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The generations of internet users

I don't think there's ever been anything written on the generations of internet users so I figured I'd give this a shot.

The hard part was coming up with what separates one generation from the internet concerning the internet. After thinking about it, I concluded that each type of user's generation is separated by 3 years - starting from 1992. A common thread throughout the internet is that generally speaking, things shift every 3 years so it seemed like a good separation point (and it makes the math really easy).

So here goes nothin'.

Generation 1 - 1992-1995

Most people who used internet from '92 to '95 either used it at college or they were fortunate enough to discover what this whole internet "thing" was if they were on the Left Coast (California).

At this point in internet history there was no spam and everybody used e-mail either from their college, ISP or from their own domain purchased from what was then known as InterNIC.

Speaking of ISPs, the vast majority of them were "Mom 'n' Pop" style, mostly run by BBS Sysops that upgraded their existing network to accept an internet pipe.

The few that used internet from home were using MS-DOS, Windows 3.1 and Trumpet Winsock. It sucked but it worked.

Generation 2 - 1996-1999

I am a gen-2 (1996). Local phone carriers quickly realized that internet access was something they could sell easily so they did just that. All of us were on dial-up. Some (like myself) did switch over to broadband but that didn't happen until late '99.

The internet at this time was still primarily populated by adults or computer geeks who at least acted adult-like.

When Windows 95 was released most of us didn't switch over to that until '96. But when we found out the built-in Dial-Up Networking kicked the ever-lovin' crap out of Trumpet Winsock and it was free with '95, we switched and didn't think twice about it.

The most popular activities for Gen-2's were e-mail, IRC and ICQ.

Our primary search engine was Yahoo and not Google. Even though Google was introduced in 1996 it took time before people started using it over Yahoo.

We witnessed the introduction and popularization of Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail.

Most of us edited our web pages with Windows Notepad and nothing else.

In the late 90s it because much easier to register domain names because we were finally released from the shackles of Network Solutions - arguably the worst domain registrar ever to exist (and still does).

In late '99 internet had a huge presence on television. The dot-com bubble was in full effect.

Generation 3 - 2000-2003

Straight off the coat tails of '99, internet continued to boom and investors poured millions and millions of dollars into tech companies. It seemed like a gold mine - and it was.

From a user's perspective however, things changed a bit.

First, SPAM really started to become a problem but unfortunately there was no solution other than using self-made filters if your e-mail program allowed it.

Second, the advent of broadband becoming more common meant we started seeing more children on the internet. This is good or bad depending on your point of view.

Third, lots of people lost a bundle on the internet due to web-based businesses that were very shady.

Fourth, people finally found out what eBay was. Even though they had been around since 1995 (and received 5 million bucks of VC in '97), nobody really knew they existed until Gen-3.

The burst...

It was predicted by market analysts back in 1999 that the dot-com bubble would burst in 2000 or 2001.

They were right. 2001 was the year the bubble burst - big time.

Thousands upon thousands of people lost millions and millions of dollars - and to be honest it's surprising that the internet wasn't shelved at that point. Instead it continued to go on. Mistakes were made and people learned from them.

From '02 to '03 you can consider this a "lull" in the online world because everything that was free was all of a sudden gone or not free anymore. Companies were radically changing the way they did things just to stay in business. Some survived but most didn't.

Bloggers, however.. started to make a presence..

Generation 4 - 2004-2007

Several things happened in the Gen-4 era:

1. Blogging

Blogging exploded. Now people had something to do with their web sites (myself included).

However blogging was put by the wayside when we got..

2. Social networking

Social networking broke on the scene like gangbusters. "MySpace" because a household word and still is.

3. YouTube

The internet finally progressed to a point where people could post video content easily. YouTube, while a very weird name, was the site that caught the popularity and is still #1.

4. Dot-com biz makes a comeback

Enough time had passed after the burst in 2001 where investors were courageous enough to start giving money to tech companies again.

It can safely be said that the most innovative stuff happened on the internet in Gen 4 and hasn't been topped yet.

Generation 5 - 2008-2011

This generation is at the time of this writing still in effect and has a few years left to go.

This is what we've seen so far:

A large concentration on getting the internet mobilized

iPhone 3G was introduced July 2008. The first-gen iPhone was an '07 release but people started to pay more attention to it when the 3G model was introduced. It's buggy, it crashes, the battery life sucks - but people love it anyway because it mobilizes things only thought possible on a standalone computer or laptop.

This is an evolving tech which at the present time sucks - but will inevitably get better before Gen-5 is over - count on it.

A reintroduction of bloggers into the fray

Blogging was deemed dead when MySpace and YouTube took the internet by storm. But now it's been realized that yes, blogging counts and people very much appreciate the personal nature of them compared to a sea of social networking b.s.

Bloggers are here and not going anywhere - and they're making money. Lots of it.

All-on-web style of computing

The internet has come to a point where it truly doesn't matter what computer or OS you use anymore. All major operating systems and platforms support internet connectivity. In addition, almost everything you ever wanted to do on a computer can be performed via nothing but a web browser and internet connectivity.

Amazing? Yes. This was not possible even as recent as Gen-4.

The future?

Nobody knows, but there are a few cold hard facts.

Grandma will never be able to learn how to send an e-mail

No matter how much technology progresses, the vast majority of post-retirement age people don't know how to use computers and never will. And the computer industry doesn't give a crap about them either. I'm not saying that to be rude - it's just the truth.

Kids are now "born into internet"

Since Gen-3, kids have been using computers from a very early age. They will grow up using it and never know life without it.

Gen-2 - which is my generation - were the last to know life without internet because we didn't get it until our early twenties.

The day of the big-box computer is close to an end

I predicted a while back that future computers are going to be nothing but slabs, i.e. big touch-screen devices about the size of a 14 to 15-inch LCD monitor with the computer contained entirely within. No physical keyboard. No mouse. All wireless.

It's coming soon.

And who knows what else? We'll have to wait and see.


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