There was something about the emerging Internet that made it a very exciting place to be in the 1990s. Maybe it was my young age, but the early web was somewhat of a community all by itself – a small number of connected users, packing into a limited number of services, stepping on each others toes.
No television program documented the early web quite like Net Cafe, which was first broadcast in 1996 and ran until 2002; interviewing then-aspiring dotcom pioneers and winning awards for journalistic excellence along the way.
Conspiracy Theories (1999)
The Internet is a platform for expression and opinion, and that’s given way to a huge amount of misinformation being passed around. One way this manifests itself is through the discussion of conspiracy theories, something that the “old web” embraced with reckless abandon. While the number of conspiracy theories online undoubtedly shot up after September 11, 2001; there’s a reason websites like Snopes.com are so old.
What’s particularly interesting about this topic is the follow-up story aired two years later in 2001 (embedded below) which examines the techniques used in starting
Voyeurism Online (1998)
Probably not quite what you thought of when you read that title, Net Cafe takes a look at the idea of willingly broadcasting your life online for all to see, even if your connection speed wasn’t good enough. It could be argued that this was a precursor to the web’s insatiable taste for lifelogging, which has now evolved into an industry of devices and services. As ever the show features some wonderfully crusty-looking websites in all their Web 1.0 glory.
Virtual Doctors (1997)
Given what we know now about cyberchondria and the horrible diseases that pop-up when you Google your own symptoms, it might be worth taking everything this episode titled “Virtual Doctors” from ’97 has to offer with a grain of salt. The episode touches on social networking and communities, the driving forces and concepts that remain unchanged in today’s online environment.
Remember mail order? It’s what we used to have to use to order goods before the Internet arrived, with secure checkouts and online auctions. In 1999, e-commerce was the most revolutionary and exciting thing ever – particularly for small, emerging early adopters. This episode takes a look at how early e-commerce solutions began transforming businesses in the decade that gave the fax machine the shove.
Politics on the Web (1996)
Before the Internet, political commentary was reserved for mainstream news networks, public broadcasters and anyone with enough money, time and effort to produce and distribute their own publication. A free platform for expression naturally changed all that, and that’s exactly what this episode explores: unhindered freedom of speech and the implications it had on the web’s early adopters.
One of the earliest ever episodes of Net Cafe focused on hacking – circumventing security methods in order to view and access restricted information. The idea of hacking had been around long before the Internet, but it was the WAN’s formative years that helped set Hollywood on its current trajectory. This episode includes a particularly interesting interview with “White Knight” from Cult of the Dead Cow.
TV Shows (1998)
It seems hard to imagine now, but YouTube didn’t actually exist until 2004. Before then, there was no home of “broadcast yourself” and all of your video content would have to be self-hosted, which often involved expensive bandwidth bills. Here Net Cafe explores the “future” of television, examining technology that actually ended up being more of a contender to TV’s crown than the evolution of the idiot box.
There are over 120 episodes of Net Cafe to enjoy, and if you’re fond of Windows 98, the squawk of a dial-up modem and Netscape Navigator then you will be in your element working your way through the archives, rolling your eyes at wildly off-the-mark predictions and getting all fuzzy over websites that look like they were made in Microsoft FrontPage.
Watch: Net Cafe (Archive.org)
Image credit: RGB (255, 255, 255) (ca_heckler)