it is now.
There was soon a place for everyone, so increasingly the question was "why aren't you online?".
More domain name servers are added to the Internet backbone after the Waikato gateway overloads and shuts down international access for eight hours.
Some early businesses took this question as a challenge and began to do more with the Internet than provide the website equivalent of a business card. ASB bet big on the Internet in 1997, launching a two-pronged attack on the market. Firstly with the launch of ASB Fastnet that added a new channel to their existing branch, ATM and phone network. Allowing New Zealanders to interact with their accounts online.
At this time, the thought of banking online was a risky proposition for many – but that didn't stop ASB from also launching ‘BankDirect’, a whole new bank that entirely removed the branch from the equation. Only true net-heads needed apply.
This came just in time for the Consumer's Institute to launch their website should anyone have any complaints...
Our appetite for the Internet was proving insatiable by 1997. In some suburbs, it was overloading our phone networks on a regular basis, with the total minutes of dial-up Internet calls (which stretched into hours at a time for some) outstripping the minutes of voice-calling on Telecom's network. And our links to the world were increasingly running at capacity as we tried to suck the world down through the pipe. Reacting to this, Telecom partnered with other worldwide telcos to sponsor the Southern Cross Cable that would land a high-capacity Internet link on a North Shore beach by 2001.
In 1997, Ihug offered our first taste of resident broadband with a ‘satellite’ offering – as long as you had a clear view of the Sky Tower in Auckland where they transmitted from that is. In Wellington, Saturn was trialling its cable modems in Lower Hutt. Despite this, it would still be a long wait before fast Internet was widely available.
And there were more people than ever waiting in the slow lane to shift up a gear. It’s estimated that by year's end that there are 393,000 Internet users across business, education, government and home, an increase of around 46 percent over the previous year.
Tomorrow: With the launch of a certain search engine finding things online becomes much easier. But even without it, in 1998 no one had any trouble finding all about the President's privates.