Pew report on the demographics of the old net hands

The latest report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project is called "A Portrait of Early Adopters: Why People First Went Online --and Why They Stayed":
Our canvassing of longtime internet users shows that the things that first brought them online are still going strong on the internet today. Then, it was bulletin boards; now, it's social networking sites. Then, it was the adventure of exploring the new cyberworld; now, it's upgrading to broadband and wireless connections to explore even more aggressively. Yet there are changes in their activities and motives. In the early days, most internet users consumed material from websites. These days they are just as likely to produce material. One common refrain is that they think more change lies ahead and they are eager to watch and participate...

Tastes and technologies do change. Most of those in our respondent pool said that in their early days on the internet they acted largely as individuals and consumers. That is, they used search engines; got news; played games; conducted research; downloaded software and emailed friends, family and colleagues. Many of these activities consisted of serial connections -- people querying systems, communicating privately with other individuals or with highly-defined communities. It would take a couple of years (and the addition of new tools) before people in this group engaged in creative and community processes. Once they had easier-to-use online tools, faster connections, and more familiarity with the online environment, they say they began to create and share photos, pieces of writing, videos and audio files. They also began rating products and tagging content.



  1. They had me until “In the early days, most internet users consumed material from websites.” Uhh, in the early days there were no websites. Later, Mosaic and the WWW were a curiosity, but weren’t used as heavily as Usenet, Gopher, Telnet, etc. My usage of the ‘net predates the release of Mosaic, which was most old net people’s first gateway to the web.

    I spent most of my time in Usenet. Note to old ‘net hands: don’t go searching for historical email addresses in Google Groups. It can be embarrassing and humbling.

  2. Ths s ntrstng, bt nt srprsng – wht ppl wnt, gnrlly, s hmn ntrctn, s t s n wndr tht th ntrnt hs prgrssd t mk tht pssbl nln thrgh scl ntwrks, nstnt mssgng, nd thr cmmnty tls. Hwvr, tht ds nt mn th ld ss hv bn lft bhnd – thngs lk srch nd nln gmng r bggr thn vr nd cntn t shw nnvtn. Chck t < hrf="">mngdq fr shnng xmpl nd mr nfrmtn.

  3. Actually, my first Web gateway was Lynx. Yep, text-based browsing. Gotta love it.

    I was a Usenet junkie. I spent hours reading newsgroups over my old 2400 modem connection. I thought about it today and realized that it’s probably been months since I checked any of my old Usenet haunts (now mostly Google groups). Most of them are struggling these days–not at all like the communities I remember in the early 90s. Of course, the communities aren’t necessarily gone–just moved elsewhere.

  4. I remember when I first used Gopher, and ran into ASCII ART rendition of J.R. Bob Dobbs that really did something to my teenage brain.

    Yeah Usenet was really a community back then, back when the first spam was produced, no one has to guard against spambots at ever corner, they’re kind of like zombies seeking every crevice and unbroken window to consumer our brains…too bad AOL had to ruin the internet by letting all of those people on it…hahaha

  5. “I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.” LCD Soundsystem

    but I was there

  6. I can’t remember what he called it, my friend, the systems analyst, had given me his old desktop PC, he then had me connect up this acoustic coupled modem (rubber cups and handset) and labouriously typed out “hello there” from his home – and I marveled at the green and black screen before me…

  7. Another Usenet (Google Groups) user here. Skipped the BBS systems since my brother was “connected” as were most computer-related companies, so they all had single CDs that contained *all* pirate software, including chemistry stuff or CAD/CAM stuff that went for $12K back then, and ‘Soldier of Fortune’ / ‘Loompanics’ catalog book scans of “how to make drugs and bombs and poisons or tap phones etc. etc. etc.” files that they traded you for a few dollars, or a new trackpad. Oddly enough, Mac software was just as abundant as PC software back then, before I became a Usenet junkie. But to this day, IRQ chat groups exist and are hyper-populated by all manner of torrent site members (and wannabee members) etc. All open to others, as in non-encrypted. PGP signatures used to be the norm. For a time there were IRQ groups that used to announce the latest “zero day” FTP site, which meant they had found some photo company or any other dummy company that allowed customers to upload files to their site, so for that night, all the pirate cracker types would upload entire hard drives of files, randomly arranged. Games were not the norm, either. Technical software and business stuff, with a (for me) CAD/CAM update or two.

    Bit Torrent replaced all that, after Kaaza peer-to-peer was polluted with fake files which nobody could tag as fake or being trojans.

    Version: 2.3



  8. Before the Internet, I used was various BBS. There was as much creation as there was consumption. I’d say a much higher ratio than today.

    BBS started interconnecting (FIDO). Not long after that, “the Internet” started to become generally available (I got access through work). It was email (connecting multiple proprietary systems: ATTMail, Compuserve, etc.), telnet usenet, ftp, finger mostly.

    In the early to mid 90’s, Mosaic (“the Web”) became available. The first version I used was text only with links. Pictures followed quickly.

    New users seemed fascinated by the web (still are), and except for email, ignored pretty much everything else.

    Social networking? Anyone here old enough to remember the Internet Oracle? There was some great stuff in there (both funny and sad).

  9. Ah, the good old days! When text came in whatever color you wanted as long as it was green, grey, or orange. When each ASCII character plopped out of your audio coupler like tapioca through a straw.

    I learned how to write on the Internet back in the mid eighties while I was in high school. They let the faculty brats into the computer center and let us on the VAXen and the Xerox Sigma 9. I fell in with a click of uber-geeks and we were all split screen chatting, writing long e-mail screeds, and publishing serial fiction for our peer’s review. Oh, and the gaming — text based Star Trek which prints out a grid showing your current sector on the ancient Anderson Jacobson 860 fanfold paper terminals. The delete key would backup over the previous character and smack it brutally with the ink ball until it was a worn black blot. Deleting a whole sentence took long enough to run to the bathroom.

    They also had this odd “vector computer” which had a round oscilloscope type monitor with a single electron gun which one could manipulate into tracing exquisite looping mandalas of green light.

    The Xerox Sigma 9 lurked in a glassed-in room with one desk for the operator, and the rest taken up by tape drives that looked like washing machines, and refrigerators full of transistors. Oh, and the punched card reader for input. You’d pass you program through the window, and the nice computer troll would feed it to the Sigma 9.

    I always wondered what the Sigma 9 thought about all that input, I mean aside from computing the result. I was certain that the machine was not really that fascinated with running my little basic programs, or even with the statistical computations, or drawing fractal snowflakes in ASCII on the fanfold paper. I surmised that it spent it’s night-time plethora of available cycles to consider the plight of the world, and if only I knew how to communicate more subtly with the Sigma 9, that I could receive it’s august counsel.

    So I suppose in some sense, the Xerox Sigma 9 was the voice of God to me, and I, with my humble Z account, bore dumb witness to it’s awesomeness.

  10. LOL! Early internet users were just passive consumers, while modern ones all create material. So, er, who produced what we were we passively consuming? Later, where did the early HTML content come from? Martians?

  11. the early days for me were FIDOnet Echoes via the BBSs and eventually I upgraded to UseNet when I could get online with my friend’s university account – I had dropped out of university (the first time) by that point. (later I’d go back and get my bachelor and my masters!). Usenet posts showed us where all the good stuff was on the FTP sites, but if you were in a pinch you could always use Gopher to try to find something (though it never really worked well enough for me).

    I still remember trying out Mosaic for the first time and thinking: “What? It’s just FTP with pictures! Who the hell would use this?” Oh how very very wrong I was.

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