Sunday, June 02, 2019
COPA Digital Spotlight - A Look Back at the Internet Part 1 - The Dotcom Boom Years 1990-2000

This year I want to go back in time since the beginning of the internet to see where we came from and where we are going, so I decided to write a story on the history of the Internet as our digital spotlight for this year’s COPA awards. This will be a 3 part series based on the decades of 1990-2000, 2001-2010 and 2011 to 2020.  I am most the qualified according to be daughter as I have been there since the beginning and I can give a first hand account. The internet started as a scientific project that was invented in 1983 so the community could collaborate electronically, the World Wide Web was invented in 1989. CompuServe was extensively used during this time and was a online chat service that charged $4.95/hr


The World Wide Web did not really take off until 1995 during the Dotcom boom with the introduction of high speed broadband access to the internet. If you were on the internet at this time  it most likely was through a dial-up modem and only early adopters were playing on the internet at this time. The Linux OS, invented in 1991, an open source software was used to help build the dotcom digital infrastructure (Ie: web and email servers), as it was free to use and it changed the software paradigm (Microsoft’s arch enemy during this time). Two of the early pioneers at the beginning of this decade was (discount hotel service) and E-Trade (securities trading) and both will be major disruptors in their industries.


Netscape one of the first web browsers was invented in 1994 showed that you can give away something free, make no money and still get rich with an IPO. This was the business model that was part of the foundation of the DotCom boom. The other part of the foundation was companies were building web sites and using email so they needed new computer servers for this functions. Webmasters were in high demand.



Concepts like E-commerce emerged in1995 with services like EBay (auctions), (Singles) and Amazon (Books) as the early pioneers and all three are still around today.  Pay Pal was started in 1998 to help facilitate payments for the growth of Ecommerce. AOL and Yahoo provided access to the internet and email accounts and both of these companies have had a roller coaster existence. A free email service called Hotmail was launched in 1995 that is owned by Microsoft. Craig’s List a Free classified ad service was the model that would disrupt the newspaper industry in later years. Google did not come on the scene until 1998 (so you can say they were a little late to the party) with their first search engine that allowed to help find stuff on the internet through a key word search model that they sold 30 word text ads on.


In the latter part of the decade (1999) Napster was a created, a music sharing service that turned the music industry upside down as users could share their music online and others could download at no charge using torrent software. Napster at its peak had 26 million users in 2001, but was run out of business by 2002. Netflix, an ad free video streaming subscription service, which will become the model that turned the TV industry upside down was also launched during this time. The concept of binge watching video online became a new thing to do.  Salesforce a CRM cloud based software service was introduced for the corporate market along with the first smartphone from Blackberry that allowed for mobile email that became so popular it was nicknamed “Crackberry”.


Content was free on the internet (except for the Wall Street Journal) and news aggregators websites or content scrappers was also a model that was created during this era. This was the model that MSN was built on and a lot of others. The big one in the tech community at this time was Slashdot. The story would be if you company was posted on  the resulting traffic to your website would crash the site, thus the term your site was Slashdotted became a badge of honour for tech companies.


Adverting models on websites started with banner ads and key words search. Double Click a banner ad delivery service was launched that provided ad analytics that was added to this new digital infrastructure. Google used the “Pay per Click model” to sell ads on their network and the “Pay for Performance “ model on the internet was born and this was the driving force of Google’s business model along with the self-service online ad sales model. Now, the pay per click was sold based on an auction model and sometimes key words were bid up by competitors.


Search Engine Optimization became a serious concern as companies learned how to get traffic to their website through search engine rankings that was based on the number of links to it and the number of clicks by people. Humans, the creative species that they are invented ways to “Game” search engine rankings with link farms that inflated the number of links to a website and the use of Click bots to inflate clicks on a website to improve rankings. The use of click bots was widespread in the music industry to inflate a song's rankings. Google will make adjustments to their algorithium in later years.


Email spam became a major issue in 1996 as email was a cheap way to market your products and unsolicited email invaded your email box. These spam operators would set up spam traps to collect email or hack into a database for this info. This made Hotmail and Yahoo users a target and they have a long history of dealing with hackers. The first cyber attack between two countries was in 1999 and this  was sign of things to come in later years as criminals now have a new target for thier activities. Now, not all dark uses of the internet was created by the dark side,  the USA military actually created the Dark Web and made it public and free to use under the code name “ Onion Project”  in 1995. This Dark Web that will be the foundation for the underground economy was used for covert communications that were untraceable. The theory was the more users the less chance of detection.



Leading up to the year 2000 was the Y2K scare that was a doomsday scenario (all the computers will crash) that will happen when all the computer clocks had to change for the new century and there was a rush to upgrade computer systems for this. Business models emerged during this decade that will disrupt many industries in the future specifically, retail, newspapers, television, cellular phones, business communications, financial, hotel and the underground economy. The Dotcom boom was a period of prosperity and peace for the world  during a Clinton Administration that led the charge for the creation of the “Information Highway” in a world with no borders as the internet was described during this time period. Next up Part two 2001-2010 - Web 2.0




- Martin Seto
About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

Most Recent Blog Comment
Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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