The history of the internet is repeatedly reduced to the story of the singular Arpanet. But BBSs were just as important—if not more.
The standard history of the internet jumps from Arpanet to the web, skipping right past the mess of the modem world. A history that consists of mostly Arpanet and the web isn’t incorrect or not valuable. There is much to learn from these networks about informal collaboration, international cooperation, public-private partnerships, and bottom-up technical innovation.
But we’ve been telling the same story about Arpanet and the web for 25 years, and it isn’t satisfying anymore. It doesn’t help us understand the social internet we have now: It doesn’t explain the emergence of commercial social media, it can’t solve the problems of platformization, and it won’t help us to imagine what comes after.
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