Not quite twenty-five years ago, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: an internet connection from home. In those days, 1992 to be precise, there were very few homes which could connect to the internet (or Internet, as it was known then). Instead, the relatively few who had computers and modems used dial-up services, among which was CIX – Compulink Information Exchange – which amazingly is still going strong, on the internet.
Cliff Stanford, Grahame Davies and Owen Manderfield came up with the idea of using their software development company’s infrastructure to offer dial-up internet access to subscribers. Provided that they could get a minimum of two hundred, each of us paying £10 per month, they thought it was viable: hence the project became known as Tenner a Month, or TAM.
If I wasn’t among those first two hundred, I was certainly subscriber number two hundred-and-something, and by the autumn of 1992 I was enjoying all the facilities that the internet could offer, with my Mac IIfx – a fearsome beast then. “All the facilities” were a little different then from now. Files were small and transferred by FTP, at a maximum rate of 9.6 kbps – yes, that’s 9,600 bits per second. That was only when the weather wasn’t so bad that the phone line went all crackly; when it did, it was common for your connection just to drop out, dead. There was no web, which didn’t really arrive until the mid-nineties, and most connections were made by protocols long since dead, like gopher and telnet.
Connections to Demon’s internet servers were made over regular analogue phone lines, dialling up for a ‘call’ period, during which your phone line was engaged. As phone charges fell substantially after 1800 on weekday evenings, the trick was to connect to Demon at about 1800:00:15. If you left it a minute or two late, all the lines would be engaged, and you might have to wait until after 1900 before you could get online.
It was often best to get up before six in the morning if you needed to FTP a large file, several hundred KB, perhaps, when the lines were quietest and you could complete the transfer before everyone else started trying to dial in.
Demon wasn’t the only service, but it was the first aimed at small businesses and individuals. Providers like Pipex didn’t really want to know unless you were prepared to pay much more than a ‘tenner a month’, and Demon was the first operator in the UK to recognise the market for us lesser mortals.
There were plenty of other, non-internet dial-up services too. As an Apple Developer, we were required to use Apple’s wonderful in-house system provided by GE, which was streets ahead of anything then on the internet. It gave us direct access to Apple’s engineers: I recall getting support from one of the authors of TrueType to enable me to go in low and access the outlines of glyphs, before Apple had even released TrueType in System 7, in 1991.
There was also Compuserve, where I gained further experience of being a sysop (a forum moderator, which I had been on CIX), and learned how few sysops were prepared to do anything about online abuse.
Demon grew rapidly. By 1998 it was large enough to attract takeover by Scottish Power for the sum of £66 million, who rebranded and went public as Thus plc the following year. Demon was next taken over by Cable & Wireless, and eventually by Vodafone in 2012.
Until this month, I have kept up my Demon connection, now over ADSL and only kept as a standby for when my primary ISP is down. Demon’s early and remaining core service of email to a personal sub-domain ceases within thirty days (although the ISP brand continues for the time being). The last vestige of my internet youth will be stripped when that old email address finally dies.
We have a lot to thank Cliff Stanford and the rest of the Demon pioneers for.