she’s like the village bicycle


Back in 1993, I remember a professor at UNC saying that “email” was the “killer app” of the internet, meaning that the internet basically existed due to the early, incontrovertible adoption of email as they way people talk to each other. In essence, the net spawned email, but email made the net.

Between the heydey of email and the widescale adoption of the World Wide Web, the closest “killer app” was Usenet. If you never used Usenet’s “newsgroups,” you missed out. It was crazy back then. More on that in another blog.

Anyway, the World Wide Web and the Browser of Your Choice became the next reason for the internet to exist, and by 1996 every college graduate with a pulse was trying to work the angles. Along with my friends, I consider that era our mini-Wild West – and I was lucky enough to help bring to fruition a website that still exists today (, albeit it’s a different beast now).

What was to become the “killer app” for your Web browser? My prediction, early on, was porn, dating and eBay. It lent itself perfectly to those three things. A distant second was Amazon, the late, and Napster back when it was illegal and free.

The true killer app of the internet right now? It has to be Google. People try to say blogs (which are just public diaries, really) and iTunes (which Napster had done just fine) but can you imagine going to college in the age of Google? I remember trying to track down a Latin quote from Virgil [thanks, shannon!] at Carolina in 1987, because I’d seen it scrawled on a painting – after years of searching, I gave up. On Google, 18 years later, I found it in .0863 seconds: tempus erat quo prima quies mortalibus aegris incipit, et dono diuum gratissima serpit.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Wikipedia is becoming the next indispensable killer app of the Web. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner, but it is the proletariat’s dictionary. What if the encyclopedia of the entire world were posted in the town square of the village, and each person got to add their knowledge to it? Everyone agreed not to burn it down or use it for an agenda, but as an altruistic desire to illuminate your fellow villagers?

To be honest, this entry about UNC’s “Pit Preacher” Gary Birdsong is what sold me entirely, as it is a perfect overview – with a picture – of a random guy who used to yell at me circa 1988. Everyone else from my generation of UNC grads will remember him, but everyone remembers a different piece of him, and it’s all collected there should you ever need it. Which you won’t, but still.

Again, why am I telling you all this? Because that Birdsong page linked to UNC’s page, which in turn, linked to the page about Public Ivies.

Oh shit, the baby’s crying. Anyone got something to add before discussing the Public Ivies?

0 thoughts on “she’s like the village bicycle

  1. Bud

    I think e-mail is still *the* killer app, especially if you include IM.
    What kills *me* is how online discourse now is pretty much exactly like Usenet was then: flaming, trolling, clueless n00bs vs. smug old-timers….
    The more things change, the more I enjoy my cave.

  2. scruggs

    1) not to be picky, but on behalf of Mrs. Clark, my AP Latin teacher in 1990, I believe that’s Vergil’s Aeneid
    2) ole Gary and his chick sidekick were the source of much amusement and annoyance at Carolina, and also the cause of many missed classes (well, him and beer). Once I saw him in the Pit, I could and did sit for hours listening to the exchanges. I still have this picture from NC State’s paper of him flipping someone off.
    girls with short hair? going to hell
    boys with long hair? going to hell
    girls wearing pants? going to hell
    He’d make this exaggerated motion like playing the guitar and screech “Rock ‘n Roll.”
    What a freakin’ nut!

  3. Greg T.

    He looks a lot older now. As a feature photographer for the DTH, he was a favorite subject of mine. I think I only ever had 1 photo of him run, but I’m sure I have a ton of unprinted negatives with him on them hanging out in my attic.

  4. oliver

    This is fun. So instant oatmeal would be the killer app for the Boy Scouts. The tennis ball would be the killer app for humanity’s relationship to the dog. Pamela Anderson would be the killer app for Bay Watch. The…

  5. Jason Savage

    the proletariat’s dictionary? sure, for all those assembly line workers who can’t go five minutes without their high-speed Internet connection.

  6. cm

    “the proletariat’s dictionary? sure, for all those assembly line workers who can’t go five minutes without their high-speed Internet connection.”
    Actually, this rings true. I teach classes composed largely of non-traditional college students and you’d probably be astonished at the extent to which they rely on the internet and especially wikipedia in doing their schoolwork. I know some idiots bemoan this tendency in modern college students and, for students who attend top private and public schools, they probably have a small point. But for people with jobs and kids, this latest killer app makes education–and a move up the social ladder–a lot more attainable.

  7. Greg from Winston Dorm

    I believe that’s the first time one of my emails had content that made it on to this sacred blog. I feel like a celebrity now. More importantly, I’m glad that future generations will know the rantings of the same pit preacher we experienced at UNC.

  8. Dan

    oh and I am pretty sure Gary was banned from State for a while after he hit a student with his briefcase.
    This must have been around `97 or `98.

  9. DB

    You’re #3 on that Virgil quotation. Scary. I love Mozilla–I just highlighted and right-clicked “search the web for…”

  10. Alan

    Email is still it. Check wikipedia and Google for the simple search “beer” and see if you can inform yourself the way three books on the subject could. It all may be fun this Internet but it is still the ship of fools.


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