March 29, 1994 is when the Philippines joined cyberspace. The story about how it started is very well documented already. However, what was not well-known was that some Filipinos in the Philippines were already making their presence on the internet even before that historic date.
I remember getting in touch with Filipinos all over the world via the Usenet newsgroup, soc.culture.filipino (SCF), through the connection of the University of the Philippines, as member of the consortium that brought the internet to the Philippines. I could no longer find the first message that I posted, but I found the second one… in November of 1993!
The early days of the internet in the Philippines, I guess everywhere, were dominated by text-based interfaces. The primary means of communicating was (and still is) e-mail, which was safer then because you don’t have tracking pixels embedded. Online discussion groups were mostly mailing lists and the newsgroups, and the Filipinos have their own special space, soc.culture.Filipino (SCF, there was also the alt.psst.hoy). Real-time messaging was through talk/ytalk, software that runs on Unix/Unix-like workstations and servers — which made chatting mostly accessible to students and researchers in universities. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was our real-time group-chat then (BTW, it is still alive). Searching for documents and files required that you know how to use gopher, veronica and archie.
Yes, the World Wide Web was available then. In fact, the demo that showed that the country was connected was via Mosaic, the very first web browser. However, there weren’t a lot of sites to go to then, as the commercial web was just starting up. Heck, I remember creating my own personal website, too. My name was searchable then!
I missed a major part of the local internet infrastructure development for a few years after the Philippines got connected as I lived overseas. When I returned, PLDT was starting to deploy DSL to residential customers, and I was fortunate to live in a supported area. Today, we have fiber to the home, fast WiFi access at home, 5G mobile data coverage and gigabit-speed connections at work!
The internet has come a long way since. It is unfortunate that most Filipinos do not know that the internet is way more than just Facebook and Google. The internet then was more pleasant – there were trolls, but there were a few of them. The internet was safer since there was no surveillance, like what Facebook and Google are doing. Maybe it is time that we regain the internet from the centralized grip of the likes of Facebook and Google, and return to the decentralized internet, as originally architected.
Happy 27th PH Internet! Mabuhay!