Cyber Dictionary: What The Web Looked Like In 1996

June 4, 2014

In one 24-hour period in July 1995, the global computer network known as the Internet grew by 700 sites – “channels” you could tune in to get news, conduct research, find medical advice, hear audio, see video and argue with people over current events. The number was not unusual. The next day, 547 made their debuts. The pace has not slowed since.

So begins the foreword to a lovely, antiquated little book called Cyber Dictionary: Your Guide to the Wired World, published in 1996. Imagine, for a moment, a world in which someone can – nay, someone did – catalog the entirety of the day’s additions to the World Wide Web.

(Side note: I also enjoyed this gem from later in the foreword: “The 1996 presidential candidates all prepared ‘home pages’ on the Web where voters can read about officials’ good deeds.” And you thought Howard Dean’s campaign was an innovative!)

We’re warned against judging books by their covers, but in this case, the cover’s ’90s-tastic design sets a perfect context for what lies beneath. Or what doesn’t.

The phrase “social media” is, predictably, nowhere to be found. Just talk of the “soc” category for social-issues Usenet discussions. Google was just a glimmer in Sergey Brin’s eye in 1996, and Yahoo (which “can be accessed by logging onto the Web and typing”!) is described simply as “an online guide to the World Wide Web.” Examples of popular search engines are Archie and Veronica.

Two pages are dedicated to explaining the wild concept of “electronic mail (E-mail).” “There are advantages and disadvantages to E-mail. … A minus is that the recipient has to do something – log on – to get his mail, and if he doesn’t bother to do so for days, his mail sits unopened.”

All-important netiquette gets three pages, signifying its importance in those early days. Some of the guidelines:

  • “Keep your voice down” (“Typing IN CAPITALS is screaming in cyberspace.”)
  • “Avoid evangelism” (“…IBM newsgroup subscribers don’t want to hear that Macs and Amigas represent the cutting edge.”)
  • “Neither betray confidences nor make official pronouncements” (“The message travels instantaneously and cannot be retrieved.”)
  • “Don’t post ads” (“Or chain letters. Or business offers … Never send junk mail to unwilling recipients.”)


The book contains several pages devoted to various explanations of tech-fueled sex – cybersex, virtual sex, regular sex – that all seem like something Eugene Levy would have discussed with his son in American Pie (speaking of dated references).

Some other gems from within the pages of this bountiful technologist’s time capsule are below. If you want to flip through this gem, stop by the Fast Horse office for a trip down memory lane.

This is what virtual reality looked like – at least to stock photography specialists – in 1996:


This screen shot of “Adobe Illustrator 6 for Macintosh,” accompanying a description of “vector graphics,” is good for a chuckle:


Last but not least, some prophet unleashed a device called an “eye phone” – the “first commercially available head-mounted display” – long before Steve Jobs & Co. changed the world: