Tag Archives: isp

Evolution to the Web

Update June 2010:
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
Julia Ault

A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

Our online journey moves on to the Web…

Microsoft launched its own Microsoft Network (MSN) in 1995 offering ISP and online services to complement the Windows 95 Operating System. The service was included with the operating system and was originally conceived as a dial-up online content provider similar to AOL offering product support, basic email, MSNBC news, chat rooms and newsgroups. The Internet Explorer Web browser offering open access to the Internet was available initially as a download and was later included in the Windows 95 Plus! Package. In 1996, the MSN 2.0 package was released, providing Internet access plus web-based proprietary content which used interactive multi-media applications such as Visual Basic Scripting, embryonic Macromedia Shockwave Flash for animations and MSN Shows which were presented in a TV- like format and it could be argued that they were the forerunner of YouTube videos.

This highly innovative multi-media content proved to be very much ahead of its time however, purely because it was not easily accessible to users on slower dial-up connections (which constituted the majority of subscribers at that time) and therefore slow speeds and unreliable software generated a large volume of complaints and general user dissatisfaction with MSN and Microsoft. By 1998, all these rich features had been abandoned and the now-familiar Internet Explorer interface was being used instead.

In 1998-99, MSN began to develop online services for other users of the Internet (previously it had confined online content and services to subscribers to the MSN Internet Access Service – in other words – those people who used MSN as their ISP). Hotmail and MSN Messenger provided webmail and instant messenging services to all. MSN.com became a web portal offering proprietary Search, News, Webmail, Messenging and the new ‘People and Chat’ section all under one easily accessible roof. In fact, new installations of Windows Operating Systems have the home page of the integrated Internet Explorer browser set to MSN.com by default, ensuring that the user’s first experience of the Internet is provide by Microsoft itself.
Whilst one could argue that this does not offer the user much choice initially, it did have the advantage from a social perspective that MSN Communities and MSN Chat were not difficult for the novice web surfer to find, thus enabling them to quickly meet and interact with other Internet users, perhaps for the very first time.

MSN Communities offered message boards, chat rooms, document storage, photo albums and customisable html pages to anyone who obtained a free Hotmail or MSN email address and signed up. All this was available in your web browser (typically Internet Explorer that was integrated into your operating system) without the need to install or configure any other software. This very simplicity was its USP (unique selling point) and millions of users around the globe created and joined communities and began talking to and learning from one another.

Indeed my own first experience of the social web was through MSN Communities and a great deal of informal learning took place within a specific Community of Practice over a six month period, during which seasoned computer users patiently took the time to impart the basics of the web and computing to an eager but unskilled novice. This proved to be so successful that it initiated a keen interest in web development, graphics and the internet and thus began the ongoing quest for knowledge of the web and all its facets that has led to this research study.

I therefore owe a debt of gratitude to the members and owners of this specific community. Communities have now been renamed MSN Groups but this particular Community of Practice continues to teach and guide Internet and computer ‘newbies’ at the time of writing, nine years after its initial creation and is still visited by me from time to time to catch up with old friends.

In fact, one could almost argue that this community is now a victim of its own success; members become so comfortable in the knowledgeable, but friendly atmosphere that they do not wish to leave and are most reluctant to move on to newer technologies. The technical facilities offered by these communities are now somewhat out-dated and limited in their scope.
When some of the more adventurous members do begin to feel it is time to move on and sample some of the other delights that the web has to offer – in the early days it was individual web sites and forums, obtaining web hosting and domain names which afforded the putative webmasters considerably more freedom than MSN was able or willing to provide – there is a feeling of fear and loneliness mixed in with the excitement of the new challenge, because such pioneers know that they will be striking out on their own and leaving behind their friends and their comfort zone.

Very few other members are willing to join the pioneer in the new venture because, as will be discussed in more depth in forthcoming articles, change can be exciting but it can also be rather daunting and frightening. People tend to prefer the tried and trusted methods of ‘doing things’ and will only accept change if there is no viable alternative or if they can be persuaded that they will be ‘better off’ in some appreciable and measurable way after the change has taken place.

Microsoft themselves know this only too well, because there is always a great deal of resistance to accepting a new operating system for example and it is sometimes only when technical support for the old product is finally withdrawn that the remaining recalcitrant users are forced to upgrade, however unwillingly.

MSN have been rolling out their new Windows Live suite of applications for the Web 2.0 era, which currently comprise Windows Mail, Messenger, Hotmail, Photo Gallery and Windows Live Spaces.
These Spaces provide users with a blog and a photo gallery and were intended to replace the old Communities and provide competition for newer rivals such as Myspace, Blogger and others – which will be discussed in Part 3.

