Remember These? Technical Milestones We Probably Forgot
Tomorrow marks a very important date that no one reading this likely cares about: Alabama plays Tennessee. For the 103rd time. The game is historically played on the third Saturday in October and, in fact, the rivalry game is known as “The Third Saturday in October”. Alabama has dominated the series as of late (which is good!)… so much so that the last time Tennessee beat Alabama, the iPhone had not yet debuted.
The launch of the iPhone has proven to be a considerable milestone. Socially, financially, and especially technically. Never mind the Palms and Treos and Blackberries that came before it. The iPhone made smartphones truly accessible and made cell phone companies actually invest in mobile data infrastructure. The world has never been the same.
Here are some other technical milestones that you’ve probably forgotten—both their occurrence and their importance.
Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
For those of you that don’t go reading very long pieces of obscure legislation just for fun, Section 230 established that online services can’t be sued for their users’ content. Though it predated YouTube, TikTok, and social media sites by more than a decade, those sites could not exist today without the passage of that act. Could you imagine the team of moderators Facebook would need to filter and fact check all the political posts from this month alone?!
AT&T Introduces Flat-Rate Internet
Also taking place in 1996, AT&T took on all other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who were selling Internet access by the hour, by offering unlimited Internet access for $20/month. It was back in the days of dial-up, so you needed a lot of time to download a picture… but still, the doors opened towards an unlimited Internet.
Gmail Debuts With Unbelievable Storage
This milestone occurred on April 1st, 2004, so anyone who doubted it had valid reason. Most free email services (notably Hotmail & Yahoo! Mail) offered mail storage of a scant MB or two… which was fine for the few, mostly text-based emails folks sent at the time, but power users did end up deleting a lot of emails they no longer needed. Gmail was launched—by invitation only at the start—with the promise of 1GB (or… roughly 500(!) times the storage offered by Hotmail or Yahoo!) The world collectively quit deleting emails soon afterwards.
Wikipedia Publishes Its First Article
And we’ll loop back to Alabama! Jimmy Wales—who was born in Huntsville, AL and received his masters at the University in Tuscaloosa—co-founded a non-profit with the goal of collecting the world’s knowledge in a single location. His organization facilitated this by creating a low-resource, low-effort, and easily indexed document format called a “wiki” (Hawaiian for “quick”) and building the framework of an encyclopedia with it. The first edit to the site took place on January 15th, 2001, and nerds of the world soon took to creating articles and correcting those created by others. Proving that a lot can be done by people who refuse to be wrong and, more importantly, that no matter how many hands end up manipulating a document… the truth wins out most of the time.