With the announcement this week of Comcast releasing its Extreme 105 plan that brings 105Mbps down and 10Mbps up speeds for $105 a month, I thought back to the early days of mass Internet adoption. Those services such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy.
I’ve reflected previously on my memories of CompuServe specifically, but the whole concept of these services is what I’m talking about this time around. You’ll notice in the TV ad above that Prodigy went to great lengths to explain everything, and that was because no one really knew what the heck the service did for you. The Internet was not a common household name at the time, and online services in general were in their infancy.
Prodigy, more than America Online or CompuServe, really tried to position itself as a place for kids to do their homework. CompuServe focused on forms for different interests and AOL was just a free-for-all of chatting, most of it of an adult nature. Prodigy wanted you to be use it for research as it mentions the online encyclopedia verbally four times, and even more by screenshots (and don’t forget, it was updated quarterly!).
What blew me away in this commercial was I had totally forgotten how you were limited to how many “messages” you could send a month. Your $12.95 a month got you 30 messages, back in those days email hadn’t taken off like it has now, but these days I’d blow through that before I even rolled out of bed on the first of the month.
These services did serve a distinct purpose in that they brought people into the online world, not the Internet per se, but it got them comfortable with the idea of using their computers to open doors to more uses. While we may scoff at dial-up now, an encyclopedia that was only updated quarterly (did we mention the encyclopedia?) and a limit on how many messages you could send a month, this is where things really took off, and we owe them a tip of our hat for that fact alone.