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The First-Ever Banner Ad on the Web (theatlantic.com)
44 points by jgrahamc 240 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments



This is the first time I've seen the You Will ads, they're awesome! Modulo some laughable glitches like paying the toll with a cc in the car and phone booth video calling. But the fact that the majority of the predictions were spot on makes these oversights even more interesting.

Most of what the ads predicted became reality in 10-15 years, i.e. 2003-2008. Where are the ads that predict technology for 2020?


I remember seeing them back in the day, and as a Swede I didn't really get it. I didn't really know what AT&T was, so it just seemed like a very odd link and out of touch with whatever page I just came from.

I also remember there were specific apps you could install on your machine that would show you ads, and supposedly you were paid money for having this installed and even more if you actually clicked the ads. Roboclickers became a thing. I never used these, so I don't know if you actually could earn money this way, but I remember seeing them installed on various public computers like in school and the library.

I miss the 90s internet. So many things sucked so bad, but so many things were really good. I made lasting friendships with people over IRC. Sending files via FTP seemed like magic, and you could telnet into all sorts of interesting places. Geocities and web rings, I loved this so much – everybody had a site of their own! There was so much potential and it felt like every day you discovered something new, just by browsing around.

I remember when blogs became a new thing, in the 00s at some point I think, and everyone and their mom started blogging. I didn't like this very much. So much content was terrible, and mostly meta-content about how to set up your blogs. No one talked best practices when it came to Geocities – it was just good fun – but with blogs it all of a sudden turned so professional for lack of a better term, and boring. At some point as well, you had to start registering accounts everywhere – it was super annoying.

The internet is growing up, and it's probably better off for it, but I do miss the naïveté and optimism of the 90s sometimes.


"I miss the 90s internet. So many things sucked so bad, but so many things were really good."

All these years later and I still have never seen a satire that was so current, so correct and so fascinating as suck.com.

It was such a jewel.


Fun fact... that website is owned by Lycos if you remember them. I used to work at Lycos and occasionally we would consider fun things to do with that site (like let people register subdomains and own "yankees.suck.com" [1])

[1] Fo rthose not from the US or East Coast US. Lycos headquarters was (is?) in Waltham, MA, right outside of Boston and the Boston Red Sox baseball team has a famous rivalry with the New York Yankees.


I remember Lycos! I knew nothing about them except the name really, they were described as one of the new and hot internet companies more or less. Of course no one actually knew what they were talking about (so Wired is the same now as then, basically) but that didn't stop anyone from asserting everything. Loved it.


"This is the first time I've seen the You Will ads, they're awesome! Modulo some laughable glitches like paying the toll with a cc in the car and phone booth video calling. But the fact that the majority of the predictions were spot on makes these oversights even more interesting."

You may find it interesting that while those "you will" ads were running, there were t-shirts and bumper stickers at Defcon/Cuervocon/HOPE1, etc., that said things along the lines of:

"have you ever had your personal files scanned by a government agency ? You will ... and the people that will bring it to you ..."

(and so on - I don't remember the exact wording but it was provocative and it was equally as prescient)


I'm especially interested in how deeply embedded phone booths were to people who should have thought past them. A lot of SF / futurist stuff from the 60s to early 90s thought people would still be tied to fixed locations for telephone and network access.

I've always wondered why that was, especially when some form of mobile phones have been around since the 80's, or even earlier with very expensive car radios which could tap into the phone network. I guess the phone booth was such a fixture of the landscape that no one could imagine a world without them.


Especially given, as a look at the history of mobile phones [1] reveals, that AT&T pioneered commercial mobile phone calls in 1949, 45 years before this ad campaign. The idea of videotelephony came up in 1878 and Germany had an experimental public video telephone service in 1936, AT&T had the Picturephone in 1964. [2] Add to this that mobile audio and video calls have been depicted in science fiction for a long time.

Whatever made them pick land line phones over mobile phones for video calls, it probably was more like an oversight or they estimated a longer time horizon for widespread adoption, it certainly was nothing they could not have imagined. Maybe it was even something trivial like easier visualization in the ad.

