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TMCNET eNEWSLETTER SIGNUP Celebrates the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Commercial Internet
[November 07, 2019] Celebrates the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Commercial Internet

TIVOLI, N.Y., Nov. 7, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- This year the Department of Commerce expects the Internet to generate over $500 billion in direct sales in the US alone and influence another $3.4 trillion dollars in offline purchases.

But in 1994, just twenty-five years ago, the question wasn't how much money the Internet would make. It was whether the Internet would ever become a place to do business at all.

For perspective, twenty-five years ago, there was no Google or Facebook. Amazon occupied a small suite of offices in a shabby office building on the wrong side of the tracks in Seattle. Yahoo was two doctoral students in a trailer on Stanford's campus. And the tech industry's richest man Bill Gates was on the record saying that the web had no commercial potential.

Not since the introduction of television in the late 1940s has a medium grown so fast and taken such a central role in everyday life.

But how did it happen, especially when the media, tech, and financial giants of the time spent the medium's formative years sitting on the sidelines?

A new website called has some of the surprising answers.

"The big secret of how the Internet made the transition from a government-owned network for geeks to the world's biggest marketplace was that it was the proverbial 'little guy' who did all the heavy lifting to make it happen," says Ken McCarthy, the Internet commercialization pioneer who curates the site.

McCarty lived in San Francisco throughout the 1990s and organized and sponsored some of the most important conferences of the fledgling industry long before anyone thought that business on the Internet even qualified as one.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) which inherited the Internet from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began the process of opening the Internet to commercial uses in 1989. Before that, using the Internet to conduct business was forbidden.

"The first few years immediately after the NSF announcement were 'crickets' from the point of view of business on the Net. The people who built and knew the Internet were engineers, academics and bureaucrats. The rough and tumble world of setting up a store and selling things was completely foreign to them."

The site contains fascinating historical facts like the first Internet project that was not dedicated to military or academic purposes, the first person to sell a book on the Internet (it wasn't Jeff Bezos, but Bezos went to him for advice), and the first person to sell an ad on the Internet.

Remarkably, McCarthy was friends with all three and even introduced one of them to the Internet.

"It was a small world back then.  You could write to people like Marc Andreessen (Netscape's founder) and Steve Case (AOL's founder) and reasonably expect a personal reply."

McCarthy's own contribution to unlocking the commercial potential of the Internet is formidable.  In 2014, an article in Time Magazine credited him with being the first person to recognize that the clickthrough would be the secret to monetizing web traffic and unlocking the Internet's commercial potential.   

Google and Facebook, the #1 and #2 most visited websites on the Internet, each generate over 80% of their income from selling clicks.

"It was sort of a 'Columbus Discovers America' moment.  Was I really the first to see it? Maybe. But apparently I was the first person to articulate it."

McCarthy also commissioned the first article ever written on web video for his print publication The Internet Gazette.  

"We were a little early on that one. YouTube didn't come along until eleven years later."

Ken McCarthy

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