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Why Didn't the Internet Take Off In 1983?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the failure-to-thrive dept.

The Internet 469

jfruh writes "An amazing pair of videos from the AT&T archives tout a service called Viewtron that brought much of what we expect from the modern Internet to customers' homes in 1983. Online news, banking services, restaurant reviews, shopping, e-mail — all were available on your TV set, controlled by a wireless infrared keyboard. The system had 15,000 customers in cities on the U.S. east coast, but was shut down after $50 million was spent on it. But why did it flop? Was the world just not ready for it?"

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Ready? (2)

click2005 (921437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217603)

I didnt see it so i'm asking... was it a walled garden with adverts?

Re:Ready? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217615)

Its a youtube video.

Re:Ready? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217647)

The system's total storage was around 2 million pages!

Its basically an interactive teletext service.

Re:Ready? (5, Funny)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218015)

I didn't see it so I'm asking... was it a walled garden with adverts?

It was the 80's, everyone was too busy with hairspray, good music and doing coke to care about the internet.

Plus at 28.8K it was faster to go to the shop to get porn.

Re:Ready? (5, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218021)

It's an American imitation of the French Minitel network []

It probably failed where Minitel succeeded because it's owners needed to commercialize it too early in its development life.

Re:Ready? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218115)

It probably failed where Minitel succeeded ...

Minitel succeeded?

Re:Ready? (1)

thunderclap (972782) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218033)

Think WebTV. Now picture that with the slooooooooooooooow speeds of 4 and 8 baud. There you go. Thats why it failed.

People continue to underestimate the Internet (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217609)

Probably because it was ridiculously limited by Internet standards. The Internet took off because you could do pretty much anything with it. The only limits were the technology of the computers and connections, and that technology increased and continues to increase exponentially. The services that AT&T offered were simply not worth the expense. The Internet, when it was eventually privatized, was.

Re:People continue to underestimate the Internet (4, Insightful)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217643)

Yeah I never saw it (I was a little kid then), but my guess is, "It did all those things badly, phone time wasn't free, it was expensive and trial users, when asked, said they wouldn't pay what they'd have to charge."

Just a guess though.

Re:People continue to underestimate the Internet (1)

thunderclap (972782) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218043)

Internet took off because business hoped on board after eternal Septemeber.

Re:People continue to underestimate the Internet (5, Insightful)

steelfood (895457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218103)

Oh boy... Terminology, folks, terminology.

The Internet didn't "take off" in 1983 for reasons that are completely unrelated to why this product failed. Most of it was because in 1983, computers were slow, modems were slow, and communication via the Internet wasn't nearly as practical as sneakernet. Imagine waiting a half second for each character of the (text) file you requested to appear on your screen. Those were the days of the 2400 baud modems, which were in fact that slow.

The only reason why people used the Internet was to communicate a very large amount of information over long distances to a multitude of individuals--distances beyond what a day trip could reach, and enough information to enough people that a quick series of telephone calls couldn't otherwise convey. There were the occasional hobbyists, tinkerers, and computer and engineering geeks--actually, the ones using the Internet were mostly them. The anomalies were the regular people.

This particular service didn't take off probably because competing services like Compuserv and Prodigy were cheaper and better. This service didn't take off more likely because their business model sucked, their management sucked, their product sucked, or some combination thereof. Services like Compuserv were ultimately supplanted by the World Wide Web because the WWW allowed anybody and everybody to generate their own content. But prior to the rise of the WWW, these services were the norm. Even now, there are some unexpected hundreds of thousands of actual subscribers to AOL (as opposed to the people who subscribed, and just kept paying their bills despite no longer using the service), because a lot of people only need and only desire such services. Not that the WWW isn't superior, but back then, the WWW didn't stand a chance. The only reason why the WWW took off was because the speed of computers, as well as the speed of modems, became acceptable. After modems broke 9600 baud speed barrier, access to the Internet was good enough for using the WWW.

And to make it clear, since this was my original point, the WWW is not the Internet. It is only a small part of it, though it is currently the most visible part of the Internet. But it is not the Internet.

no pc (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217611)

nobody had a computer at home

Re:no pc (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217797)

The Radio Shack TRS-80 model one and Apple II were two of the better known home computers around then. Not many could afford one, but the Apple Lisa came out in 1983 and saw some features added afterwards. It had a GUI similar to the Mac, hard drive, virtual memory, protected memory, expansion slots, and multitasking.

Re:no pc (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218079)

Hence the reason for the terminal/console to the TV. But even this device must have been too expensive of an investment that does not have any proven track record. It was ahead of its time and potentially above the optimal price point threshold.

It was a great idea in fact. It was just at the wrong place and time for marketing this kind of service.

Teh tubes were clogged? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217617)

tubes weren't big enough back then!

No Porn! (5, Funny)

zippo01 (688802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217621)

Enough said.

Re:No Porn! (4, Interesting)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217807)

And the French Minitel [] launched in 1982 had porn. It's all about competition.

Re:No Porn! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217901)

A great system, no malware or viruses of any kind. Access to a lot of databases, chat rooms, etc...
Everyone had one terminal, home or business. Business could order from their suppliers online etc...
The only 2 downsides were it was text based and the connection was billed by the minute.

But its no surprise for it having lasted for over 2 decades in France.

Why? It sucked. (5, Insightful)

RubberChainsaw (669667) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217627)

It had a high initial equipment investment, was slow (painfully slow), didn't look all that good compared to actual TV, had hourly charges, and very limited content. Users couldn't make their own content. The service was only for consumption. By the time the internet really took off, in the mid 90's, speeds were faster, the images were good, and there was a lot more content to peruse. What really let the internet take off was the fact that people could easily create their own content.

