The Internet decade that changed the world

The Internet actually began 34 years ago with its predecessor, Arpanet, an unsuccessful attempt in October 1969 to create a web, but for the general public – including Greeks – the term «Internet» has only become well known over the past decade. The legendary Mosaic, the first web browser, appeared in the landmark year of 1993 and was a great success, making the Internet a game anyone could play. Chatrooms and e-mail messages had been around for some time but it was the World Wide Web, with pages like those in newspapers and magazines, that made the Internet popular. It was also in 1993 that the Union of Greek Internet Users was founded, holding seminars in the use of this new medium and providing access for its members to the Web. Over the next few years, the Internet grew rapidly, helped by new technologies, training programs and, above all, its exploitation by the business sector. Before long, Internet access became as necessary as a television. In 1995, the online bookstore Amazon was launched, ushering in the «dotconomy.» Shares in major sites skyrocketed, only to come crashing down at the end of the 1990s, unable to live up to the initial expectations. Meanwhile, the user population continued to grow and new habits, such as downloading files (including songs – beginning with the legendary Napster program in 2000), took multinational advertising executives by surprise. The anarchic nature of the online community appears impossible to tame using the rules of the conventional business game. Luddites and the gutter press see the Internet as a monster, the agent of pornographers, pirates and terrorists. But the user population keeps growing. As the Web’s first decade draws to a close, things appear to have settled a bit. After being forced to close down as a «pirate» business, Napster is back, this time as a legal trader in music. Users are learning how to avoid spam (junk mail) and viruses, and business firms are realizing that employees without access to the Internet are not as efficient. It is hard to make predictions, but a look back over the past decade might provide some ideas about the vehicle that is hurtling at the speed of a spaceship we have all boarded, willingly or otherwise.