Remembering Life Before DotCom

Where were you surfing in 1985?

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Today there are over 80 million dotcom domain names and growing. But that glorious profusion had to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with one computer manufacturer 25 years ago this day. The now defunct Cambridge, MA company Symbolics registered the first domain name in 1985, followed by and Back then the Internet was a barren, unexplored utility. With the first dotcom's birthday, technology writers are rehashing the dawn of the Internet era.

  • Think Back to 1985...Its Pretty Hard, writes Benny Evangelista at The San Francisco Chronicle. During his reporting, he found that many of the key movers and shakers of the Web struggled to remember that far back:

"Can you remember what it was like before the Internet, before .com?" said Mark McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View..."

"In a relatively short time, the dot-com revolution has "woven itself into every nook and cranny of the commercial world," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, a Washington think tank that studies the social impacts of the Internet. "It usually takes technologies a lot longer to insinuate themselves into the basic rhythms of people's lives."

There very nearly wasn't a .com at all. Draft specs published in May 1984 called for a “.cor”, for anything corporate-related. The same draft called for a “.pub”. By July, these had morphed into .com and .org, but nobody seems to know why.

Paul Mockapetris, who invented the DNS and is now chairman of Nominum, said he cannot remember whose idea it was to use the string '.com'. There was a lot of debate at the time, he said, with most of it focused on whether to create generic domains like .com or to make them all country-specific such as .uk.

Symbolics, the first .com registrant, also failed to realise the significance of its role in the nascent internet.
  • The General Public Had No Idea, writes Maggie Shiels at the BBC: "For most of the late 1980s and early 1990s hardly anyone knew what a dotcom was. The need for some sort of organising principles became apparent as more bodies connected into the fledgling internet but there is confusion as to the exact genesis of dotcom. It is unlikely that the early dotcoms were thought of as businesses as the early internet was not seen as a place for commerce but rather as a platform for governmental and educational bodies to trade ideas. Scholars generally agree that a turning point was the introduction of the Mosaic web browser by Netscape that brought mainstream consumers on to the web."
  • It Was a Fairly Practical Move, writes Ed Payne at CNN: "Having a domain name made it simpler for the average person to access a Web site. Instead of having to remember a long series of numbers and dots, you could type in, or Development was slow, at first. It took more than two years for the first 100 sites to go online and by 1995, the number had grown to 18,000."
  • You Can Still See the First Web Site...And Its Awfully Cute, writes Duncan Geere at Pocket-lint. The original Symbolics site can still be found at
"Despite its age, it still doesn't look too bad. There's hyperlinks and an email address, but if you want to take advantage of the special offer listed on the page then you'll have to mail payment and proof of purchase to a postal address."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.