Did 1995 Change Everything?

1995: The Year of Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh... and the Internet.

1995: The Year of Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh… and the Internet.

Twenty years (and some change) ago:

Netscape Navigator was a browser created by a group led by a twenty-four-year-old named Marc Andreessen, who was described in Newsweek as “the über-super-wunder whiz kid of cyberspace.” The company’s I.P.O., on August 9, 1995, was a huge success. Five million shares went on sale on Nasdaq, at twenty-eight dollars a share; they closed the day at $58.25. The Times called it “the best opening day for a stock in Wall Street history for an issue of its size.

A little more than two weeks later, Microsoft released Windows 95, backed by what was reported to be a three-hundred-million-dollar marketing campaign, along with its own browser, Internet Explorer 1.0, and the browser wars were on. Netscape, of course, was quickly and easily outmuscled by Microsoft. In 1998, Netscape was acquired by AOL, and it faded into insignificance.

In the midst of Netscape’s I.P.O, which W. Joseph Campbell contends woke the world up to the Internet, I was happily ensconced on campus at The University of Chicago, spending my time reading, attending screenings and workshops, and, on occasion, shivering in the computer lab (curiously reachable only through Harper Library if memory serves) exploring the nascent world wide web, but more likely checking email, the most used “app” by far at the time. Thinking back on the “browser wars,” I don’t agree that Netscape faded into insignificance so quickly, though I do remember acknowledging their impossible odds. That said, I recall well into 2003 still contending with the vagaries of Netscape and IE while designing and coding (i.e. grappling with javascript) websites. Though, by that point, the seeds of change certainly had been planted. On January 7, 2003, Steve Jobs announced Safari (Apple’s fork of KHTML), helping to set the stage for improved cross-browser standardization which is still largely the trend today.