Re:Why? It sucked. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217671)

I hate to say this. But I think it is PORN that help the internet fly.

Re:Why? It sucked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217679)

So yeah, "world wasn't ready"

Re:Why? It sucked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217739)

No, world was. Tech wasn't.

Re:Why? It sucked. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217681)

Exactly. People don't love the Internet because it's a glorified interactive TV or a fancy product catalog. It's a completely different communications platform, where you can do pretty much whatever you want.

Re:Why? It sucked. (4, Interesting)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217693)

Yep. I started using the internet in the mid-1990's when it had a few years on it but still wasn't quite universal like it is now. When one of the teachers at school was showing this cool new technology they were even describing all the now long forgotten things like Gopher and Finger. The main thing I saw that kicked off widespread usage was simple: "unlimited" usage policies.

Nobody really was interested when you paid for an AOL account and got 5 hours online. They weren't interested when they bumped that up to 20, 40, nor 80. People really didn't seem to bother much until they were told "Here, use this all you want.". Having the average price of a dial-up account fall from $30-40 down to $10-15 per month certainly didn't hurt either.

Its kinda funny though that now that as a society we're hooked, it's trending in the opposite direction. A cellular data plan is typically $30+ and has limits that you can actually hit pretty easily with normal usage patterns.

Re:Why? It sucked. (2)

spacey (741) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217757)

Yes, the cell carriers will have a disruptive change hit them at some point, though. Their pricing is exorbitant and can't be sustained.

Re:Why? It sucked. (4, Interesting)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218095)

This is why Hutchison 3G is the fastest growing mobile carrier in the UK. Shameless plug, because I use it and think it's the best thing since punch cards, for £15/mo and no contract you get 300 voice minutes on any UK network, 3,000 SMS texts and the ONLY TRULY UNLIMITED INTERNET* of ANY UK carrier.

*I managed somehow to cause my local tower to blow a chip, rendering it inoperable. I called tech support, and in two days they had not only replaced the chip, they had replaced the tower with a bigger one. When I asked them if my downloading 6GB/day (low average) might have had anything to do with the tower failure, the reply stunned me:

"You paid for unlimited bandwidth, use it for what you want - torrents, web server, whatever. It's your bandwidth. Our job is to make sure you get what you paid for"

I mean, NO FAIR USE POLICY!? That's unheard of! Especially on a cellular plan!

This is why I'm not going back to unreliable, capped, ripoff-merchant Virgin Media.

Re:Why? It sucked. (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218051)

It may be true in your country, but certainly not in mine - plenty of people, myself included, got into that whole Internet thingy when we were still charged per minute of use - on dial-up.

Coming Attraction! (1)

radarradar (2565457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217697)

I think it reveals the American oligarchy's ideal media. It's true that in the mean time they've figured out that a bit of user content allows for all sorts of targeted advertising -- not to mention free content. Otherwise, it sounds more or less like the near future of the internet.

Re:Why? It sucked. (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217801)

What really let the internet take off was the fact that people could easily create their own content.

Hear hear. The real value of Internet is that all the stories, art etc. that people create and used to hide in their desk drawers is now available online. Sturgeon's law still holds, of course, but so does the law of lots of monkeys on typewriters. Commercial content is just a nice bonus.

Re:Why? It sucked. (1) (245670) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217995)

What really let the internet take off was the fact that people could easily create their own content.

And, by "content", you mean porn.

Seriously, tho, I had an account on Delphi back in the mid 80s and it had all of this stuff and a much wider footprint. You could connect from any Tymnet node. In fact, I found the manual for it recently so I can look at the node list...11.5 pages of phone numbers with 41 numbers per page. And 3 pages of Datapac numbers for Canadians. Delphi had bulletin boards, chat/conferencing, financial services (banking, bill paying, brokerage services, etc.), games,marketplace, information, a library, email, calendar, travel services, and a few other things.

What really held it back, IMHO, is the cost. It cost $6/hr evenings/weekends and $16/hr during business hours. Plus any long distance charges. Who the heck wanted to pay $6/hr to play Colossal Cave?

Re:Why? It sucked. (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218111)

It had a high initial equipment investment, was slow (painfully slow), didn't look all that good compared to actual TV, had hourly charges, and very limited content.

In other words, it was from AT&T.

Al Gore (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217631)

Al Gore wasn't ready to invent it yet

PC's (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217633)

The internet just doesn't work as well with TVs as it does with PC's. Look at internet-connected smart TVs today. A recent study says that 50% of them are never connected to the internet. I think it's because people don't want to "do things" with their TVs. They just want to sit back and watch. PCs and more recently smartphones are associated with doing things. People saw the PC with a keyboard and associated it with getting stuff done. The internet was an instrument to get more stuff done faster and with people/businesses who don't reside in the same town you do. People have used phones to get things done, coordinate with people, call their banks, etc. People only associate TVs with sitting back and watching. Back then the internet wasn't fast enough to do this, so people weren't interested with connected TVs (and apparently 50% of people with internet capable TVs still aren't interested in connected TVs).

Re:PC's (2)

GumphMaster (772693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217777)

Look at internet-connected smart TVs today. A recent study says that 50% of them are never connected to the internet. I think it's because people don't want to "do things" with their TVs. They just want to sit back and watch.

Amen. Mine was connected long enough to discover that navigating the thing was so cumbersome it was faster to walk to the study, start my machine, grab the Youtube content and stick it on my MythTV box. Or get the weather, or flight times, or play games, or ...

Re:PC's (2)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218093)

Look at internet-connected smart TVs today. A recent study says that 50% of them are never connected to the internet. I think it's because people don't want to "do things" with their TVs. They just want to sit back and watch.