However, Windows Live Spaces have not been without their critics and the further integration within the Windows Live family is designed to offer a more modern complete experience for the user, with planned future developments of Events, Calendar and Windows Live Groups – which will be an add-on to Windows Live Spaces rather than a separate entity like the current MSN Groups.
It is expected that this will then allow MSN to close Groups completely and move their users across to the Windows Live Suite. Groups are already being allowed to ‘wither on the vine’ so to speak, with the closure of MSN and Groups Chat and the lack of advertising of groups on the main MSN pages. They are now quite difficult to locate by chance and users need to know where to look or have the pages bookmarked to obtain entry to the groups section of MSN. By contrast, Windows Live products are prominently advertised on MSN portals.

Yahoo! began life at the same time as MSN in 1995, originally as an internet search engine and has diversified into many areas of internet service provision over the years through a policy of acquisition of smaller companies and incorporating their products into their portfolio. These included web portals, webmail, messenger and egroups which evolved into Yahoo Groups. Yahoo Groups differed from MSN Groups in that they were more of an email mailing list with a limited web interface.

As with all of the larger Web 1.0 content providers, Yahoo! is currently attempting to provide Web 2.0 content for its users and has already added Flickr (image sharing and storage) MyBlogLog (blog tracking and analytics) and Del.icio.us (social bookmarking) to its list of acquisitions.

Yahoo! has also recently announced plans to open up the social network that is
Yahoo! (their terminology). They call it the Yahoo! Open Strategy: Y!OS. The intention is not to create a new Online Social Network but to turn the massive Yahoo! network into a social one. All this comes at a time when Microsoft have recently withdrawn their takeover bid for Yahoo and the company is looking for new directions. At one point, a merger with Google was mentioned but anti-trust regulations make this perhaps unlikely. The Yahoo blog is a good source of information on the company’s latest thoughts.

Speaking of Google, this is a company which has been going from strength to strength since its own early beginnings (also as a search engine) in 1998. The concept of ‘Page Ranking’ however, differentiated Google from all the other search engines that were around at the time and has allowed it to grow into the most used search engine on the web. In fact, the verb to ‘google’ – meaning to conduct an Internet search – officially entered the Oxford English dictionary in 2006.

Although Google Search is the most successful service, Google also provides Gmail ( a web and pop based email service with virtually unlimited storage), and Google Groups (which incidentally now houses a large Usenet posting archive going back to 1981) among many other services.
Google Groups are more like Yahoo Groups than MSN Communities in nature, bearing more of a resemblance to email newsgroups than web-based forums.

Google’s philosophy has always been that its services are freely available to the general public and these are funded through business users paying for advertising within search listings or paid placements in the rankings. The majority of its revenue stream is through advertising – $10 billion in total advertising revenues reported for 2006.

Yahoo, Google and Myspace have recently announced the creation of a new non-profit OpenSocial Foundation which will allow third party applications to be created that may be integrated into the emerging social networks that characterise Web 2.0 and will be discussed later in the series.
The press release announcing the OpenSocial Foundation described it in this way:

“OpenSocial addresses an emerging problem for developers who are eagerly building applications people can enjoy with their friends: before OpenSocial, if a developer built a “favourite photos” application to work on one social network, it would have to be built all over again to work on another site. OpenSocial tackles this problem at its technology roots, providing common “plumbing” that lets social applications run on many different websites without requiring duplicate work from either developers or the websites. The result is a vast distribution platform for social applications, whether they are for sharing photos or playing games or arranging real-world meetings or any number of other activities – everything is more fun, interesting, and useful when users can involve their friends and contacts”

Read the next article in the series:
Web 2.0 Inception

Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

From Bulletin Boards to the IRC

Update June 2010:
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
Julia Ault

A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

On a cold and grey Chicago morning..

It is sometimes difficult to know where to begin when discussing the history of online social networking and communication, but in terms of nice, round numbers, it may be noted that the earliest Public Bulletin Board Service (PBBS) was invented exactly 30 years ago in 1978 by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess in a Chicago blizzard, apparently.

This then becomes the starting point for our journey.

In contrast to the closed academic networks previously available, these public access bulletin boards allowed users to dial into the system via a telephone line and use a terminal program to upload and download software, play games, and read news but above all – to connect socially with other users in discussions using message boards. The system was envisaged as a computerised version of the cork notice board where users pin notices, requests for information, assistance and so forth. Initially, PBBS were purely locally based due to the prohibitive expensive of long-distance call charges.

