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#BEDM14: So… it’s free?

7 May 2014 by superlative

BEDM14 topic: What was the first bit of the Internet that blew your mind?

I remember exactly what the first thing on the internet was that really blew me away.

I was sat behind the counter at Leyton Library, where I used to work (I know – me, a library assistant, it couldn’t have been more apt), and I was talking to a librarian called Lesley Pink. I’m still not completely sure that can have been her real name; it sounds rather more like a character from Cluedo. And she was telling me about something.

It was called Hotmail.

“Oh yes,” she said, “you can just set up an email address. Type in www.hotmail.com and have a look.”

So we went to it together, and she talked me through signing up.

I was AMAZED.

“And this is free? I can just have any address I want for free?” (I was able to sign up with my first name and surname @hotmail.com. This was back in the good old days when every single address wasn’t yet taken).

“And then I can send emails? To anyone I want, anywhere in the world, and it’s all free?”

It was a revelation. Of course, I didn’t have anyone to send emails to at that point, but it meant I had the possibility of sending them, and that was enough.

I could not fathom that anything existed like this that did not require payment. Today everyone expects everything on the internet to be free, to be paid for by advertising which you then don’t look at or which you screen out using an ad blocker. No one wants to pay for anything. I can count on one hand the number of web services and sites I’ve actually paid money to subscribe to in the 16 years I’ve been using the internet.

I still have that email address too. It’s served me well, even if I have since switched to rival, Google-based products for most of my emailing. I should probably get an Early Adopter medal from Microsoft or something.

So the thing that first blew me away on the internet was Hotmail. Plus a gay porn site called Bedfellow, which was the first one I ever stumbled across. On the same computer in the library actually. Not quite sure how I got away with that…


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