Amen. Mine was connected long enough to discover that navigating the thing was so cumbersome it was faster to walk to the study, start my machine, grab the Youtube content and stick it on my MythTV box. Or get the weather, or flight times, or play games, or ...

Your comment actually contradicts the original statement, it doesn't confirm it. You imply that you DO want to do things on your TV, other than watch TV programming on it. The reason for you not to use it for Internet is that the TV is simply not up to the task - primarily due to a poor user interface. And that's a totally different reason than what GP suggested.

Preoccupation (1)

naota-kun (705771) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217639)

People were too caught up in the change from roller-boogie to break-dancing. It happened to me.

Text data rates even then... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217641)

"Write Mail (10 Cents Per Message"

I think that pretty much explains it all.

Re:Text data rates even then... (2)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218047)

Not so bad when you realize that's about the same AT&T is charging (adjusted for inflation) for SMS messages today!

obviously (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217649)

They didn't send every single person on earth an AOL CD twenty times. They never had a chance...

Discovered the answer (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217651)

At launch, they cost $900 and were reduced to $600 when demand was soft. Further, a subscription in Miami cost $12 a month, plus long distance phone charges, if any. There also were additional charges for Hallmark Cards (electronic mail) of $2 per card or 50 cents for stationery. After May, 1984, the partners gave up trying to sell the Sceptre Terminals and changed the pricing system to be $39.95 a month including terminal rental.

Too goddamned expensive. $900 in 1983 was $2,080 in 2012 dollars. []

Who the hell is willing to throw down $2000 for an untested system? Maybe if they'd started at $39.95 a month ($92.37 in 2012 dollars [] ) it would've been able to get off the ground, but the original price point likely killed it.

Commodore Amiga was utilizing the Internet world (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217653)

well we folks using the Commodore Amiga were using all the internet had to offer back then!

Re:Commodore Amiga was utilizing the Internet worl (1)

MisterMidi (1119653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218037)

In '83? I don't think so, the A500 was released in '85.

What are you in for? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217655)

Molesting a dead horse.

Re:What are you in for? (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217737)

Well, there's no crime in that! It's your right as an American. I'm trying to cut down, myself.

because it was... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217657)

* proprietary at&t
* not the internet
* built with profits in mind (not info sharing, openness)
* proprietary at&t
* on low-res analog tv
* on dialup (300 baud anyone?)
* did i mention, proprietary at&t?

Similar systems did take off. (3, Insightful)

safetyinnumbers (1770570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217659)

There was Minitel [] in France, and Prestel [] in the UK, that had some success.

Re:Similar systems did take off. (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217771)

I think it was Viatel? in Australia. I think I still have one of the magazines they sent out monthly. Didn't use it that much as there was lots of BBS around.

Re:Similar systems did take off. (2)

munwin99 (667576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217869)

Yep Viatel was the Australian system. I had it (on a C64)... ahh the memories (shudder). []

Re:Similar systems did take off. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39218065)

Think its fair to say that Minitel was hugely successful for its time - some 50% of the french population used it; and it's still available!

We should all check it out since we are now rapidly coming back to a similar model; a single provider - such as France Telecom or Facebook or Google - runs the show for us all, sets the limits and decides whats good for us.

Easy Answer (0, Redundant)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217667)

No porn. 'nuff said.

BBS's were better (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217673)

If you were online in 1983, a BBS was the place to be. FidoNet was founded in 1984, so it was the dawn of an exciting era.

Duh (5, Insightful)

colonel (4464) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217683)

There was no self-publishing, it was not a platform, not an infrastructure, it was a centralized service that didn't interact with similar services from competitors.

Connect-from-home services like these popped up *all the time* in the 70s, 80s and early 90s from cable companies, newspapers, telcos and similar -- but they all died because they were all walled gardens designed to keep out the competitors of their parent companies.

The only services that thrived were the ones that had no parent companies with business models to protect -- AOL and Compuserve -- which died off when they connected themselves to the government/academic internet thingy and real competition started.

What's interesting is how many of these walled gardens evolved from voice-based IVR systems hosted by major newspapers in the 70s-90s where you could dial up and listen to your horroscope, sports, movie showtimes, etc. over the phone. Those systems got more and more and more complex over time, and if you carried a wallet-card of numbers and keypad commands, you could access a world of information from payphones or borrowed landlines while you were on the go! For a small monthly fee, you could get a voicemail box that you could check while you were on the go if you wanted to stay reachable but couldn't afford a pager.

It's simple really (0)

bitflippant (2198664) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217703)

no porn.

NTSC resolution didn't help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217707)

Geeks were enthused enough to look past the crappy resolution you got from TVs of that era. I wager most people weren't. Also, if it didn't somehow leverage the power of the computer you already had then it would have been expensive. ATT would have had to write software for all the popular home computers. At that point Atari, Apple and Commodore were powerhouses in the market along with a lot of other niche machines. The market and the tech just weren't ready.

Pictures (3, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217717)

Like many, I took the Internet for granted as a geek-only thing and was surprised when it caught on with the general public in the mid-90's. One explanation I've heard for its sudden adoption is that the web brought pictures to the Internet for the first time. And the 100x100 3-bit Wizard and the Princess graphics shown in this Viewtron don't count.

Free market at work (3, Insightful)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217997)

Part of the sudden adoption was the free market at work, at least in the states. The 1996 telco reform act allowed companies other than the monopolies to handle local phone calls. That's why there were thousands of ISPS that opened up overnight, cheap phone lines. It also had a nice confluence of technology and society. Technology was also improving so that suddenly all those racks and racks of modems could be jammed into rack mount cards cheaply. Also you had all those college kids who liked it and got into the real world and still wanted the convenience of email and other services.. That's the power of the free market.

