While CNN was sensationalising as only American Cable TV can, claiming that the North Island was blowing up, the Internet was the place to go for the real story in 1995.
It’s Sunday. What better to do than stick the entire Bats repertoire on your MP3 player and enjoy the whole afternoon in bed. You can thank modern technology for that because if you had a record player you’d have to keep getting up to change sides etc - so keep those for parties. A brilliant song in that it seems so unassuming but gently creeps up on you and has you hooked before you know it.
- Roger Shepherd
[ Watch Video ]
Track of the Year by Records
By 1995, there were around 24 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in New Zealand. Some of these, like Actrix in Wellington, had been around for some time (six years), but this was the year when customers started beating down their respective doors.
Working with the non-profit PlaNet network of ISPs in '95, Actrix announced a $5/month email service to get people started. In an early nod to the ‘digital divide’ (a socio-economic division in access to technology), PlaNet Trust Manager Peter Hall-Jones proclaimed, “PlaNet and Actrix have no mark-up in this. We’ve flipped all the switches and are providing it at cost to ensure the wider community is involved in these technologies”.
At Victoria University, the bean counters were increasingly surprised at their turnaround in fortunes with regards to Internet access: from inexplicably large ‘phone’ bills with no income a few years before, to significant profits from reselling their Internet link to private enterprises by 1995. To carve off from the University what was now a commercial enterprise, they formed the ISP NetLink to take on the business.
NetLink employed a number of New Zealand's early Internet pioneers – some of whom came on board expecting their hard work to be rewarded. The business would eventually be sold, putting millions in the University’s coffers – and those who had put in the hard work at Victoria for years were indeed rewarded… with a certificate.
Over the decades any number of projects essential to the Internet, and businesses, have started in Universities around the world. What became known as the "free software movement" was the default ethic for most early software developers who saw sharing their creations to allow others to use and improve them as the only logical thing to do. This "open" spirit is cited by many as being responsible for the Internet's success over rival technologies.
1995 saw the release of one of the most successful Internet software projects, one that most web surfers are unaware powers the majority of clicks they make - the Apache HTTP Server. Responsible for the delivery of web pages from remote servers to our browsers. Without this piece of, what became known as "open source" when the term was coined in 1998, software being made freely available the Internet might be a very different place.
Founded as AuctionWeb in 1995, Ebay, the world's most successful auction website everywhere but in New Zealand (where a homegrown success story was born four years later) – was created by Pierre Omidyar. One of the first listings was a broken laser pointer. Proving that there is a market for everything, the buyer simply explained, "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers".
This was also the year that Jerry and David's ‘Guide to the World Wide Web’ became the slightly more well-known Yahoo!
Meanwhile, back at home, we were satisfied using the nz.wanted Usenet group to buy and sell all manner of things. Travelling gypsy, psychic and healer Ilene, managed to get online long enough in November 1995 to post an advert for her services, mentioning that she didn't actually have Internet access but gave her physical address for enquiries. A marked lack of online savvy compared with 10 years later when even our mothers would be able to sell their knick knacks on Trade Me.
1995 was the year that Bill Gates at Microsoft publicly ‘got’ the Internet, releasing Internet Explorer 1 saying: "It will be where we social animals, sell, trade, invest, haggle, pick stuff up, argue, meet new people, and hang out". Mostly right – but probably wishing he'd put less emphasis on the ‘invest’ portion of that statement five years later when the first bubble burst.
1995 was not to be the year that Telecom ‘got’ the Internet. Its ISP Xtra didn't launch until the next year and even then it was priced well beyond many people's means. Fortunately other providers stepped in to help make the Internet accessible.
It was cost and the unpredictability of cost that held some of us back from jumping on the information superhighway at this time. Ihug, founded by Nick and Tim Wood, was looking for a way to help contain the costs of serving increasingly Internet-addicted customers. Having secured a ‘flat-rate’ Internet connection, this was passed on to the end user with the release of the $44/month diamond account. Grateful, but cheeky early adopters took advantage of the lack of duplicate login checking to share a single account between multiple dial-in locations until this loophole was closed.
The Internet was often not so cheap for those who wanted to "host" their own websites. Popularity of your site with overseas web surfers was often rewarded with a large bill as many were charged by traffic volume, at high cost, so every visit to the site cost the owner money.
The Ministry of Commerce estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 New Zealanders are online. There are about 12 Internet service providers and users are charged around $10 per megabyte for data downloads.
This heralded the start of our ‘ISP Wars’ with a number of other ISPs launching or ramping up – including the launch of the large-scale ISP Voyager, an offshoot of Australia's OzEmail. This was our first truly national ISP with calling-in points in Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, as well as 0800 access to users outside these cities. Both Ihug and Voyager grew quickly based on superior pricing and a free ‘setup’ floppy, making it easy for new users to get themselves online. It mimicked the America Online (AOL) setup CDs that physically spammed that country at the time – so much so that finding amusing uses for them became a national pastime.
The Wood brothers and John O’Hara, the CEO of Voyager, were presented as larger-than-life personalities online and in the media. Journalist Russell Brown recalls that, on a slow news day, all he had to do was call Nick Wood and keep him on the line until he, invariably, said something controversial – and a story was had. O'Hara also became known for his combative nature when dealing with the competition – epitomised the following year by Voyager's acquisition of the ‘0800 Buy Extra’ phone number – sneaking business away from Telecom's ‘0800 Buy Xtra’ line.
Our growing addiction for pointing a camera at things and putting them online gave us a huge lift in Internet visibility when CNN reported that "the North Island of New Zealand is erupting" when Mt Ruapehu blew off a little steam. Don Stokes from Victoria, with the help of a few friends and pieces of equipment loaned from the varsity, pointed a webcam at the eruption. This transmitted a series of almost live, still shots of the belching volcano to the world for the following two months.
By the end of the year, there were an estimated 100,000 New Zealanders online – none more addicted than MP Maurice Williamson who featured in an article in Wired magazine talking about our telecoms policies. It noted that, "For Maurice Williamson, cutting code in C++ ranks just below sex in terms of pure pleasure".
Tomorrow: The World Wide Wait hits home with the launch of Telecom's Xtra Internet Service Provider, and their design-heavy homepage that takes most surfers several minutes to load.