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Signing Off
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 1999

  The Navigator

This article contains links which take you outside washingtonpost.com.

And so. This is my last Navigator column.When we set sail in December 1996, the Internet was largely uncharted waters and the World Web was not very Wide.

Much has changed in 30 months.

In our first conversation, digital visionary Howard Rheingold spoke of developing a commercially funded online community called Electric Minds. Electric Minds is still around, but Rheingold has moved on -- to a new community called Brainstorms.

That is the way of the Web. Morphing, mutating, mushrooming.

Other sites have come and gone. In 1996, Amazon.com and eBay were just getting started. There was no Priceline.com, no Ask Jeeves, and almost no one had heard of Matt Drudge.

America Online had 7 million members. Today there are more than 19 million AOLiens.

Media Metrix, an Internet analysis company, just published its history of the Internet. Between January 1996 and January 1999, the number of homes with personal computers rose from 35 million to more than 50 million. The number of homes with modems more than doubled -- 18 million to 37 million. In 1996, more than 80 percent of all Internet users were male. Today the split is 50-50.

Only three of the Top 10 Sites on the 1996 Media Matrix list are there today -- America Online, Yahoo! and Netscape. The Well was the 10th most-visited site back then. Today it ranks 1,143.

Online life has changed. And it has changed offline life.

The Internet is omnipresent. It's altering how we live and think, the way we meet people, research term papers, tell jokes, write fiction, plan romantic evenings, adopt children, stay in touch.

In 1996 many folks were skeptical that anyone could ever do business on the Internet. Today we merrily buy books and music, stocks and bonds, groceries, tickets, hotel rooms, skeletons, forklifts, bidets, and everything else online. The world of e-commerce has exploded. In 1996, the word e-commerce appeared in The Washington Post one time.

Unfortunately, e-creativity seems to be lagging behind. We've searched high and low for witty, creative places on the Internet, without consistent success. But we have found plenty of strange and wondrous sites.

We called them True Tales of the Internet.

We:

Met the guy who wanted to swap lives with someone, the CIA comedian who was losing his job and the man who collected tire company promotional ashtrays.

Hooked up with hucksters, hatemongers, war resisters, nudists, gamblers, geezers, ghostbusters, and the a cappella Singing Trenchcoats who were mistaken for the Columbine High School killers.

Found help for hairpullers, honeymooners, divorcees, narcoleptics, political junkies, basketball nuts, bowlers, Redskins fans, Internet addicts, seekers of spirituality and romantic depressives.

Tracked down skinny-dipping holes, our Virginia ancestry, computer-virus hoaxes and the lyrics of "The Great Speckled Bird" for a woman dying of cancer.

Railed against Father's Day, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, crass Christmas e-commercialism and comic strips online.

Debated Viagra, Y2K and what to name the first decade of the 21st century.

Now it's time to log off and let someone else sign on. The Washington Post has asked me to write about books and publishing. "Aren't you trading the future for the past," a friend asked?

Maybe. But I've always admired books and some of the people who write them.Besides, when Y2K rolls around, we may all be reading the old-fashioned way -- ink-on-paper, turning pages with our fingertips, adjusting the candle just right. Come to think of it, we could do worse.


   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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