Editor's Note: This story was originally published in Digital Issue V.
In a generation where the entire Internet is at our fingertips, it’s hard to imagine life without a constant stream of emailing, tweeting, Facebook stalking and Netflix. Some of the most popular websites and Internet favorites today were once just ideas. Here are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about the world wide web before it became the crazy meme-filled Internet we know and love today.
Story by Rochelle Friedewald
Illustrations by Jesus Acosta
Our generation couldn’t “Netflix and Chill” if Scott Hasting hadn’t acquired an embarrassing late fee on his Blockbuster rental. In the early 2000s, the Netflix creator rented Apollo 13, forgot to return the DVD and was hit with a $40 late fee from his local Blockbuster. He knew there had to be a better way to rent movies, and thought a service with no late fees and a flat rate subscription for unlimited rentals could be done entirely through the mail. To test this idea, Hastings started mailing himself CDs, saw that the disks arrived damage-free, and within the following year, he created Netflix. The movies-through-mail rental service soon crushed Blockbuster, and later evolved into the giant digital streaming company we all use binge watch TV shows on.
Nowadays, we can simply tap an icon on our smartphones and have a face-to-face conversation with anyone we know. However, the webcam was not originally created for chatting over the Internet, but rather, for a pot of coffee. In the early ‘90s, Cambridge professors only had one coffee machine in their workplace, and grew tired to making useless trips down the hall to a sometimes empty coffee pot. To solve this dilemma, they pointed a camera at the pot and posted the feed onto the Internet, which grabbed images of the pot about three times a minute. Word quickly got around about this revolutionary live feed, and by 1998 over 2 million had tuned in worldwide to take a look at the Trojan room coffee pot. When the webcam was eventually discontinued in 2001, the infamous pot was auctioned off on Ebay for a whopping $3,836.
While the basic Google search has been around since the ‘90s, Google Images didn’t arrive until 2000. When Jennifer Lopez showed up to the Grammy’s in a head-turning green gown, the search engine got so many queries of “Jennifer Lopez green dress,” that the site’s creators thought they should make an easier way for users to access images. That’s right. Google Images was created so we could all see Jenny from the Block’s amazing cleavage.
Before Gmail existed, gmail.com had a slightly different look. At the time, Garfield.com owned the site and provided afree email service with the furry feline as its main theme. Google had to purchase the rights to the site in 2004 to set up what is now known as gmail.com. However, avid Garfield fans can still access the cartoon email service today under the domain garfield.gmail.com.
THE WORLD’S FIRST MEME
Surprisingly, the first documented meme became a viral sensation before the days of the Internet. Chiff Roth, an audio engineering teacher in New York City, used his video editing skills to create “The Reagan’s Speak Out,” a video made from a series of clips of the infamous “Say No To Drugs” campaign in 1986. Instead of having President Ronald Reagan and former first lady Nancy Reagan speaking out on the harmful effects of drugs, Roth made a video with the opposite message in which the couple encouraged drug use. The video experienced one of the first cases of media virality, as the hilarious audio and video was passed around via VHS tapes.