The popularity of these systems began to wane with the rise of the Internet in 1996, although some bulletin boards did subsequently connect to the Internet, providing email and Usenet3 newsgroups and services and attracting users from a wider geographical area. Bulletin Board Services are still active today, although they now serve more of a niche market.

CIX (Collaborative Information Xchange) Conferencing began as a Fidonet Bulletin Board Service in 1983 but was relaunched commercially as CIX in 1987. CIX was able to offer a nation-wide service in the UK by providing multiple PoPs (Points of Presence) situated in major metropolitan areas to allow the majority of subscribers a local-rate connection. At its heart were ‘conferences’ of subscribers connecting to discuss a wide range of topics using an offline reader AMEOL Again, social interaction proved to be the main attraction for the users. This service was funded by a monthly subscription and in 1988, CIX provided its users with the first commercial email and Internet access in the UK.

Between 1989 and 1993, the WorldWideWeb program was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee on a NeXT workstation and the idea grew rapidly in popularity due to its exciting new graphical nature. In 1993, the NCSA Mosaic browser (developed by Marc Andreessen) was launched across multiple platforms and captured the public imagination.

During the same period, (1989-93) CIX grew rapidly, reaching a peak of more than 16,000 users in 1994, before starting to lose customers to the newly-formed Internet Service Providers that provided free access to the Internet and the burgeoning World Wide Web using 0845 Dial-up, companies such as Demon, Pipex, AOL and Freeserve.

CIX has re-invented itself over the years and now, as with bulletin boards, also serves a niche, mostly business-oriented, conferencing market. It remains very popular with its loyal private users however, for whom the offline reader (OLR) is its main attraction, as this extract from a testimonial on the CIX website demonstrates:

“My main source of interest, discussion, information, and friendship is a BBS called CiX. It’s a conferencing system with several thousand active
members, based in the UK but with users in many countries. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve used it: it’s something like Usenet news, and a little like a blog, but far better than either. There are hundreds of conferences ranging from the technical to the whimsical, the supportive, the political, the humorous, the fascinating, the commercial, and the instructive, each with its own membership and style – and anyone can set up new ones. The Windows OLR is called Ameol, and is a great email and news client, but there are many other OLRs for many platforms. I do all my Cixing on my Psion, for example – I can collect hundreds of new messages over my mobile phone and then sit reading them on the train! (Try that with a web site :)”.

The majority of these new companies merely provided a conduit with no services of their own. It was Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web – combined with the Mosaic browser – that drew the attention of the masses to the potential of the Internet, so much so that the World Wide Web has now become synonymous with the Internet.

AOL (America Online) was different from the other ISPs mentioned above, in that it began as a company providing interactive online gaming and chat services to subscribers through its own client software that featured a graphical user interface in the days when everyone else was still using terminals. AOL (like CIX in the UK) also emphasised communication among its members as a feature. The proprietary nature of the AOL software and the fact that it delivered content to subscribers only in what has been termed a ‘walled garden’, has had an adverse affect on its popularity over the years, beginning with its merger with Time-Warner in 2001 and resulting in the sale of many of its subsidiary companies world-wide (AOL UK was sold to Carphone Warehouse in 2006) and substantial employee layoffs at the end of 2007.

The other big name of that early period – CompuServe – (founded in 1969) was a major information and networking services company by the mid-1980s. The CompuServe Information Service (CIS) was the first commercial online service in the US, offering a limited email service to commercial customers from 1989 and enormously popular online forums during the 1990s. These were used initially by technical computer companies offering customer support but soon broadened to include the general public in areas such as entertainment. With the growth of the World Wide Web, these support forums gradually closed as companies and users migrated to company websites instead and CompuServe began converting its forums from its own proprietary software to html in 1997.
CompuServe was subsequently split into two parts with its networking sold to Verizon and the Information Service to AOL.

Another method of online communication that has been in use for many years is Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which is a form of ‘synchronous conferencing’ – to use the more technical term for online chat technologies. It requires the use of client software to connect to ‘channels’ or ‘real time discussion forums’ which can be easily created by users on a variety of topics. Individual private messaging is also supported. A range of cross-platform IRC Clients is now readily available, including add-ons for web browsers and Instant Messaging Clients. The IRC is particularly popular with the online gaming community as it can be used in conjunction with many multi-player online games.

Read the next article in the series:
Evolution to the Web.

Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA