Five Things We Used to Use the Internet For

Working on the internet full time, it’s hard to remember an era where the service was primarily used as a leisure activity, as schools and businesses were just starting to integrate themselves into it.

I spent a big chunk of my youth on the internet, but doing very different things than I do today. I decided to take a look at some of the relics of a bygone era, sites and places that used to take up huge chunks of my time. Many might still exist in some form or another, but their glory days have long passed.

Whether it was judging girls, cheating games or stealing music, these are the things I used to do on the internet. And actually, when you put it like that, I guess perhaps not all that much has changed after all.

Cheat Codes

Before I ever cared about finding things via Wikipedia (we still had a set of encyclopedias in those days), my primary use of the internet’s ability to gather information was to look up cheat codes. There must have been HUNDREDS of cheat code sites back in the day, and most of their names escape me now. Most died, but some survived and turned into thriving video game sites that are giants of industry to this day. Gamespot and IGN come to mind in particular.

Today’s games really don’t have cheat codes. A few do, but with the introduction of achievements, most games don’t let you cheat, even if you just want to dick around. Furthermore, codes to unlock all content in games no longer exist because A) companies want you to spend a long time playing and B) they can now sell you this content as DLC.

And so codes and code sites vanished, but it’s sort of funny to see “Your best source for game news, game guides and cheat codes” embedded in the title headings of a lot of older gaming sites today, left search engine optimization from a past era.

Hot or Not

I’ll admit it, my friends and I spent HOURS on this site being as judgmental as humanly possible with each passing picture. It was the original page view draw, as one visit could result in hundreds and hundreds of clicks.

There was just something so addicting about judging other people, and hoping you would stumble upon someone truly gorgeous or absolutely horrific. What’s funny is that the Hot or Not scale was akin to the skewed standard that video games are rated on these days as there was only really 6-10. If you were a human female with no visible deformities under 300  pounds, you were probably at least an eight. Crack a smile? 8.9. Wearing a swimsuit? 9.9. I never did see a 10.

On the other hand, you could be a mountain troll, and you’d never drop below a five. I swear I saw someone upload a picture of Jabba the Hutt himself and it still was a 5.2. I guess there must have been a brigade of nice people out there going through and hitting 10 for picture after picture. I wonder how many suicides were prevented by that sort of charity?

And if you really want to know. 9.8. What can I say, I was vain in my youth.


I remember when I first discovered Napster in eighth grade. I didn’t even really listen to music at all before this point, as CDs were expensive, and my mom wouldn’t let me buy any cool ones anyways. But all of a sudden this site existed that had any song I wanted, for free! The catch? Who cares! It’s free! And so piracy was born.

Back in the day it took about 20 or 30 minutes to get a single song on a 56K modem. I think 3Kbs was actually fast back then. Oh if my 13 year old self could see me now, downloading an entire season of a TV show at 1.2Mbps.

Parents had no clue what Napster was, and so file sharing ran rampant and created a generation of pirates that still roam the high seas of the internet today. They finally killed Napster, but we switched to Bearshare. They killed that, and we moved to Kazaa. That died and we moved to Limewire. They only just killed that this year, but now we’re all bathing in torrents. When are they going to learn to embrace this means of distribution instead of wasting so much time fighting it?


The Facebook of today actually very much resembles the MySpace of yesteryear, at least in concept. Both are now social networks open to everyone with profile pictures, info, status updates, photo albums and much more. Facebook became cool because it was exclusive to college kids, but its streamlined user interface carried it over the top of MySpace eventually. Back in the day, all the social website action was MySpace centric. But it was a very strange place. The goal seemed to be to make your page as loud and obtrusive as possible, and by being given so much freedom, the users themselves tore the site apart by making it an utter eyesore of glitter text and seizure inducing motion backgrounds.

It was fun for a while though, and I remember when it first came into existence, my friends and I would compete to see who could get the most hot girls to accept our friend requests. We weren’t the sleazy message type (“yO bAbie LemME sEE wHat u gotZ unDeR tHerE!”), but getting a super hot girl in your top eight was a badge of honor. But everyone knew if a hot girl requested YOU, she was more than likely a spam bot. Such is life.