Of course Bush Jr put Powel's son in charge of the FCC, they rolled back the telco reform because monopolies liked being monopolies, and suddenly every non-monopoly ISP goes out of business. The US bandwidth speeds become a joke compared to the rest of the modern world. That's corporatism at work.

Ever heard of CompuServe? (2)

scottbomb (1290580) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217727)

They were the most popular online service although there may have been one or two others. If you had a Commodore 64, an Apple IIe, or any of the various computers of the day, and you had a modem, you were good to go. It was expensive though, and relatively few people were on it, but it was pretty cool at the time.

Re:Ever heard of CompuServe? (3, Informative)

spacey (741) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217769)

True, that. In '92 compuserve was established, but its greatest value for geeks was that they had a usenet feed and a mail gateway (which was probably a uucp connection to uunet/alternet, but mail flowed!), and so you could communicate with the rest of the world. It's still sad that they kept denying that this was their future until they couldn't stop hemorrhaging users.

it was a very interesting time (1)

eUdudx (880557) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217909)

i ran the tech side of THE SOURCE a competing service and alpha tested AOL for Mac and then PCs VideoTex (the French initiative) was very big then.

Re:Ever heard of CompuServe? (1)

Venner (59051) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217937)

Man that brings back memories. I remember my waiting for my favorite BBS's weekly uplink to FidoNet, when "electronic mail" was exchanged. And being jealous when my neighbor got World Wide Web access, which Prodigy started offering around 1994, iirc.

closed systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217729)

There were dozens of similar systems all over the world. Everything from Viatel and Minitel and even AOL and Compuserve.

The problem with all of them was they were closed systems (walled gardens).
People hated being locked into closed systems

Re: closed systems (2)

CoolCalmChris (991775) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217775)

Yet they'll gladly buy iPhones.

Re: closed systems (1)

luvirini (753157) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218069)

Yes, to a geek an iPhone is a closed system.

But to an average user it is a very open system: All those applications in the store, access to the web and so on. All in an easy to use package.

Compared to the phones thay had before, iPhones likely feel like a breath of fresh air to them.

Re: closed systems (1)

lyran74 (685550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217779)

It's a bit anachronistic to say people hated closed systems--as you said, everything was closed. Only in retrospect does it look so quaint.

Too expensive (1)

captjc (453680) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218023)

That seems way too simplistic.

In the early eighties, computers were niche at best. Something only for accountants, secretaries, scientists, hobbyists, and rich kids. Modems were horribly expensive, phone charges were criminally expensive (especially long distance), plus you had to pay for the service. Scientists and College students probably had access to one of the academic networks of the time, most hobbyists were probably satisfied with Bulletin Board Systems, and most businesses aren't going foot the bill for something like this, with the possible exception major banks and stock market trading firms. On top of this, these services were competing with free TV and radio and cheap newspapers.

Simply put, it most likely failed because the cost of entry was too high for a service that could be had for cheap or free.

not even new on AT&T (1)

AdamWill (604569) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217735)

It wasn't even new on AT&T. France had Minitel in 1982. []

These systems were neat, sure. Were they the internet? No. Noooo---ooo. No.

Re:not even new on AT&T (2)

AdamWill (604569) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217747)

Sorry for the self-reply...there's a nice comprehensive history of these types of systems at [] . AT&T's was just one of a whole bunch, of which Minitel was the only one which really got traction.

like all things (1)

alienzed (732782) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217743)

It takes time for ideas to catch on and really come into their own. All the various precursors to the internet were necessary steps in the process of delivering what we have today. I suppose it all started with television in a way. Call it what you will, but isn't that pretty much what we're all sitting in front of right now?

home, meet business (1)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217749)

because they tried to take a home entertainment device where people sit together and relax doing nothing, and they incorporated business activities where people needed to ignore each other and dedicate their focus to something requiring their interaction.

that's what a desk is for. and it's better for that reason. that's why monitor's are better than televisions. so until humans choose to work from their couch, you can't give them a keyboard for it.

tell me, what's the correct ergonomic seating position for a keyboard and couch?

No Access for Amateur Coders (1)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217751)

Amateur programmers couldn't run and test their own code on it.

If nascent code monkeys weren't interested, then you lose the wow factor pretty quickly.

GEnie, Compuserve, Applelink, and AOL had some success because they were 1/2 BBS-like and 1/2 virtual desktop publishing.

One look at Mosaic + HTML, though, and it was painfully obvious that not only could you publish your random crap without AOL, but you could spend an eternity tinkering and extending it.

Online services (5, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217763)

Why Didn't the Internet Take Off In 1983?

Viewtron was just another America Online, Prodigy, Compuserve, etc (but even worse, because it was also hardware based). A proprietary walled garden of content that nickel and dimed users to death, with very limited selection, slow performance, and expensive hardware. Take the banking for example. How many banks do you think were plugged into their service? I bet it was only one, and that was more for bragging rights and an advertising tic mark than anything else. 10 cents to send an email? Not exactly going to foster an explosive growth of online communication that way.

Here's why the Internet "won", and this service and the others I listed that were like it have gone the way of the dodo. The internet is open. It is open standards, on top of more open standards, on top of even more open standards. It wasn't built for consumers. It wasn't built for money grubbing corporations to rule over. First and foremost it was built to move data between any two computers on a network that could grow to fast proportions. THAT is why it is a success. I was fortunate to have been on the internet before the www, back when usenet, email, ftp, irc and gopher were king. Even before the glitz and glamor of HTML and the internet that the world knows now, the power of the internet was abundantly clear, even though the learning curve and interface weren't conducive to the average person (ahhh, the days of ftping pirated Amiga software from college servers).

