20 events that shaped the Internet, part 2

We continue to look at the events that made the Internet into what it is today.

1997: Blogging transforms the Internet into a place for personal conversations

The first time the word Weblog was used online was in December 1997. The term was soon shortened to blog, and by early 1999 officially 23 blogs were in existence online, according to BlogHerald.com. Things have certainly changed. Blogs are everywhere, ranging from the personal rants of movie stars and regular citizens alike to corporate sounding boards for companies from tech vendors to toilet-paper makers.

A May 1999 story on Salon.com detailed the new phenomenon of blogs and "Web journalists." A 2004 story in the New York Times identified Justin Hall as perhaps the "founding father of personal bloggers" starting on January 23, 1994, when he began his blog, which morphed into "Links from the Underground." Asked in a recent e-mail why he began the blog, Hall replied: "I thought the Web was amazing, and I wanted to participate in it! I saw how many silly pages there were on the early Web, and I thought Web pages can't be expensive or difficult to make. So I looked up a few basic lessons and tried my hand." From such simple beginnings emerged a movement on the Internet that gains new participants every day.

1999: Online music-distribution software Napster shakes up the music industry

When 18-year-old college freshman Shawn Fanning wrote the music-sharing application Napster and began to distribute it in 1999, he probably didn't know what would happen next. He created the program as a way to give computer users the ability to share and exchange music files using servers connected over the Internet. Napster users could take and leave songs for free as desired in small, easy-to-handle files that played on popular music players. It was great fun for students and music lovers, but it posed a threat to the very livelihood of the music industry, which took Fanning and Napster to court. A federal judge ordered Napster to shut down in July 2000, and after appeals were exhausted, an appeals-court judge followed suit, ordering a shutdown in February 2001.

Colleges even felt the heat and banned Napster use on their campuses so that the recording industry wouldn't sue them in turn. It wasn't long before Napster as it was envisioned died on July 1, 2001. Its brief life, however, changed the music business almost overnight, and still has repercussions to this day.

Next: iTunes, Facebook, the first YouTube video, and more

2003: Apple's iTunes store redefines the global sale of music

What a difference a day makes. Apple introduced its iTunes online music store to the world on April 28, 2003, giving customers a new, catalogued, easy-to-use, searchable, portable, and inexpensive way to buy music from the bands they love. The iTunes software had been around since 2001, allowing users to put the music they already owned into the program so that they could play it on different devices.

It was the iTunes store concept, however, that moved the music scene ahead significantly. Though music lovers in the past had bought vinyl albums, cassettes, and 8-track tapes for years, the incredibly popular iTunes store completely redefined how a new generation would buy its music: by the song track instead of by the CD or album. The store even affected things beyond consumer purchasing patterns--it helped redistribute power among musicians, music studios, and their listeners by making music a relatively cheap commodity. One big benefit: The business model has given emerging bands a chance to sell their songs one by one directly to consumers who want to hear them.

All of this constitutes a world-changing event for the music industry and for users, who can go online wherever they are to buy and load the tunes they want onto their iPods and other players. Other services have been trying to ape what Apple built with its iTunes store, but so far no one else has attained the cachet, grace, and appeal of Apple's approach.

2003: Skype brings new allure and features to online chat

Online chat (also called instant messaging or IM) has roots that go back to the BBS (bulletin board systems) and Internet Relay Chat of the late 1970s. Those early services led eventually to what many experts call the first true online chat: the CompuServe CB Simulator program in 1980. But to millions of users who discovered online chat around 1996, the service that really brought it home was America Online and its varied, expansive, and seemingly unlimited chat rooms for AOL subscribers. (Of course, that was in the days when AOL actually had millions of subscribers.) Those chat rooms brought together people from all over the world to talk about everything, anything, and even nothing. We hadn't seen chat grow in such a huge way before.

The tables turned yet again, though, in 2003, when the online service Skype was founded. Bringing together IM, video, and Voice-over-IP service, Skype revolutionized chat just as much as AOL did in the mid-1990s. Skype allowed users to find new ways to communicate globally, in real time, using computers, text, Webcam video, voice, and even landline or cell phones in an intricate web of connections. Skype had "an average of 124 million connected users per month in the second quarter of 2010," according to the company's Website. "Skype users made 95 billion minutes of voice and video calls in the first half of 2010, approximately 40% of which was video," the company says. And that's why Skype continues to be incredibly influential today.

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Todd R. Weiss

PC World (US online)
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