If MySpace was for dicking around in the social sphere, AIM is where the serious business happened. This was the primary form of communication for teens when I was in jr. high and high school, as not that many people had cell phones, and texting wasn’t even invented yet. Wow, I feel old.

In terms of teen popularity, AIM was all about who you could get on your buddy list, and further, who you were actually talking to. It wasn’t like Gchat is today where you just have it on as you surf your email. No, you were there to TALK damnit, and some of the more memorable conversations I had when I was younger were online. Tell the first girl I liked how I felt about her. Having the first girl I liked break my heart two seconds later. Oh, the memories.

Everything about your profile was important, from what your screen name meant, to your buddy icon, to which song you were quoting in your away message. More often than not, you were directly trying to communicate something to someone using song lyrics, and I’m pretty sure the majority of my away messages during those years were Blink-182 related. I’ve noticed this trend has not died, and lyrics with subtle (or not so subtle) meanings still frequent many younglings’ Facebook statuses today.

Has anyone signed on to AIM recently? I don’t even have it installed on this computer, much less remember my password. How many people are still actually online?

Perhaps I’ll write a follow up to this at some point with a few more. Any suggestions?

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  1. I still us AIM, all of my friends still use it, just not with the actual aim program, we all use something else that lets you log into 2 or 3 different messengers simultaneously, less clutter that way. I use trillian for AIM and Yahoo messenger. I also remember using napster in high school, and I downloaded a full length george carlin standup special, it was a 1 hour special, it took literally all day to download. Worth it.

  2. I’d like to add a mention of the very first celebrity fan sites, which tended to exist on free webspaces like Geocities and Angelfire. It was on these badly coded HTML 1.0 monstrosities that one could ogle literally dozens of low-res images of young actresses which the devoted webmasters has scanned in from last month’s TV guide. Of course, now that Scarlett Johansson’s boobies in 10 megapixel format are only a Google Image Search away, that may not sound very impressive. But 10 years ago, it was a good enough reason to lock the bedroom door and start racking up a monster telephone bill.

  3. I’m going to address the elephant in the room and just say pornographic pictures. No videos. You could fit a “collection” of about 20 photos in a diskette, and sell it to your buddies. Most “galleries” consisted solely of SCANS from magazines. Knowing a single website that would straight-up yield images, instead of an endless “tour” that had you hopping from page to page, each shadier than the last, made you a king amongst horny-teenage-men.

    Also, porn convinced a lot of people of entering their credit card number, for the first time, in the internet (not me, I was too young). We take it for granted now, but I find it funny just how bold (or horny) these “pioneers” had to be, being adults and everything, to venture into internet transactions, with no previous experience whatsoever, and absolutely no guarantee that they wouldn’t be straight robbed, save for a shoddy gif that flashed the words “absolutely safe”, just above the other shoddy gif with some censored boobs.

  4. I was all excited to say Geocities but someone beat me to it (I made a Conan O’Brien fan site with Geocities back in the day)

    I used to pretty much only use my internet for mIRC…oh chat rooms…you’re the reason I still have an awesome typing speed.

  5. Even before Napster I remember being able to download mp3s from actual websites! lol.

    As far as Geocities, I had a pokemon site with cheats and pics and gifs and all that good stuff all linked, of course.

  6. I have a few friends at different companies that use AIM in the office as a regular practice. My company has offices in California, Georgia, Virginia, and New York and project managers talk to each other all the time. Still saves a phone call.

    As for cheat codes, my favorite site has been and always will be I’ve used them since the original playstation came out and more recently for CoD:BO to get all the intell locations.

    Hot or Not, spent many hours there.

    Hated Napster because of the intentional misspselling of titles and artists, but loved Kazzaa.

    MySpace missed me.

    I love nostalgic articles like this. They make me feel old, in a good way.

  7. Hampster Dance anyone? Come on, you know you visited. I also like some of the pre myspace social networking sites like Arcadium than Arcadium Refugees after the original went down it joined with a couple other ones. Not to mention MUDDs like Moongate and Sentience, you know MMO’s before they had moving pictures.

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