Viewtron put the cart in front of the horse - it was meant to make money and grant control to a single corporate entity. It was not about open networking and raw connectivity between computing devices. That is "Why Didn't the Internet Take Off In 1983".

Two biggest mistakes from that video (1)

dmomo (256005) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217765)

It looks like they had many of the practical uses spot on. These two statements, however turned out quite wrong.

1) This may look like something out of the 25th century...
2) It all adds up to more time to enjoy live, and more life to enjoy.

Why Viewtron failed (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217781)

Viewtron failed because all of the content on the network was created for commercial purposes.

the internet succeeded where Viewtron failed because in the early days most of the content on the open internet was created by users of the network, not by commercial interests seeking to monetize it.

No matter how large or dedicated a corporation is to producing content, their efforts will always be dwarfed by masses of individuals who produced simply for the love of producing it. It was his large volume of genuine content that attracted the first consumer-only internet users in the early 1990s.

Commercial content of course has its place, but human beings are remarkably good at detecting and disregarding propaganda. Sadly much commercial content falls into this category, and if that is all that is available people will just turn it off.

marketing to the wrong people is the problem (4, Insightful)

crispytwo (1144275) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217785)

The people that made the internet viable early on were people who both understood what the network could provide and wanted it.

Those of us who spent our nights dialing between BBSes and trading phone numbers were waiting in the shadows for something more connected. Once the internet became more available (i.e. not just military or universities) climbed on board as soon as we could. It is this kind of group that made the network valuable. This Viewtron system was very closed and controlled. As a user you had access to commercial stuff, but nothing shared between users other than email. The one major thing it missed was porn -- 20/20.

Otherwise it is a barely usable brick targeted to people who don't care anyway. It's a certain flop. No surprise.

It is interesting how forward thinking it was though. 15000 people is quite a few, but only 1/1000th of what was needed to recover costs.

Same thing happened in Ottawa (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217795)

We had something very similar here in Ottawa, Ontario. It was called NABU [] and consisted of a Z80-based computer hooked into the cable TV network. I remember it had quite a few (crappy) games and what we would today call cloud apps, since the base unit had no local storage, everything happened server-side. I remember it being pretty friggin cool at the time, compared to the 2400 baud modem I had on my Atari, but limited availability and lack of updates prevented it from taking off. It lasted only a few years before the cableco killed it due to poor adoption, which itself was due to the cableco doing a half-assed job of implementing and maintaining the system.

It was ahead of its time, only because the company didn't know how to market and support it.

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217813)

You don't even have to look anything up to know that it would have been WAY too expensive, and slow at the time, with probably limited content.

People had lives then (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217825)

Now we have this pitiful substitute for social interaction.

Here's a guess... (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217835)

Because (a) virtually no one had computers, (b) home internet access was near impossible to get...

Really silly question, isn't it? A niche device was made that only worked in certain areas, for an infrastructure that existed near anywhere - with a price point (for if it were to be "consumerized") that nearly no one could have afforded. The time wasn't right.

A fun story! (2)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217841)

A fun story! In the UK, domestic customers used AOL and Compuserve to access the internet through a gateway. You could buy modem packs at Tandy. We had Prestel that had an email gateway too. People in academic and military institutions could access the internet at work. The problem then? (1) it was VERY expensive to use UK telephones for this long, (2) phone lines were unreliable and slow (3) and there was hardly any content available.

Videotex Networking and the American Pioneer (4, Informative)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217853)

From the Way Back archives [] .

I wrote the following article during my tenure as the chief architect for the mass-market videotex experiment conducted by AT&T and Knight-Ridder News called "Viewtron" -- a service of the joint-venture company, Viewdata Corporation of America.

As can be sensed in the article, I had encountered some fairly frustrating situations and was about to be told by the corporate authorities that my telecomputing architecture, which would have provided a dynamically downloaded Forth graphics protocol in 1983 evolving into a distributed Smalltalk-like environment beginning around 1985, would be abandoned due to a corporate commitment to stick with Tandem Computers as the mainframe vendor -- a choice which I had asserted would not be adequate for my architecture. (At least Postscript survived.) I was subsequently offered the head telecomputing software position at Prodigy by IBM and turned it down when they indicated they would not support my architecture either, due to a committment to limit merchant access to their network to only those who had a special status with the service provider (IBM/CBS/Sears). The distributed Smalltalk system was specifically designed to allow the sort of grassroots commerce now emerging in the world wide web -- particularly as people recognize JavaScript is similar to the Self programming language and the Common Lisp Object System. This wasn't in keeping with IBM's philosophy at that time since they had yet to be humbled by Bill Gates.

My independent attempt at developing this sort of service was squashed by the U.S. government when it provided UUCP/Usenet service to a competitor in San Diego and would not offer me the same subsidy via MILnet -- a network that was not for public access, by law, and which was exclusively for military use. My complaints to DoD investigators resulted in continual "We're looking into it." replies.

Videotex Networking and The American Pioneer

by Jim Bowery (circa 1982)

With the precipitous drop in the price of information technology, computer-based communication has come within the technical and economic reach of the mass-market. The term generally used for this mass-market is "videotex" because it reduces the cost of entry into the home by using the most ubiquitous video display device, the television screen, to deliver its service.

The central importance of this new market is that it brings the capital cost of establishing a publication with nation-wide distribution to within the reach of the mass-market as well. This means that anyone who is a "consumer" of information on this new technology can also be a "producer" of information. The distinction between editorial staff and readership need no longer be a function of who has how much money, but rather, who has the greatest consumer appeal. The last time an event of this magnitude took place was the invention of the offset printer which brought the cost of publication to within the reach of small businesses. That democratization of cultural evolution was protected in our constitution under freedom of the press. Freedom of speech was intended for the masses. In this new technology, the distinction between press and speech is beginning to blur. Some individuals and institutions see this as removing the new media from either of the constitutional protections rather than giving it both. They see a great danger in allowing the uncensored ideas of individuals to spread across the entire nation within seconds at a cost of only a few cents. A direct quote from a person with authority in the management of this new technology: "We view videotex as 'we the institutions' providing 'you the people' with information." I wonder what our founding fathers would have thought of a statement like that.