Thinking about this also reminded me of the 2005 movie »The Island« [3] which also feature video call telephone booths and I have this vague feeling that [video call] telephone booths are generally quite common in science fiction movies. But that might just be because you don't have to explain how someone obtained a mobile phone after he just escaped a situation where he lost all personal items.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mobile_phones

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_videotelephony

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Island_(2005_film)


At the time even wired networks couldn't easily carry video, let alone wireless. Video was thought to require enormous bandwidth, and this wasn't far wrong; it's a significant percentage of Internet traffic even today.

So it wasn't implausible that video calls would come first to wired networks and be limited to them for quite a while. The early "Internet Superhighway" hype was all about getting broadband in people's homes for delivering video.


People who have never had an interest in computers for entertainment, but significant interest in watching TV, have historically assumed that advances in the internet would mean some sort of super TV. I suppose this has happened, in the form of Netflix.


I find the most interesting aspect of this observation to be the notion that we have a similar present-day blind spot and the associated exercise in predicting what is that blind spot(s).


You're correct. That's the fun part. What's especially fun is that the blind spot is often something which has already been developed, and didn't sell well in its first iteration, or is common in prototypes and SF / futurist stuff but no one thought it would ever be widely available.


Having to use a certain physical device to interact with software? ;-)


I remember these commercials. I remember the kids picking the science fiction movie (like from Netflix) and being so excited about that idea lol.


I saw them when they were new and they really did blow my mind. I was ~12 when they came out. I remember I was very excited for that future. Still, am :)


Ironically it looks like you can't view that page with an add blocker installed.


I use uBlock Origin and the website works.


I'm in Safari with I-don't-remember-what adblocking (looks like I have ghostery?). Just pressing BACK when the anti-adblock message shows up lets me see the original page! That was an easy fix. Turns out I'd just been closing Atlantic pages as soon as that message appeared for no reason.


Link to the AT&T tv commercial from in the article: https://youtu.be/TZb0avfQme8?t=30


I remember feeling scandalized the first time that I saw a banner ad on the web. I also remember the epic flame wars on Usenet (sic transit gloria mundi) when Canter & Siegel made the first commercial spam campaign.

At times, I have wondered how much of the Internet would shut down if ads were forbidden. Sometimes, that thought sobers me. Other times, that thought gladdens me.


"I remember feeling scandalized the first time that I saw a banner ad on the web."

As a web dev circa 1995/1996, I clicked once on every single banner ad that I saw. Every one of them.

I had it in my head that banner ads were the economic model that would support the web, and I very much wanted the web to succeed, so I was trying to "pad the numbers" for both buyers and sellers of the ads.


The "Green Card Spam" basically ended USENET by violating the spirit and agreement those participating in that system more or less adhered to.

They had no respect for the norms, for basic politeness, and instead wanted nothing more than to make money, no matter how many "snowflakes" were upset.

Not unlike a certain businessman running for President...


Is there some sort of law that all conversations in 2017 must somehow involve a shoehorned reference to our current president?


It's because sometimes you don't have the power to stop someone who has no regard for the rules.

Design systems that can self-correct better. Give the rules more bite.


I don't mind banner ads. I don't like the privacy-sucking invasiveness of online tracking they come with. If someone could craft a banner ad that did not have this problem, I'd whitelist their site in my ad blocker.



I even remember that I installed software in the late nighties that showed a banner while you were online. The promise was that you would earn money by allowing this ad to float on your screen. I don't think I ever got payed, and, probably related, I think I removed the software shortly after installing.


On a related note, what is the first banner ad you remember seeing?

For me it was the X10 camera ads around 2000: https://www.geek.com/news/x10-ads-are-useless-545130/


The AT&T ads were remarkably prescient.

When they came out, computer assistants, smart watches, video calls and automatically paying tolls were far off science fiction. It makes sense that they were so early to jump on the iPhone.


That was a different AT&T, the one that still had an interest in trying to define the future.

The AT&T Apple badgered into offering the iPhone was a hollow shell of its former self.


First-ever banner ad and it's already click bait, lol


and the rest is history...




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