Having been a teenager in the 90s, I was able to discover the beginnings of the Internet for the general public. We were of course far from video on demand, or even communication tools that are on the rise at the moment. Back to what was happening at that time.
The first consumer internet offers in France
It was in 1994 that the first Internet access offers for the general public in France were launched, first by WorldNet, then FranceNet.
For my part, my first Internet access at home dates from 1997. At the time, no adsl or fiber of course. You had to go through a modem, and its famous noise when it dialed and initialized the connection. There was no need to be in a hurry and time was running out. Indeed, the subscription was an AOL subscription of 3h monthly. Communication not included. Because yes, at the time it was necessary in addition to the subscription to pay the telephone communication. The interface looked more or less like this:
And as it passed through the telephone cable and the voice frequencies, it also had the effect of occupying the telephone line. So you had to be sure not to wait for an important call before starting your navigation, and to negotiate access to the line harshly. Because yes, of course there was no cell phone either, the landline was the only means of communication.
Doubt about the usefulness of the Internet and distrust at the beginning
It seems natural now to use the internet, and we do not question its usefulness because of the many uses we have of it. But back then, at least initially, it was considered a gimmick. No great future. One of the best-known quotes is that of Pascal Nègre in 2001, then CEO of Universal Music: “Internet? We don’t care, it will never work”.
One could also find in the newspapers articles like the next one from 2000 (Daily Mail).
In Europe, there was a lot of reluctance at first.
Already, out of ignorance. And no doubt linked to the fact that it came from the United States and that there was a certain mistrust. Somewhere, Edward Snowden’s much later revelations about mass surveillance show that this mistrust might have had some basis. In France, it was all the more latent as the Internet came to compete with the Minitel, a technological feat when it was released but which allowed fewer things than the Internet. It took until 1997 for political choices in favor of the Internet to be made.
Some also draw the parallel between the Internet at that time, and cryptocurrencies now. Because what was said at the time (doubt about the usefulness, distrust) echoes the speeches we hear about bitcoin.
The rise in power
After 1997, things happened quickly, both in terms of adoption and in terms of technological advances. The number of internet providers is constantly increasing. For my part, it’s when I go to Free which then offered an unlimited offer. You still had to pay for telephone calls, but there was no longer a fixed price limiting the possible duration. The year 2000 saw the appearance of an unlimited AOL package, which includes telephone calls. The success is there, but it creates many connection problems. I had switched to this plan at the time, and it was indeed complicated and random to get to connect. AOL ended up being convicted in court.
In 1999, the first ADSL offer was launched via Wanadoo. ADSL will revolutionize adoption by greatly increasing speeds and no longer occupying the line. Unlike earlier modems, they no longer use voice frequencies.
It is also the full period of the internet bubble . Many companies are getting started. It is also the beginnings of Google (1998) and the rise of Amazon which entered the Nasdaq in 1997. Questions about the usefulness of the Internet no longer arise, even if many uses are yet to come.
The share of Internet users in France rose from 4.3% in 1997 to 14.3% in 2000
The early 2000s saw the bursting of the Internet bubble. Rather than an explosion, in my opinion it’s more of a young market that had gone off in all directions, and which is rationalizing. For my part, I saw this change internally, because I was working at the time for an Internet service provider called Infonie . I had returned to be webmaster of the group’s search engine named Lokace (the very first French search engine for the record) and application developer on the Infonie portal. If you want to see what Lokace looked like at that time, you can use this WayBackMachine link from webarchive. In 2002, Infonie was taken over by Tiscali, which was itself taken over by Free afterwards.
In 2003, the first Freebox arrived. She revolutionized her time with triple play (television, unlimited telephone via box and internet).
The share of Internet users in France rose from 14.3% in 2000 to 36.1% in 2003.
These are also the beginnings of what will later be called web 2.0, with the arrival of Wikipedia, Linkedin and Facebook among others. The Internet then takes another turn, with its advantages and disadvantages. We are moving from the static web to the collaborative web. But the space that was initially a world of complete freedom, mainly centered on the sharing of knowledge, will become a space where privacy is beginning to be undermined.
But we will have the opportunity to address the rest in another article.