Its a big year for ten year anniversaries in the web world. 1994 was kind of when everything sort of started to really take off, before things got totally weird.
I realized a couple of weeks ago that I’ve got my own little anniversary to celebrate: we registered the lne.com domain in November of 1994. I’ve had the same email address — email@example.com — for ten years. I’d been on the internet for a bunch of years before that through school and for work, and I had a netcom.com account for my email and for reading usenet (netcom was the cool ISP at the time — for $20 a month you got a dialup account into a text-based terminal window. woo!) Getting your own domain and your own email — that was really l33t back in the day.
In 1994 Eric was working as a sys admin at a startup and I was a tech writer. I had just signed up to write a book about HTML (that’s another story for another time). We both used modems to dial up to our respective internet sites; me to netcom, Eric to work. Eric had an internet connection he used for work so that he could try hacking into his own network (netcom wouldn’t let you run cracking tools on thier system). Eric ran the connection off of his Unix machine, an IBM RT workstation running UNIX that he had acquired when he worked at IBM in the skunkworks BSD project. We’d have to negotiate the use of the office phone line when one of us wanted to dial up to read our email or usenet.
I asked Eric about it this morning and we can’t remember exactly why we decided to set up our own server. Probably it just seemed like a cool idea at the time (and really, does there need to be any better reason?) Eric had heard about this free unix thing called linux and armed with a big printout of exactly the components that were supported by the drivers available at the time he built a PC and installed Slackware Linux on it. It took weeks to get it up and running, with a few trips back to the PC store for different components that would work better. At this point I would like to genuflect in Eric’s direction. His Unix kung fu has always been tremendously superior to mine and to this day while I am a passable user and I can poke at a few config files without bringing everything down (most of the time) I still rely on him to keep our servers and the connection running. He is the dude.
Our net connection originally came from a terrific small local ISP called The Little Garden. The Little Garden was actually a chinese restaurant down the street from us; they made really great dry braised string beans. It was a known geek hangout in the valley and when the ISP started they named themselves after the restaurant. Neither the restaurant nor the ISP exists anymore (sigh).
Our original domain name was actually skidpad.palo-alto.ca.us. A skidpad is a thing you use in driving classes to practice braking maneuvers. It was Eric’s idea. I really hated that domain name, mostly because it was really long and real annoyance to type. So Eric said that I should come up with something else.
I sat down with Brewer’s phrase and fable and the whois command and started looking up .com domain names. Even in 1994 a surprisingly large number of the good ones were already taken. Eric vetoed a bunch of my ideas as stupid (says he who came up with “skidpad,” humph). Finally in exasperation I proposed el.com: eric and laura. Short. Basic. Explanatory.
It turned out that at the time you couldn’t have two-letter domain names. So then I suggested lne: Laura N Eric. Still short, kind of cutesy, but still explanatory. We could use it for a business name if we ever started a business (and I actually do use it now as my consulting name). Eric did the paperwork, tithed the right gods and slaughtered the appropriate goats, and after some small amount of DNS confusion we had lne.com set up.
We ran our server out of the home office on a 28.8kbps modem connection, something that was completely ridiculous even in 1994, but all we had was email and that wasn’t that bad. Later on I set up a web server (CERN httpd! woo!) and we went to 56K which was still ridiculous to run a server over but the web site was only a few pages so it wasn’t that bad either. I finally got around to moving the web server to a real hosting provider (the one you’re reading now) just a few years ago, but lne.com still hosts our email and still runs off the same slow 56K connection (as I’ve mentioned before, we live in the boonies and cannot get broadband. If there’s anyone running a wimax trial in the south bay who would like an ultra early adopter to hammer on it, we would love to hear from you).
It seems kind of silly to get nostalgic over a domain name now when domain names are so cheap and so easy to set up that with a single click on a web site you can order a domain for any stupid idea that pops into your head (I think I own like ten; I forget). But lne.com in its creaky old age and three-letter cache represents a lot of the old-school DIY internet that we were doing at the time — putting up your own connection, installing your own server software, coding your own pages in raw HTML with a text editor. lne.com also means stability: I don’t know a lot of people who have had the same email address for ten years. People move, change jobs and lose ISPs and spam forces them to move (we’re stubborn about it). I’m still firstname.lastname@example.org, and I still expect to be email@example.com ten years from now. On the internet, where time is measured in dog years and nothing ever stays the same, lne.com is practically carved in stone. I like that.