It doesn’t take much to realize that the internet has revolutionized communication. In a thought exercise in which participants are asked what method of communication was most similar to the internet before it, many people mistakenly say phone or fax. Of course this is because they’re physically hooked up to the same network over which the internet first existed, but it may not be the most accurate answer. Early methods of communication over the internet, in fact, didn’t resemble phone communication at all. These methods were similar to traditional methods: sending letters, talking in a group and passing notes in class.
E-mail: the second generation of mail:
E-mail technically predates the internet by a long shot. IBM demonstrated an e-mail like system at the World’s Fair of 1939 at an exhibit titled: high-speed substitute for mail service in the world of tomorrow. It was a common occurrence in the precursor of the internet: DARPAnet. After the advent of the internet, it became available for general use. This lead people to obtain e-mail addresses of their own. Until the early 90s, only text could be sent via e-mail, however thanks to a standardization in 91/92, images could be embedded and files attached. Over the next two decades, e-mail began to replace physical mail altogether. There were even talks in the early 2000s of the USPS wanting to charge for each e-mail sent. E-mail changed the way by which people communicated. When once it would have been costly. monotonous and time-consuming to send out identical messages to more than a handful of people, e-mail made it quick and easy to do.
Chatrooms and IRC:
These were the next communication systems to evolve. Again, drawing inspiration from already existing methods of communication chatrooms and IRC enabled a discussion to take place in realtime on the internet. Unlike e-mail, this made it possible for people to just hang out on the internet. Because there were always people online and talking, users could just log in and join the conversation. These methods are still used today to facilitate discussion in realtime.
Again, taking inspiration from already existing methods of communication, the messageboard became the bulletin board of the internet. People could post things (images, links, video, text) to it. Just like a real bulletin board, early messageboards only really sorted content from newest to oldest. This was a feature shared with physical bulletin boards and nobody minded for a while because they were used to the inconvenience of a physical bulletin board. Eventually, this evolved.
The messageboard with ratings:
While this wasn’t a completely new method of communication, it was an evolution that could have only taken place because of the power of the internet. Similar to a standard messageboard, this allowed users to post material to a never ending board for the community to see. Unlike its older counterpart, these messageboards (Digg, Reddit) allow users to either promote or un-promote material. By having users rate material as it is posted, it gives a new sorting option, sort by rating. This is a totally unique feature to messageboards that couldn’t be achieved by physical media. Now users had a way to find content they liked based on whether or not people like them liked the content.
The video sharing service:
This was another revolution which was only possible on the internet. By now, everyone is familiar with Youtbe and other services, so there’s really no need for an explanation. The point, again, is that through user input the content can be rated and then displayed in order of rating. This recurring theme of sorting by rating is something which just wasn’t possible with physical media, and has changed the way people browse for content entirely.
So what are we seeing?
There are very clear trends that as the internet matures, more methods are being developed to share material with many people at a time rather than just a few. Probably the most important revolution the internet has brought to communication though, is rating systems. By rating material, users can find more things that they would be interested in, rather than having to sift through all new material. While it’s definitely up for debate as to whether or not this is a good thing, it is a revolution in communication that’s happening right now. No longer is communication between Person A and Person B, rather the nature of communication is evolving to be between Person A and the world.