I recently came across the sad news that .net – the internet magazine published its last issue in April 2020.
.net magazine was hugely influential to me as a teenager, capturing the excitement of the Internet in the late 90s. Some of my earliest memories of using the Internet revolve around .net magazine. Within its pages I learnt many things about how the Internet works; how to configure domain names, what emoticons meant, tips to avoid spam, what a flamewar was and how to solve problems with Netscape and Outlook Express, to name a few. The first issue I remember buying (issue 54 if I recall correctly, in late 1998) even had an interview with David Bowie, talking about amongst other things, his recently launched Internet Service Provider (ISP), BowieNet. Bowie was incredibly forward thinking, however music artists running their own ISPs never did take off (though I seem to recall some who’ve been successful at making headphones). Even now, 22 years later, I can recall the excitement of installing the Internet Explorer 5 beta from the cover CD and marvelling at how it dramatically changed the way Windows 98 operated. Strangely, I have a memory of disconnecting from the Internet, in order to phone a hotline to get a code that would let me use one of the applications included on the cover CD, “Starfish Internet Sidekick”. The code was “MANAGER”. It’s weird how such memories stick with us. My first look at Mac OS X was from a preview in .net magazine, which touted its photorealistic icons and UNIX underpinnings – I never thought back then that one day in the year 2020 I’d be sitting at a laptop writing this, running the same OS, still using essentially the same UI paradigm, only with far less photorealistic icons.
As a teenager who wasn’t really into books, .net magazine taught me more than how to use the Internet – it helped me to increase my reading age, develop an inner voice and writing style that is still with me today.
What I looked forward to each month the most however, was waiting to see if any of my forum posts had been picked for inclusion in the ‘penny arcade’ section – where four or five of the funniest posts from the .net forums were featured in the magazine. I don’t think my posts contained enough witticisms to make it into the magazine, but just the possibility was exciting.
The .net forums were a magical community of likeminded geeks, mostly in their teens, who just loved the Internet. These days, nobody “loves the Internet” as we did then. Today that would be like having “electricity” as a hobby. Yet back from around 1999 to 2001, the .net forums were where I spent a considerable amount of time socialising (though at the age of 15, my parents didn’t think of it as being very social). I remember posting a message to the Futurenet NNTP server through Outlook Express and within minutes getting a reply. It was like Reddit, but far more humane, and because there were only about 20 or so regulars, it felt like a real community. I remember the Microsoft .NET announcement – how could Microsoft steal the name of our beloved magazine? Waiting for the world to end as Nostradamus predicted in 1999, checking that the internet still worked on January 1st 2000, and posting a link to my latest Geocities creation to the reader’s site newsgroup – eagerly awaiting feedback from fellow readers – all on the .net forums. The community faltered slightly when Future Publishing closed down the NNTP servers and moved the forums to web-based software. Thankfully many of forum regulars found a new home on IRC in #netmag on the Blitzed network. There I would spend whole weekends chatting to my friends on IRC, in-between TFC sessions. It wasn’t long after that we built a site called “DFNET – The .net reader’s site network” which further reinforced the sense of community between readers.
That idea of having your own website and even forming a community of sites is something I miss from today’s Internet. The web is now so centralised. How many ISPs even bother offering free webspace today? Back then, out of the entire online population, there was a disproportionate percentage of computer enthusiasts online, and so learning HTML and how FTP works was a challenge they would gladly take on. People created web pages about cooking, Half Life and the X-Files. It’s easy to look back and laugh at the animated Gifs, the “best viewed in Internet Explorer 4” badges and the “Sign my Guestbook” links – but a part of me mourns the loss of this amateur enthusiasm – the web is now so much more polished and corporate, and “user generated content” mostly resides on major platforms like Twitter, Facebook and IMDB. I would love for Internet providers and OS manufactures to activity encourage people to make their own websites again (remember when Windows used to include FrontPage Express?), but I think that is sadly a pipe-dream and the reality is most people aren’t interested. With modern broadband connections, personal websites could even be hosted at home – unrealistic – but part of me is nostgltigc for the dream of an Internet where everyone is an equal player.
I must have stopped subscribing to .net sometime in 2002. By then, the Internet seemed less interesting to me. Perhaps due to the .com crash or because I was 17, now at college with a Saturday job, and for some reason didn’t have time for it any more. Aged 17, the gap between 1999 and 2002 felt like a lifetime. Now, aged 35, three years ago seems like yesterday. The magazine eventually morphed into a web design magazine, focusing less on Internet culture and more on design trends and technical implementation. I picked it up again in 2009 for a year or so but as I became more professionally interested in server side technologies the design centric content wasn’t as appealing to me (I am no designer!).
Although I hadn’t read it for a many years, hearing of its demise did make me sad that a part of my childhood is no longer. I’m gutted for those who worked at the magazine and may now be out of a job. Wouldn’t it be a nice gesture if Future Publishing produced PDFs of the magazine archives (they surely must exist, right?) and put them online for historical record? I could genuinely lose hours reading Internet articles from 2000.
Anyway, goodbye .net, it was a blast.