In 1993, the web was still a patchy affair at best… but some local pioneers were already declaring the printed word out-of-date as updates of the world's big events, and everyday minutiae, streamed down to early-adopters in real time via the Internet.
The 3Ds were a super group. Dunedin born Denise Roughan from Look Blue Go Purple along with Auckland immigrants David Saunders from the Battling Strings, Dominic Stone from the Bird Nest Roys and David Mitchell from the Exploding Budgies and Goblin Mix. They promised so much and unlike virtually any other super group delivered. Sonically loud and delightfully soft with mighty clashing guitar anthems and pure quirky pop songs. Guaranteed busted instruments, amps and speakers along with bleeding fingers and sore ears. Perfect really.
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Track of the Year by Records
Victoria University undergrad Nathan Torkington creates the first ‘real web site’ in New Zealand in 1993. Later he would help Colin Jackson and others at the Ministry of Commerce deploy the first Government website. He also becomes known internationally for publishing the ‘World Wide Web Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ) document which explained to those of us online, but not yet on the web, how we went about accessing it. This was not for those who needed hand-holding however – the response to the final question for those wanting to know more was a curt "use the web".
Buried in Torkington's FAQ was a hint that the age of old-media irrelevancy had begun: "In all cases, regard this document as out-of-date. Definitive information should be on the web, and static versions such as this should be considered unreliable at best". Despite this it was a decade before television and newspapers really began to feel the pinch of online publishing.
In 1993, the Mosaic browser was released to the general public – not the first, but the first truly accessible browser for the World Wide Web. A killer feature was the ‘no images’ button that stopped pictures in a web page from downloading – causing page load time on slower connections to jump from several minutes down to just one or two.
Mosaic was the most accessible, primarily thanks to its availability for home computers running Microsoft Windows, rather than the hardier operating systems used in academia. Microsoft itself wouldn’t provide a browser for its own system for some time – just like our own technology giant Telecom, it steadfastly ignored the Internet for several more years.
Mosaic was also notable for being another first – the first example of an Internet hit created by a University student. Unlike many later wunderkinds, Marc Andreessen from the University of Illinois managed to actually graduate from school before going on to create the Netscape browser that commercialised the early web and, of course, made him a fortune in the process.
“There are plenty of other things to do on the Internet – just finding out about them could easily become a career in itself!”1993/94 were clearly the years that early local Internet adopters got sick of answering the same questions since Torkington's FAQ was quickly followed by Simon Lyall’s ‘Local Internet access in New Zealand FAQ’. This listed the publicly available Internet Service Providers and offered local newbies a few tips.
The question "What can I do once I'm on the Internet?" was answered at length, ending with "There are plenty of other things to do on the Internet – just finding out about them could easily become a career in itself!" – prescient of the amount of time most of us would waste online in the future when we should be working.
With all this talk about how to access the Internet but not much to see once we were on it, despite Lyall's ascertain to the contrary, it was hardly surprising that we gravitated towards the one thing the Internet could do relatively well on low bandwidth other than email… Internet Relay Chat or IRC.
Our Internet connection to the US backbone increases to 256kbit/s. The cost of bandwidth across the country escalates. Government maintains its hands-off approach.
IRC allowed for text-based chat in ad hoc virtual rooms. Anyone could create one by joining IRC and starting a new channel prefixed with a #sign. There were popular channels that persisted like the earnest #friendly, the well-before-its-time #vampcafe and the to be avoided, #spanking. This use of the hash symbol to aggregate conversations would return 15 years later on Twitter where hashtags are used to join together similar tweets.
IRC was also where much of our shorthand for online conversation evolved or was popularised – such as the unreliable measure of time ‘BRB’ (‘be right back’), the clearly untrue ‘ROFL’ (‘rolling on the floor laughing’) and the invariably ironic ‘IMHO’ (‘in my humble opinion’).
IRC peaked locally a couple of years later when an NZ server was installed at ICONZ in Auckland, speeding up chat for us Kiwis. Popular local IRC channel #NZ was known for taking its online conversations offline with the 90’s equivalent of ‘tweetups’ – IRC parties at various locations around the country. These may have been the first instances of “online dating” with a number of couples forming from what started as online relationships. As well as the first instances of kiwi parties where photos were taken and ended up on the Internet!
Another pastime that saw a brief peak of interest before the graphical web flourished was detailed in Lyall's FAQ: "Many games and bulletin boards are also accessible via the Internet, including the very popular MUDs, or Multi-User Dimensions. These allow people to wander around a simulated world, interacting as if they were physically in the same place".
You had to have a really good imagination for MUDs to live up to this promise. Though that didn’t stop some of us from living the lives of dwarfs, orcs and elves online well before Lord of the Rings made it socially acceptable to be a fantasy fan Down Under.
You also had to have a really good imagination if you picked up a copy of new American magazine title, "Wired" that launched in 1993. It was to become the defining magazine of the dotcom boom in a few years - regaling us with tales of world changing startups and online successes. But in 1993 it more closely resembled its predecessor Mondo 2000 and painted a blurry vision of the Internet that resembled William Gibson's cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. It was hard not to be attracted to its fluorescent covers in local magazine shops but many of those whose first experience of the Internet came from its pages were none the wiser after reading. Many would look to friends, or the the soon-to-arrive cybercafés to see what the Internet really looked like "in person".
Tomorrow: While more of us were finding something on the Internet that kept us coming back it wasn't enough to justify having a connection at home for many. So 1994 saw the rise of the cybercafé where we could get our caffeine and Internet fix at the same time. But who among us could get past the bouncer at the Internet nightclub?