TECH TALK: A Tale of Two Summers: 1994

Recently, I was standing outside a Barista waiting to meet a friend. It was a Saturday evening. My friend was running late. I decided to use that spare time to think about the Tech Talk that I was going to write the next day. At any point of time, I have a list of 20-25 possible topics ideas which come up in conversations or general reading. As I went through the list, I thought of 10 Years of the Internet. (Of course, the Internet is a lot older, but it was in 1994, when the Internet transitioned from an academic network to commercial use.)

I was thinking of a series which would look back at the Internet in 1994, trace its evolution over the past decade, and look ahead to what we can expect in the future. It seemed like an interesting topic. After all, those among us who use the Internet cannot imagine life without it. From email to news, from connecting with family and friends to business associates, the Internet has become the lifeline for many of us.

As I thought about the Internet, my mind went back to the summer of 1994.The Internet was far removed from my life (other than using email through an email account on NCSTs servers, along with the Usenet newsgroups). I had a business developing image processing software. That was just not working. Efforts to sell our Image WorkBench solution to metallurgists and medical institutions had been largely unsuccessful. It was two years since I had returned from the US to set up a business in India, and I could see that we had gone quite wrong in our business activities.

As I started thinking then about what to do, I started reading various magazines trying to spot future trends. It was then that I came across the Internet as the new information highway. For all practical purposes, Indias linkage to the Internet then was through ERNET, the educational and research network. Access to it was limited.

Some more reading and thinking led me to put a concept called SpiderNet in place I imagined it as a network that would have all kinds of India-specific information which people could use their computers to dial into. Though I didnt make the link then, it was a kind-of private CompuServe or AOL. The only operating network then in India was Business Indias aXcess. So, there seemed to be plenty of opportunity.

The summer of 1994 was when I put together my first ideas for an electronic news and information service. As the months passed, the SpiderNet ideas gave way to IndiaWorld, an Internet-based news and information service primarily focused on the Indians outside India and others interested in India. Instead of trying to set up our own network, we would use the Internet as the distribution medium.

As I stood outside Barista, still waiting, I realised the amazing similarity in thinking that I had just experienced over the past few months in the summer of 2004. Ten years apart, I had spent two summers trying to imagine a very different future from the one we saw around us.

Tomorrow: 2004

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.