1. Before YouTube... there was "America's Funniest Home Videos"
This 90's television smash-hit, based on a Japanese show, kicked off user-generated video content in America. People submitted home videos of babies with nail guns, dogs on fire, and grandmas falling down, in hopes of winning a weekly cash prize.
2. Before Twitter... there was IRC.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a UNIX-based system of chat servers that was introduced in late 1988. A series of networks and thousands of channels allowed people to "tweet" about various topics, share cool links, and offer technical support. Twitter now offers a somewhat similar experience with a more user-friendly interface and mobile support.
3. Before blogs... there were 'zines.
image credit: Laughing Squid
If you wanted to delve in the world of personal publishing in the early 90's, it was pretty spendy. Desktop publishing with Adobe Pagemaker required investing big bucks into a high-end Mac and a state-of-the-art laser printer. Most young people stuck to cutting and pasting scraps onto blank paper and then xeroxing the final product.
4. Before podcasts... there were codelines.
image credit: Killbox
In the 90's, when digital voice mail was a cutting-edge corporate technology, there was a vibrant voice mail hacking scene. Phone phreaks from all over the United States would sequentially "scan" 1-800 exchanges for voice mail boxes (VMBs) and use default passwords to take over employees' (unused) voice mail boxes. They would record long informational greeting messages, known as "codelines." Codelines began with music and "shouts out" to other phone phreaks and then segued into first-generation "podcasts" packed with underground content: freshly hacked calling cards and credit cards, conference calls PINs, and global outdial passwords.
5. Before blogrolls and comments... there were web rings and guest books.
image credit: simon slade
Sites on similar subjects used link out to each other in a promotional circle jerk called a "web ring." Guestbooks used to be the hot way to leave comments, until bots were developed to harvest the e-mail addresses for the the worst kinds of spam imaginable.
6. Before Facebook... there was the 20th annual high school reunion.
image credit: Alan Light
You'd have to wait in 20 year increments – and buy a plane ticket – to catch up with many of your old friends or see their photo albums. Seriously.
7. Before Skype... there were k0dez and bridges.
Before VOIP and cell phone plans, it was rather expensive to make a long distance call. In some cases you'd pay over a dollar a minute (!) to "reach out and touch someone." The early-adopters (a.k.a. "phone phreaks") used home computer software to hack out calling card codes ("k0dez") to keep in touch. For teleconferencing, phreaks would hack out corporate phone systems' conferencing nodes, called "bridges." Epic bridge sessions and knowledge downloads that went on for weeks... until the corporate host got a massive phone bill, found out, and shut it down. Check out these awesome vintage recordings.
8. Before eBay... there was the pawn shop.
Same questionable items, high fees and unsavory characters - but in an actual, real-life retail location!
9. Before the iPhone... there was the PayPhone.
Before technology allowed people to yak loudly on cellphones in restaurants, they had to go out to the payphone.
And if they wanted to make a long distance call, they'd need an entire roll of quarters. The 90's equivalent of an "unlimited calling plan" was a toll-fraud device called a red box. Red boxes were modified Radio Shack touch-tone dialers that made the same sound a Bell payphone made when a quarter was inserted. By the end of the decade, Radio Shack had discontinued the device and Bell had upgraded to digital equipment. Thankfully, cellphones were becoming affordable, mainstream communications devices by then.
10. Before P2P file sharing... there was Columbia House Records.
image credit:joe madonna
Before DRM and iTunes - people downloaded music from Napster and burned it on a $569 external CD-R drive. Non-technical people who wanted free tracks got tempted by magazine ads that promised "Get 8 CD's for Just One Penny!" and they were unwittingly signed up for recurring CD subscriptions. Then they got slapped with a huge bill afterwards - the old-school equivalent of an RIAA settlement.
11. Before Craigslist... there was the men's room wall.
image credit: simon slade
Local newspapers would only publish "vanilla" dating ads. So, how did geeks and other shy people manage to hook up? The restroom wall, of course! Gay guys would post phone numbers and set meeting times for man-to-man encounters. Straight dudes would post the numbers of their ex's and innocent girls they wanted to harass.
12. Before Digg... there was your local newspaper's "Top Stories of the Year" issue.