What were the hot Internet topics from 20 years ago?

For many who are now in their thirties and older they discovered the Internet in the mid-1990s. Whether it was from a small ISP or though one of the millions of AOL disks that were distributed through the United States and around the world we became connected to the information superhighway. For some that was a revelation but yet in a way very little changed in what was discussed but the big change was with who those topics were discussed with. Today we take a trip down memory lane and look at some of the hot topics on the Internet in 1998.

Sports of course is always a hotly debated issue. In football John Elway and the Denver Broncos defeated Brett Favre and his Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl. Sports smack talk existed well before the Internet but for many long suffering Bronco fans this was their chance to thump their chests and proclaim themselves and their star quarterback the greatest of all time. Who was better? Elway? Montana? Unitas? We’re still talking about that with a few new names put in since then. In the NBA Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls defeated Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz to claim the NBA crown. For Jordan this was his sixth title and that was all that his fans needed to anoint him the greatest of all time. That debate is still hotly contested on the Internet today.

In the NHL Steve Yzerman and his Detroit Red Wings defended their championship by defeating the Washington Capitals. For the Capitals this has been a thorn in their side since they have not been back since despite fielding very competitive teams over the past few years and Pittsburgh Penguin fans remind them of this every year. Come the fall the New York Yankees won their 24th World Series by defeating the San Diego Padres. Yankee fans still have not stopped talking about how many championships their team has won and have added a few more since.

The major world event in sports in 1998 was the FIFA World Cup held in France. Soccer was nowhere near as popular as it is today but coming off the heels of the World Cup being held in the United States soccer was growing in popularity. For the French they got to talk a little since they won it all by defeating Brazil. You haven’t seen smack talk until you see soccer smack! Oh, and the Winter Olympics were held in Nagano, Japan but that probably generated about as much buzz as it does today.

The Internet also brought news to the people much quicker. People did not need to wait until the 5:00 or 11:00 news to find out what was going on around the world. 24/7 news channels like CNN already existed but this was the next major leap forward. Major topics of discussion were not so different. Terrorism was a common topic when Ramzi Yousef was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber also pled guilty. In Kenya and Tanzania the US embassies were bombed killing 224. Terrorism was as much a part of the debate then as it is today.

Like today politics was front and center. The Internet was abuzz when Drudge Report broke the story of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Iraq was also an issue when Saddam Hussein kicked out UN weapons inspectors prompting a resolution to allow Clinton to use any and all means necessary to end Iraq’s WMD program. Airstrikes would be called in before the end of the year while Clinton is battling the impeachment process in the Senate. There was some good news when the Good Friday Agreement was signed between the British, Irish and Northern Irish governments to help begin the peace process there. See the Internet was not all bad news back then, though there were fewer cat videos.

Entertainment was also a hot topic and nothing was hotter than the top grossing film of the year, Titanic, which would gross over $1 billion and garner 11 Oscars. Admit it, you went to see it (I did). Saving Private Ryan would be released later in the year to critical acclaim unlike it’s contemporary the Thin Red Line and would start a string of World War 2-era movies that continues to this day. Other top movies of the day were A Bug’s Life, Armageddon, The Big Lebowski, Deep Impact, There’s Something About Mary, Mulan, the Truman Show and Rush Hour. Readers could discuss J.K. Rowling’s second installment of the Harry Potter series, the Chamber of Secrets on a message board or discussion site. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Stephen King’s Bag of Bones and Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind were also topics of debate in the virtual book club. Yes, there was this thing called a book once and it was made of paper, you see and you actually had to read the pages, you couldn’t just pull it up on your tablet. Many of these films were summed up neatly on the unique Mystery Science Theater 3000 2nd Annual Summer Blockbuster Review. (Titanic section since removed)

Like today TV was also a popular discussion and things like the soon-to-be-introduced V-chip were a hotly discussed topic. There was no Netflix or On Demand services so you have to be in front of the set at the given time or with a VHS tape in the VCR. The top shows of the time were Friends, the X-Files, Home Improvement, the Drew Carey Show, Frasier, Charmed, NYPD Blue, Touched by an Angel, Ally McBeal, Everybody Loves Raymond, Mad About You, King of the Hill, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mystery Science Theater 3000, ER, South Park and the Simpsons. Three of them are still around and are still talked about. The world was introduced to Will and Grace, That ‘70’s Show, Charmed, Dawson’s Creek, Becker and the infamous Celebrity Deathmatch. Seinfeld concluded its run to much fanfare and discussion. TV was also a hot topic of discussion for two other shows that had cult followings. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Star Trek were tearing up the message boards. Who was better? Kirk vs. Picard? Mike vs. Joel? While not as hotly contested today some platforms outright banned these when debate just simply got too intense.

People back then also listened to the radio. The Howard Stern Show is at its peak of popularity and even begins broadcasting on network TV as well starting a new trend that is extremely popular today. Other top shows include Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Many people were excited with the return of the American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Sports talk was also gaining in popularity with ESPN leading the way picking up the popular Tony Kornheiser.

Music was also a popular topic of discussion. The top songs of the year include Savage Garden’s Truly Madly Deeply, Usher’s Nice Show and My Way, K-Ci & JoJo’s All My Life, Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, Next’s Too Close, Shania Twain’s You’re Still the One, the Backstreet Boys’s Everybody, Mariah Carey’s My All, Brandy and Monica’s The Boy is Mine, Sarah McLachlan’s Adia, Jennifer Page’s Crush, Monica’s the First Night, Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, 98 Degrees’ Because of You, Divine’s Lately and Deborah Cox’s Nobody’s Supposed to be Here. The top albums were James Horner’s Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture (which stayed at #1 for 16 weeks), Jay-Z’s Volume 2…Hard Knock Life, Lauren Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Garth Brooks’ Double Live. At the time you could watch music videos of these songs and many more on MTV. Good times.

Of course people back in 1998 also memorialized people when they passed away. Among those were baseball announcer Harry Caray, football players Ray Nitschke and Doak Walker, actors Lloyd Bridges and Gene Autry, assassin James Earl Ray (OK, memorialized might not fit with him), singer Frank Sinatra and track star Florence Griffith-Joyner.

In the world of tech web users were introduced to a new browser called Firefox which competed with Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. Microsoft released Windows 98 and like today people still complain about them. Many people probably fantasized about doing what the general in South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut did to Bill Gates when the movie was released the next year. While probably not generating any buzz then, Google was also founded. They’ll make up that.

In a world of dial-up modems and an Internet that would be considered primitive by today’s standards it is actually quite amazing to think that many of the same topics of discussion were being discussed on message boards a generation ago. While some of the players in these dramas may have changed we still like the same things and want to talk about them with others and while our understanding of the world may have changed in the past generation as the Internet has brought the world closer together and put information at our fingertips we still like to talk about the same things. Who knew?

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