ClariNet history and the 20th anniversary of the dot-com

Twenty years ago (Monday) on June 8th, 1989, I did the public launch of, my electronic newspaper business, which would be delivered using USENET protocols (there was no HTTP yet) over the internet.

ClariNet was the first company created to use the internet as its platform for business, and as such this event has a claim at being the birth of the "dot-com" concept which so affected the world in the two intervening decades. There are other definitions and other contenders which I discuss in the article below.

In those days, the internet consisted of regional networks, who were mostly non-profit cooperatives, and the government funded "NSFNet" backbone which linked them up. That backbone had a no-commercial-use policy, but I found a way around it. In addition, a nascent commercial internet was arising with companies like UUNet and PSINet, and the seeds of internet-based business were growing. There was no web, of course. The internet's community lived in e-Mail and USENET. Those, and FTP file transfer were the means of publishing. When Tim Berners-Lee would coin the term "the web" a few years later, he would call all these the web, and HTML/HTTP a new addition and glue connecting them.

I decided I should write a history of those early days, where the seeds of the company came from and what it was like before most of the world had even heard of the internet. It is a story of the origins and early perils and successes, and not so much of the boom times that came in the mid-90s. It also contains a few standalone anecdotes, such as the story of how I accidentally implemented a system so reliable, even those authorized to do so failed to shut it down (which I call "M5 reliability" after the Star Trek computer), stories of too-early eBook publishing and more.

There's also a little bit about some of the other early internet and e-publishing businesses such as BBN, UUNet, Stargate, public access unix, Netcom, Comtex and the first Internet World trade show.

Extra, extra, read all about it: The history of and the dawn of the dot-coms.


Brad, congratulations on both the 20th anniversary of the dot-com as well as on taking the time to write the history of ClariNet.

One of the greatest challenges we face in the dot-com and post dot-com era is that we are not capturing these stories while they can still be obtained.

Hopefully more people will follow your example.

Regards/Mit freundlichen Grüßen/Szívélyes üdvözlet/Cordialement/Cordiali saluti/Saludos/Vänliga hälsningar

/s/ Jonathan Spira
Chief Analyst
Basex (

I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of serial reading
vs. browsing. I still read several newsgroups with a real newsreader
(and on VMS at that). The kiddies think of it as old school, but
they don't know what they are missing.

Wow - in some ways 20 years seems so short and in others so long! It has been 32 years since Brad & I were just high school kids, and who could believe what we now take for granted - our blogs, news readers, blackberry's etc... Thanks for the memories - yeah geeks DO rule.

Live Long & Prosper...


"One of the greatest challenges we face in the dot-com and post dot-com era is that we are not capturing these stories while they can still be obtained."

That is partly because the Internet is censored by The Big Lie Society.

It Seeks Overall Control

Man what a trip on Memory lane.
It explains many of the WHYs of what I experienced, as a user of USENET and the Internet.

I started out on the Bulletin Boards, through a local phone call. Couldn't afford Long Distance.
I learned navigation [go here, check this out], all phone numbers to the different boards that had what I was interested in. Usually between the hours of 5PM and Midnight, weekdays. There were very few daytime operators.
I paid $10+/month to people I didn't know, for the privileged hookup to the Internet.
All this with the computers available to the public [Apple IIe and Amiga] The PC wasn't yet "invented".
I learned the "basic programming language" and a bit of Pascal, through the Internet contacts. I was fascinated.
I switched to the PC when my computers wouldn't allow me access to the Internet and I couldn't add RAM.
I had a very low budget and needed more. I had to go to work, to keep up this computer habit, because my husband refused to pay for "this useless stuff".
Today, the husband builds computers and I run a home business (CAD, drafting). All still under a tight budget, but no doubts about the usefulness of computers or the Internet.
Now it is a balance of income and computer business needs, including the costs of ISP providers and services.
A strange, but exciting journey.

A belated congratulations ... I just now got a chance to read the whole post. If you're wondering who I am I never actually worked for you. I was the sysadmin (with lots of help from Wayne) from 8/00 - 11/02. Thanks for starting ClariNet, thanks for hiring Roy, thanks for hiring Wayne. Without ClariNet or either of those two guys I wouldn't have gotten my start in the world of *nix admin or learned nearly as much. Cheers! ::AndyM::

Hey, if it isn't that Brad Templeton blowing his own horn again!

This is the same guy who made the ludicrous claim that a
moderated Usenet newsgroup was the same as a web log.

You know, I might think it had some meaning if other people
initiated the report and then knocked on your door unbidden to
ask you about it. But the only reason we're hearing about it at
all is because you're sending out self-aggrandizing messages to
anyone who will re-post them. Given that, I'd say the significance
of this event is about zero.

On the other hand, if there's a ballot for the most inflated ego on
the Internet, you've got my vote!

Brad, Back in 1994 I negotiated with Ted Mendelson at the AP to get their stories and pictures into Medio Magazine (CDROM) and on Ted and others at the AP often spoke well of you at the time and made it clear that you had educated them on quite a range of internet related issues that I otherwise would have had to work through with them. Thanks for leading the way and making it easier for me and for everyone else who came after you.

bob wyman

Ted was definitely a good guy. The AP was a bit stodgy up above though. They had created the AP Online product for the online services like Compuserve, and they were categorizing it, but it was a small subset of the AP wire. The honchos at the AP were very scared of letting us have access to the main wire the way member newspapers could get it. In a sense they were afraid of the online world eating their lunch, as it is doing today. But oddly, it is the member newspapers who are putting it all online for free, not startups. There was no way ClariNet, with paid subscriptions, was going to eat their lunch back in the 90s. I felt it would have been better for them to experiment and learn.

Reuters also had a great team, and we could not get their full product but we were able to get a bigger selection as I recall. And Reuters did get me an invite to the White House Correspondent's dinner, which was a great experience -- it's an even hotter ticket now.

In all my negotiations, it was clear the smaller guys were more willing to try something new. When we added photographs, we got them not from AP or Reuters but from AFP, which didn't feel it had as much to lose in the markets outside their main one.

Congratulations on this historic anniversary, Brad.

I wonder, seeing how the Internet has turned out over the past 20 years, did any of your early bashers (like Noel from NH) ever apologize?

I can only imagine what the Internet would look like in a parallel universe in which it was never commercialized, and without the investment that brought with it. Soon, long distance phone calls and 0.25/minute dial-ups to transfer mail and news were a thing of the past. As a kid, it was hard explaining
some of those phone bills to my mom. :-/


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