Thoughts on The Internet: Compuserve, America Online and Prodigy

by Roger Hutchison
February 27, 1996

The Internet is defined as three things in early 1996. First, it is a massive interconnected network of persons with electronic mail addresses who can send and receive messages to each other with a unique electronic mail destination. This first part of the Internet is common to AOL, CIS, Prodigy, and “The Internet”. The estimates are varied but it is estimated that over 35 million people use this service and have unique registered addresses. This E-Mail service can be used independent of the service provider.

The second part of the Internet is the UseNet or Use Groups. These amount to roughly 18,000 sites at the time of this writing. This category of sites and users are for information exchange and non-commercial users. This is not unique to the Internet but is the basis for AOL, CIS, and Prodigy. While there are 18,000 sites on the Internet, there are only a few thousand in the combined other services to include AOL, CIS, Prodigy, etc. If you are an aviation buff, you can find “use”r groups on this subject. If you are a biologist and wants the most recent information about the Ebola virus, you can find user groups whose main topic is this subject. If you are a micro brewery buff and want information on micro-breweries in the US and other countries, you can find information about similar user groups. This part of the Internet is the direct descendant of the original development of the Internet sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the mid-1950’s whose original intention was to be able to link classified government facilities together to transmit and receive classified government information from sites outside of Washington DC to, especially sites in classified facilities in New Mexico. This “ARPA-Net” evolved from the 1950’s to late 1980’s and moved into, first, non-classified information exchanges and finally into users groups as diverse as the interests of the electronically-able users.

This outgrowth lead to the formation of CompuServe, America On-Line, Prodigy and other “service bureaus” who developed their own in-house user group sites. These sites were in large part separate from the users groups on the mainstream Internet. The main advantage of the new companies, like CIS, was their “user-friendly” software interface programs. These PC and MAC friendly programs armed even the modest computer buff with tools to navigate the previously UNIX only realm of “The Internet”.

Finally, the third part of the Internet, and the one that is younger than CD-ROM technology itself, is the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web, or WWW, is the commercial part of the Internet. This is where “Home Pages” permit individuals to locate information on companies seeking to offer product or service information on the Internet. Estimates place the number of home pages at 200,000 with dozens being added daily. This part of the Internet is the area which should be of greatest interest to individuals seeking to exploit the commercial opportunity of a network of 35 million users whose number grow in excess of 1 million new users a month!

It is not a certainty, but in the most probable scenario, the organizations like AOL, CIS and Prodigy, will over the next 6 to 18 months, evolve into little more than service providers to the larger marketplace forums, i.e. Home Pages of companies world-wide, on the Internet. In this context, AOL, CIS, and Prodigy are a small part of a larger whole, i.e. “The Internet”.

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