Evolution of Internet / Email in India
Looking back at the Email and internet evolution in India, I felt it would be ideal to share some of my experiences with you.
I had the chance to use email in the year 1993, if my memory is correct. Those days internet was not available. Email alone was available from a few licensed companies. Something which ends in a ‘dish’ was my email service provider. I used to type the messages off line, and once a message or two was ready, the line is dialed and message sent. Emails were charged for every minute of usage. Very few companies had emails those days. Personal Emails were not there.
Internet was introduced in India starting with Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai and Pune on 15 August 1995. Internet connection was taken by our start-up company in February 1996, if my gray cells are right. (Himalayan Internet Services, where I worked was closed in 1998. Our domain chennaiweb dot com (format of website name changed to avoid link to that site, which seems to be for sale now) was also not renewed by us when we closed the business.)
Windows 95 was released on August 24, 1995 (after much delays by Microsoft), which made Internet popular with its ease of use. Previous versions of windows like windows 3.1 and earlier versions of windows were not that user friendly.
My friends; Ramesh, Velmurugan and Sainathan; bought a book ‘Learn HTML in 14 days‘ from the ‘Pongal Trade fair’ in 2nd week of January 1996 and they suggested ‘why can’t we start Internet business?’ Even though I was experienced in some of the computer programming languages like Foxpro, Clipper (both DOS Operating system based database programming languages), Oracle ( version 6 was the one used those days without GUI ; Oracle 7.0 was the first Graphical User Interface version database from Oracle Corporation), Power-builder (a frond-end application development software with GUI; competitor to Visual Basic those days) and C; internet was something which was new to me. My friends also had no idea as to what is computer programming, except for some data entry experience, mainly in accounts departments where they worked. I assured them that I will take up the challenge. And I completed the task in a month or so, even though I was per-occupied with my software development task for a finance company. The syntax of HTML, with its tag structure, was something new to me, compared to other programming languages I knew.
Before taking the internet connection and starting the business, to know about the internet, we went to a net cafe opposite to Hotel Chola Sheraton, Chennai. It was the only cafe those days. The charges were 100 Rupees per hour or so and there were 4 or 5 computers. Being novice users, we didn’t know what to look for. Saw ‘Filmfare’ magazine website or some other newspaper sites and came out after sitting and browsing with the slow connection.
After having got the feel of internet, I with my friends Ramesh, Sainathan, Velmurugan, along with Ramesh’s relatives, decided that it is time to get into this business. We took an office in Price Plaza, Eggmore, Chennai. We got the application for internet connection from BSNL; the only service provider that time. As there were a long backlog of applications, we had to to take a veteran M.L.A. (6 or 7 times continuous winner those days ; who expired a few years back) to the BSNL office twice or thrice, to get the internet connection.
Do not loose your conscience on hearing the amount charged those days! 100 hours cost a whopping 10000 Rupees!!! That is rupees 100 per hour! Once that was exhausted, one has to again take an advance DD for 10000. And the internet connection speeds were in KB those days, compared to standard 2- 8 Mbps these days. No post paid billing facility was available in the initial years.
Within a few weeks/month, we were flooded with request from companies, asking us to design their web pages. And they were mainly for sub-domains. That is their site names comes under our site name. Our sites were hosted at dezines.com (seems non-existent for the last 2/3 years) , Canada. Making the payment was the funniest part. Advance DD for 12000/- per site was taken and copy was faxed to them, to get the site activated. The original DD was then couriered through DHL at rupees 1200 per cover. And to get the DD amount in dollars, we needed Reserve Bank of India’s permission in some Form (Form number 9 or something which I did not recollect correctly).
One of our customers, Skylift cargo, wanted some forms, so that their potential customers (tourists) can fill up those and they can be contacted. Many sites were just text with some images. Many leading business houses gave us the order. Recently listed Olympics cards, Sri Krishna Sweets, Shylift cargo (an IATA/Cargo company), Some real estate companies, many shipping companies, etc., were some of our initial customers.
I feel that we were little ahead in the website business that time. Customers were not aware of internet and its benefits. We had to explain what is internet to the customers. Many a times, they came with their entire families; grant parents, children, grand children…
Even though I left the internet web design work for an assignment in Kuwait in 1998 end, (to work on a contract for the refineries of Kuwait National Petroleum Company on their Laboratory Information Management System – SQL*LIMS software installation, customization,Sun Solaris Server admin,etc.), I returned to India after around 30 months and again started working as a freelancer on web technologies.