Mass-media influences cultural evolution in profound ways. Rather that assuming a paternalistic posture, we should be objective about these influences in making policy and technology decisions about the new media. It is important to try and preserve the positive aspects of extant media while eliminating its deficits. On the positive side, mass-media is very effective at eliminating "noise" or totally uninteresting information compared to, say, CB radio. This is accomplished via responsible editorial staffs and market forces. On the negative side, much "signal" or vital information is eliminated along with the noise. A good example of this is the way mass-media attends to relatively temporal things like territorial wars, nuclear arms, economic ills, social stratification ... etc. to the utter exclusion of attending to the underlying cause of these events: our limits to growth. The need for "news" is understandable, but how long should we talk about which shade of yellow Joe's eye is, how his wife and her lover feel about it and whether he will wear sun-glasses out of embarrassment before we start talking about a cure for jaundice?

Mass-media has failed to give appropriate coverage to the most significant and interesting issue facing us because of the close tie between institutional culture and editorial policy. Institutional evolution selects people-oriented people -- individuals with great personal force. These people are consumed with their social orientation to the point that they ignore or cannot understand information not relating in fairly direct ways to politics or the psychological aspects of economics. Since institutional evolution is reflected in who has authority over what, editorial authority eventually reflects the biases of this group. They cannot understand life, except as something that generates politics and "human interest" stories. They may even, at some level of awareness, work to maintain our limits to growth since it places their skills at a premium. In a people-saturated environment (one at its limits to growth) people-oriented people are winners.

Actually, this is an ancient problem that keeps rearing its ugly head in many places in many forms. In my industry its called the "Whiz Kids vs. MBAs" syndrome. Others have termed it "Western Cowboys vs. Eastern Bankers". The list is without end. I prefer to view it as a more stable historical pattern: "Pioneers vs. Feudalists".

Pioneers are skilled at manipulating unpeopled environments to suit their needs whereas feudalists are skilled at manipulating peopled environments to suit their needs. Although, these are not necessarily exclusive traits, people do seem to specialize toward one end or the other simply because both skills require tremendous discipline to master and people have limited time to invest in learning.

Pioneers want to be left alone to do their work and enjoy its fruits. Feudalists say "no man is an island" and feel the pioneer is a "hick" or worse, an escapist. Feudalists view themselves as lords and pioneers as serfs. Pioneers view feudalists as either irrelevant or as some sort of inevitable creeping crud devouring everything in its path. At their best, feudalists represent the stable balance and harmony exhibited by Eastern philosophy. At their worst, feudalists represent the tyrannical predation of pioneers unable to escape domination. At their best, pioneers represent the freedom, diversity and respect for the individual represented by Western philosophy. At their worst, pioneers represent the inefficient, destructive exploitation of virgin environs.

The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans selected pioneers for the New World. The Pioneer is in our cultural and our blood. But now that our frontier resources have vanished, the "creeping crud" of feudalism is catching up with us. This change in perspective is making itself felt in all aspects of our society: big corporations, big government and institutional mass-media. As the disease progresses, we find ourselves looking and behaving more and more like one big company town. Soviet Russia has already succumbed to this disease. The only weapon we have that is truly effective against it is our greatest strength: innovation.

I firmly believe that, except to the extent that they have been silenced by the media's endless barrage of feudalistic values, the American people are pioneers to their core. They are starved to share these values with each other but they cannot because there is no mode of communication that will support their values. Videotex may not be as efficient at replicating and distributing information as broadcast, but it does provide, for the first time in history, a means of removing the editorial monopoly from feudalists and allowing pioneers to share their own values. There will be a battle over this "privilege" (although one would think freedom of the press and speech should be rights). The outcome of this battle of editorial freedom vs. control in videotex may well determine whether or not civilization ends in a war over resources, continues with the American people spear-heading an explosion into the high frontier or, pipe-dream of pipe-dreams, slides into world-wide feudalism hoping to control nuclear arms and "equitably" distribute our dwindling terrestrial resources.

There is a tremendous danger that careless promotion of deregulation will be dogmatically (or purposefully) extended to the point that there may form an unregulated monopoly over the information replicated across the nation-wide videotex network, now underdevelopment. If this happens, the prophecies of a despotic, "cashless-society" are quite likely to become a reality. My opinion is that this nightmare will eventually be realized but not before the American pioneers have had a chance to reach each other and organize. I base this hope on the fact that the first people to participate in the videotex network will represent some of the most pioneering of Americans, since videotex is a new "territory".

The question at hand is this: How do we mold the early videotex environment so that noise is suppressed without limiting the free flow of information between customers?

The first obstacle is, of course, legal. As the knights of U.S. feudalism, corporate lawyers have a penchant for finding ways of stomping out innovation and diversity in any way possible. In the case of videotex, the attempt is to keep feudal control of information by making videotex system ownership imply liability for information transmitted over it. For example, if a libelous communication takes place, corporate lawyers for the plaintiff will bring suit against the carrier rather than the individual responsible for the communication. The rationalizations for this clearly unreasonable and contrived position are quite numerous. Without a common carrier status, the carrier will be treading on virgin ground legally and thus be unprotected by precedent. Indeed, the stakes are high enough that the competitor could easily afford to fabricate an event ideal for the purposes of such a suit. This means the first legal precedent could be in favor of holding the carrier responsible for the communications transmitted over its network, thus forcing (or giving an excuse for) the carrier to inspect, edit and censor all communications except, perhaps, simple person-to-person or "electronic mail". This, in turn, would put editorial control right back in the hands of the feudalists. Potential carriers' own lawyers are already hard at work worrying everyone about such a suit. They would like to win the battle against diversity before it begins. This is unlikely because videotex is still driven by technology and therefore by pioneers.

