Celebrating 20 years of ZDNet, and my first Internet address

ZDNet just turned 20 years old. Learn how it got started, hear about its rivalry and merger with CNET, and learn how it's related to the story of my first Internet address.

What do ZDNet's 20th anniversary and my first Internet account have in common? CompuServe.

TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet just turned 20 years old. For those of you who have been part of the technology world for at least a couple decades, you are probably scratching your heads at that number because the Web has only been around as a popular phenomenon since 1993-1994 when Web browsers Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were created.

However, the precursors to the Web were bulletin boards and private services — both of which users connected to with their dial-up modems. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the biggest and most well-known of those services was CompuServe, which provided moderated forums, e-mail, and some early forms of electronic news and information. On April 1, 1991, Ziff-Net (the precursor of ZDNet) launched on CompuServe, after signing a deal to bring some of the articles from its fleet of computer magazines to CompuServe's electronic bulletin boards. Ziff-Net was later launched on the Prodigy network as well in a similar format.

Coincidentally, 1991 was also the year that I saved up and bought my own computer, joined CompuServe, and got my very first email address. Back then, CompuServe email addresses were numbers (mimicking phone numbers) and mine was something like 76543.2100@compuserve.com. I was a senior in high school and I only knew one other person on the planet with an email address — my uncle at NASA. I don't really remember anything that we emailed about except that he eventually told me about the next cool thing called the World Wide Web and encouraged me to get a copy of Mosaic from the University of Illinois so that I could try it out.

To hear about how ZDNet got its start, its rivalry and eventual merger with CNET, its early embrace of blogging, and where it's headed in the future, take a look at this five-minute video that includes interviews with some of ZDNet's early pioneers.

By Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Editorial Director of CNET and former Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.