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Reflections on the 25th anniversary of ClariNet and the dot-com


25 years ago, on June 8, 1989, I announced to the world my new company ClariNet, which offered for sale an electronic newspaper delivered over the internet. This has the distinction, as far as I know, of being the first business created to use the internet as a platform, what we usually call a "dot-com" company.

I know it was the first because up until that time, the internet's backbone was run by the National Science Foundation and it had a policy disallowing commercial use of the network. In building ClariNet, I found a way to hack around those rules and sell the service. Later, the rules would be relaxed and the flood of dot-coms came on a path of history that changed the world.

A quarter of a century seems like an infinite amount of time in internet-years. Five years ago, for the 20th anniversary, I decided to write up this history of the company, how I came to found it, and the times in which it was founded.

Read The history of and the dawn of internet based business

There's not a great deal to add in the 5 years since that prior anniversary.

  • Since then, USENET's death has become more complete. I no longer use it, and porn, spam and binaries dominate it now. Even RSS, which was USENET's successor -- oddly with some inferiorities -- has begun to fall from favour.
  • The last remnants of ClariNet, if they exist at Yellowbrix, are hard to find, though that company exists and continues to sell similar services.
  • Social media themselves are showing signs of shrinking. Publishing and discussing among large groups just doesn't scale past a certain point and people are shrinking their circles rather than widening them.
  • We also just saw the 25th anniversary of the Web itself a few months ago, or at least its draft design document. ClariNet's announcement in June was just that -- work had been underway for many months before that, and product would not ship until later in the summer.

Many readers of this blog will not have seen this history before, and 25 years is enough of an anniversary to make it worth re-issuing. There is more than just the history of ClariNet in there. You will also find the history of other early internet business, my own personal industry history that put me in the right place at the right time with these early intentions, and some anecdotes from ClariNet's life and times.


"Since then, USENET’s death has become more complete. I no longer use it, and porn, spam and binaries dominate it now."

Really? I read a few groups on usenet every day. A couple of groups have a few spam posts. Porn? Binaries? Certainly not in the groups I read (where they would be off-topic), not even the unmoderated ones. But really, with free HD porn movies, who needs

I also read (and comment on) many blogs. (Maybe I'll start my own this year.) Only with RSS has this become feasible in any efficient way, so...

"Even RSS, which was USENET’s successor — oddly with some inferiorities — has begun to fall from favour."

...if RSS is falling out of favour, what is its replacement, if any?

Usenet still has many advantages over blogs with RSS: 1) I can get a list of unread posts, sorted by thread, in all groups in one application; 2) I can "set seen" an entire thread at the stroke of a key; 3) I can post everywhere using my favourite, hightly customized editor; 4) I can crosspost. RSS doesn't offer any similar functionality.

No, I am not suggesting every group is porn and spam, but binaries are almost all the volume (and all that keeps the companies that sell usenet client access going.) But yes, there is still some use.

RSS is far from dead of course, I use it regularly, but it is no longer the rising star it was, even though it has no direct replacement -- social network feeds are where people are getting their "stream" now, but it is sampled rather than read serially.

First, can you explain your subject line? :-)

I'm surprised that anyone pays for access to binary newsgroups. Surely much-higher-quality stuff can be had easily via other channels.

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