The question then becomes: How do we best protect against such "legal" tactics? The answer seems to be an early emphasis on secure identification of the source of communications so that there can be no question as to the individual responsible. This would preempt an attempt to hold the carrier liable. Anonymous communications, like Delphi conferencing, could even be supported as long as some individual would be willing to attach his/her name to the communication before distributing it. This would be similar, legally, to a "letters to the editor" column where a writer remains anonymous. Another measure could be to require that only individuals of legal age be allowed to author publishable communications. Yet another measure could be to require anyone who wishes to write and publish information on the network to put in writing, in an agreement separate from the standard customer agreement, that they are liable for any and all communications originating under their name on the network. This would preempt the "stolen password" excuse for holding the carrier liable.

Beyond the secure identification of communication sources, there is the necessity of editorial services. Not everyone is going to want to filter through everything published by everyone on the network. An infrastructure of editorial staffs is that filter. In exchange for their service the editorial staff gets to promote their view of the world and, if they are in enough demand, charge money for access to their list of approved articles. On a videotex network, there is little capital involved in establishing an editorial staff. All that is required is a terminal and a file on the network which may have an intrinsic cost as low as $5/month if it represents a publication with "only" around 100 articles. The rest is up to the customers. If they like a publication, they will read it. If they don't they won't. A customer could ask to see all articles approved by staffs A or B inclusive, or only those articles approved by both A and B, etc. This sort of customer selection could involve as many editorial staffs as desired in any logical combination. An editorial staff could review other editorial staffs as well as individual articles, forming hierarchies to handle the mass of articles that would be submitted every day. This sort of editorial mechanism would not only provide a very efficient way of filtering out poor and questionable communications without inhibiting diversity, it would add a layer of liability for publications that would further insulate carriers from liability and therefore from a monopoly over communications.

In general, anything that acts to filter out bad information and that is not under control of the carrier, acts to prevent the carrier from monopolizing the evolution of ideas on the network.

As a tool for coordinating organizations, a customer-driven videotex communications facility would be just as revolutionary in its impact. In particular, organizations with simple hierarchical structures could automate almost all of their accounting and coordination via a videotex network. In addition to the normal modes of organizational management, new modes will spring up that are impractical outside of an information utility. Perhaps the most important example involves the way individuals are given authority within organizations. Traditional organizations select authority via a top-down, authoritarian system or via a bottom-up democratic system. The authoritarian system is more efficient than the democratic system, but it is also more vulnerable to mistakes and corruption. The democratic system gets harder to maintain the larger it gets. People have a natural limit to the number of people they can effectively associate with. In large representative democracies, such as our government, a national union, etc. virtually no one voting for a candidate knows the candidate personally. This, combined with the event called "election" creates the "campaign" where the virtues of democracy are almost entirely subverted by its vices. A very simple system of selecting representation or proxy exists which eliminates "elections" and thus campaigns, excessive politics and corruption. It is called CAV: "continuous approval voting". It is too expensive to maintain manually, but with a videotex network, it becomes just as cheap as any other system (it may be less expensive).

In CAV, a group of people who associate with each other select a representative from among themselves. Each member has an "approval list" which only they can see and alter. On this list, they give the name of every individual they feel is competent to be their representative. The person whose name appears on the most approval lists is the representative. At any time, a member may change their approval list. That change could put another at the top of the approval heap and therefore force a recall of the previous representative. A hierarchy of such groups could grow to unlimited size, still with no campaigns and everyone evaluating only those who they are in a position to associate with. Of course, thresholds for recall, terms of office and other embellishments may be included to optimize the system for particular purposes. The point is that this represents just one of many new forms of democracy that could change the way privilege and accountability are allocated in our institutions.

The power of this sort of tool will be so profound that the first organizations to take advantage of it will represent an unprecedented political and economic force. As stated earlier, it appears the demography of early customers will favor organizations oriented toward pioneering values. If the development of technology for utilization of nonterrestrial resources continues, it is quite likely that an organization will form to exploit those resources, by-passing government, military and traditional corporate planning. Of course, these institutions won't like this, just as third-world governments tried to tie down nonterrestrial resources with the so-called "Moon Treaty". The ensuing political battle will probably come out in favor of allowing the organization to develop the resources in exchange for some form of taxation.

Professional societies will be able to carry on continuous year-round conferences. The time for feed-back determines the rate of advance in most advanced technologies. Videotex can reduce that feed-back time from months to minutes. Again, societies structured appropriately will be able to take maximum advantage of this sort of system. This means only new or flexible old societies will receive the full force of this technology's benefits. A society which places internal politics before its primary purpose will be by-passed. Once again, pioneer values will be promoted.

The conferencing system would probably be organized in a hierarchy of discussions. Everyone would see the top level discussion but only those at the top could contribute to it directly. At the bottom levels, individuals could comment and if received with enough credulity by higher level members, their comment could be raised to a higher level in the conference, thus reaching a number of people increasing geometrically with each level. The key to the success of such a hierarchical conference, as in any conference, is the way "speakers" are selected, or the credulity factor mentioned above. If this sort of conferencing system combines with the CAV system mentioned above, the resulting conferences will be even more interesting.

