This is going to be a long post about webapps,kind of webapps,my experiences and expectations with them and reminiscing the past.
A little bit of history first. My interaction with the web goes back almost couple of decades. Has it been that long? When India decided to join the group of countries who gave Net access to people for reasons best known to them they gave exclusive use to only educational institutes such as the famed IIT’s and premier educational institutions. Again, for reasons best known to them they had added NIIT and Datapro to the list of institutions who were given Net access. I was in class 8th at that time and few of my friends had enrolled in classes in both of the institutions. As part of promotion both the institutes had put up programmes so that a student’s friend can visit and use the services by paying some sort of fees (beginnings of a cybercafe perhaps ?)
We were all teenagers and it was easy to be attracted not to any of the computer languages but to the games the institutes offered. IIRC Prince of Persia, Pacman, Space Invaders and a few more was all the rage and most of the time we spent playing games and getting RSI pain in our hands (RSI=Repetitive Strain Injury). Couple of months into it, we came to know of the Internet. As this was an all male teenage group (all of us painfully shy even though we were in co-ed school) we were surprised, perplexed and overjoyed to see 200 KB sized GIF and JPEG nude images for the first time. I remember it so vividly as we used to all get excited as well as confused as to why some images were better than others, while we had no idea and had all kinds of wild theories. There was nobody to share with us about image resolution, raw images, digital photography and stuff like that.
Around the same time, there was a BBS (I think the name was jabberwocky put by a group of guys put up in Fatima Nagar or somewhere like that. The only thing I remember was it was in the outskirts of the city for us).
While most of the people today do not know what a BBS is, a BBS or a bulletin board system was basically a place where the sysadmins used to take user requests, connect to the net (via expensive ISD call rate, download stuff from the net and put it on a some server with some IP. The subscribers would then connect to that specific IP through the local telephone line and download, surf whatever new was there) . One could think of it as a file server in today’s terminology.
That was exciting too as couple of my friends had machines (please remember that the machines at that time were in excess of a lakh and needed to have an A/C installed in the room) and they had somehow convinced their parents to subscribe to this BBS service. I don’t know what they paid for the BBS Service but it was significant as besides paying for local calls for the time you connected to the service as well. IIRC the WWW service was just beginning back then and people had to use services like finger and what not (lots of arcane stuff forgotten)
This went on for sometime till 1995 when the Central Government again for reasons best known to them at that time decided to give individuals shell accounts. The shell account was nothing but basically connecting to a local server on a 56 kbps modem line and putting your credentials in. The time to put in your credentials was very short and you had only 2-3 shot at it. If you failed to get it right or whatever you had to dial in again. There were few cybercafes which I and some of my friends at the time tried out, but more than half the time was spent trying to connect as number of people trying to connect vs the number of the lines to the Net were disproportionate. I remember many a morning,afternoon and evening visiting cafes and the owners not able to connect. I worked in cybercafe during couple of summer years as well as
a. it was fun and I could use Net for free
b. Could get some much-needed pocket-money.
Anyways, this is when I seriously started using the Net, think somewhere around 1997 to 1998. I remember registering for Hotmail and try to access it once a week or something like that during school/college whatever was happening. My mother disapproved of email@example.com as she thought Hotmail meant something else (this fear or whatever it was, was shared by many of my friend’s mother as well). A year or two later in some business magazine Sabeer Bhatia shared his plans about Hotmail and explained in layman terms what electronic mail (e-mail) is and a subset of feature-set that Hotmail provided. That mag. article went a long way to keep my and our friend circle’s mother’s blood pressures down. Frankly put there was no meeting point between us and our mother’s generation to frankly discuss stuff as today’s teenagers and their parents do (or at least they try).
When Microsoft took over hotmail even though we weren’t aware of what a big corporation Microsoft was and frankly we were not interested, although over period of time we started to feel uneasy. There were changes within the service that did not feel good. We also became uneasy with the kind of language and terms in which this was happening. Somehow or the other all of us drifted to some of the other mail addresses we got. The big deal for us though in those days was to get all those addresses from one web address book to the other. We either sent mails to the other person CCing our new e-mail address or simply copied it from one to the other. We were pretty unconscious that we were experiencing ‘Walled Gardens’
As time went on, I signed up to quite a few e-mail hosting services but was never happy either with the interface they provided or the sign-in or the reliability (or lack of it) . I stuck with Yahoo the most and a brief time with rediff.com. The saving grace with Yahoo at that time were the Newsgroups that I *think* Microsoft didn’t like. I don’t remember clearly but one of the major problems with newsgroups were finding newsgroups you wanted to interact with, finding a good newsreader and having a sense of community. Although I have to say that newsgroups tended to be more open, more liberated, more grass-roots (IIRC slang was permitted) and more colorful as well as more dynamic than today’s forums. Although the downside of this used to be you either had to develop thick skin or leave communities quickly. It was a good time to learn stuff but was never comfortable with (hard to explain, maybe a cultural thing ? )
Around the same time I was introduced to IRC . It took me a long long time to get a hang of things as mIRC was not a handy client at that point in time. I really had to struggle with all the new terms that IRC threw up on me. Also the fact was I did not have my own PC so it was hard to remember usernames and passwords for different e-mail services, newsgroups and IRC. One of the interesting developments I do remember though was the ability in IRC to send and receive files. I do remember being frustrated lot of times as file transmission was a huge minefield. Files used to get stuck when being downloaded, connection went down and had to re-download again. After connection, sometimes the other guy used to be not there, all kinda things. It were frustrating times indeed.
Wow, completed almost a decade of playing with web apps, would probably put up part 2 tomorrow with the current trends and see what short-comings I see.