This is an appendix to the post curation and filtering of the social media firehose.

I'm first going to go over a bit of history of the Internet as I experienced it (yawn) to get a grounding for where I'm coming from and some insight into where the Net is going.

Let's start at the beginning of my journey on the Internet. I got online not soon after I was able to read on my own. I had a couple of books on how to use the Internet and I read them so that I could learn not only about the World Wide Web, but also other tools like FTP, Gopher, Usenet, MUDs, and e-mail. Interactivity was limited to the <map> tag, RealPlayer, Java applets, minimal Flash, and JavaScript embellishments (remember the term DHTML?).

Back then, the distribution of websites was different. I don't have any empirical evidence, but you were much more likely to hit a personal page than you are now. Corporate sites were more of a way to have a simple web presence than an attempt at creating a full-blown marketing experience. The most forward-thinking sites came from publishers and other media outlets that saw the web as a way of extending whatever they were doing in print or on (non-computer) screens; however, rich multimedia wasn't a mainstay of the web yet as the bandwidth wasn't available (see this page from National Geographic for an example). Even with all the hype around the web, most entities didn't attempt to create a web presence and were happy to let fans create communities for them both on the web and other parts of the Internet. Many of these sites are gone now or completely different from how they appeared years ago. I have a copy of the book "Net-mom's Internet Kids & Family Yellow Pages" written by Jean Armour Polly which is an excellent snapshot of both the state of the Internet and the mentality of users at the time. At the time, it made sense to publish a book full of URLs — though linkrot did occur, there was not a large enough volume for it to be a big deal. Now those pages are gone and all we have is printed paper1 describing what would have been there (if that's not a warning to archive anything you like, I don't know what is).

Aside from books, finding other sites on the Internet was still in its infancy. Prior to the web, information retrieval datasets were usually not this large or diverse. There were search engines for FTP (Archie), Gopher (Veronica), and the Web (AltaVista, Lycos, among many others) and many of these returned very different results. This is why some people used metasearch engines like Dogpile to combine multiple results.

Instead of using search engines, many times I would start my searches with directories such as the WWW Virtual Library, Yahoo!, and DMOZ as these had lists of sites that were vetted by editors and were generally of better quality than the usual search results.

  1. Speaking of printed paper, I want to take a moment to remember one of my heroes of the Internet, Michael S. Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, a project to convert public domain works into e-books, something he invented. It was the first virtual volunteer project. I remember going that site and downloading many of their books in Plucker format so that I could fill up the megabytes of storage on my Palm. ↩