Currently, almost half a researcher's time is spent searching through hierarchies of reference indexes, or in duplicating efforts that could be avoided if they did such searches. If professional conferences and articles were submitted and published on a videotex network, this time would be reduced to insignificance. Furthermore, the interpersonal communications would allow a researcher to ask an author questions about his publication and get answers, potentially within seconds, without the inconvenience or imposition of a phone call.

(to be continued)

Unrelated (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217883)


one word (1)

Errtu76 (776778) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217915)


Because... (2)

cshark (673578) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217921)

It's a centralized walled garden where you can't go off network, with no appeal to hackers because you had to have a license to create anything. It had no DNS, and was menu driven. If it had taken off, it would have failed too, due to limitations in the broadcast spectrum that they obviously didn't think about. That's why it didn't take off.

Isn't it obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217957)

No so what chance did the early internet have?

short answer... (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217963)

Because that wasn't the internet.

Fascinating Remebrances (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217965)

The 80s were the days of CompuServ, Prodigy, and a few others. Everyone wanted to play 'War Games', or think so.

Pricey, slow at 56K Hayes modem standard and expansive.

Getting in a class at UMD College Park to study UNIX/C and the Internet was a great joy in 1991.

Later in the 90s, at OSU, I was a happy internet camper with Pipeline from PSI, then Mindspring, and not wanton to jump to A(W)OL which was a wreck in slow motion and way over valued by any rational human being, 'Ouch! what was that price again?'.

LoL :D

Ah those days of joy.

NAPLPS "nap-lips" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39217975)

Was the protocol for Viewtron. Dial-up connections were slow. Server software was expensive. Resolution was feeble. Ma Bell had not been broken up in more competitive baby bells. In 1984, I was the coolest kid on campus with a 300 baud acoustic modem that was a major pain to make work with just ASCII.

and Ohio had QUBE (1, Interesting)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 2 years ago | (#39217991)

And there were others too.

Why did they fail? It's easy.

Content is king. There just wasn't nearly enough content to access on these servers.

Beginning and end of story.

When the Internet started taking off... (2)

powerspike (729889) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218003)

I think You'll find is a case of Need Vs Want. It sounds like Viewtron was for entertainment Purposes Only. I was in I.T back then doing all the home setup's etc. Most of the customers where getting this "Internet thing" because they could connect to work from it. You'd tell them that they could read news etc and they where amazed. Company paying for for the connections back then, and been able use it for personal use as well what a great bonus. Alot of companies started using it for work from home style setup's as well, It saved them money, and made people happy, it also ment your sales staff etc could check in when not in the office. Business was a big driver back then, not just for the reason above, but i'm quite sure that's one of the main reasons the "internet took off" compared to various other services in the day.

Online porn was crap in 1983! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39218007)

That's why the Internet didn't take off in 1983.

By the time the mid 1990s arrived, a.b.p.e.* was serving content that you might not be able to get locally and was really worthwhile.

Who else remembers Penthouse and Playboy websites when they first launched?

Higher frequency light wave? (1)

Bleek II (878455) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218013)

At about 6:20 in the first video he states that infrared is a "higher frequency." Okay I'm just being picky, but I think it is interesting to point out.

It didn't connect people (4, Interesting)

ukemike (956477) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218041)

Slow, expensive, crappy, no porn, etc. are all good reasons Viewtron failed. But the biggest failure was it didn't connect people to people. It could connect people to institutions but that is about as fun as paying bills. The best applications on the early internet were about connecting people to each other. I discovered the internet in the late 80s when I went to college and Usenet was a revelation. There were discussions on every topic imaginable. It was like having a living encyclopedia. You could ask experts about subatomic particle at sci.physics or join in a debate about whether hamstering is an urban ledgend in It was that critical mass and diversity of people connected together that provided the vitality for the internet to hit the big time.

Did You See The Computers in 1983? (2)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218059)

Text mode display. RAM measured in twos of kilobytes. I don't even remember if the modems were 300 bps at that point or if they were slower than that. You may have been able to get some X11 with a $10K+ Unix workstation, but the earliest I recall seeing that was '87. I seem to recall seeing a windows precursor (Maybe Windows 2) at the university where my dad worked around 85 or 86.

The Internet didn't take off in '83 because computers weren't ready for it. Even after various networks started to work in university settings, it didn't become popular until the early web browsers and servers provided some content for people to... pirate.

The CS guys who used to hang around in the NeXT lab at the university were experimenting with digitizing music in '88, too, but you didn't see MP3 players until well after that point. They weren't compressing though, and one song took up a huge chunk of the optical disk.

For successfully investing in the Indian stock mar (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39218089)

Read Sharetipsinfo press release and learn how sharetipsinfo will help you to earn profit and money from stock market trading. Sharetipsinfo covers NSE, BSE, MCX and NCDEX

Al Gore hadn't invented it yet? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218099)

Actually I think you needed the killer app that the browser was. Mosaic [] was released by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in 1993. Gore's bill, the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 [] , led to the development of Mosaic.

Re:Al Gore hadn't invented it yet? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39218109)

I know that it's lame to reply to your own post but I wanted to add that I was on Prodigy in 1986.

Why Didn't the Internet Take Off In 1983? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39218105)

Why Didn't the Internet Take Off In 1983?

No porn and warez...

Ever heard of prodigy, compuserve, AOL...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39218113)

No, that wasn't internet. "The" Internet is a decentralized network of networks based on standards, not an agonizingly slow, expensive, lame computer bulletin board service run by a single corporation. I remember my Uncle kept singing the praises of AOL while I was exploring internet in college and high school. AOL was and is --to the extent that it still is anything-- crap. BTW, arpanet goes back a long way. It just wasn't connected to houses or companies back then. And before the WWW there was ftp, email, and gopher.

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