In 1994, the US government decided it was way past time to make the Internet available to the huddled masses, much to the consternation of the academics and military contractors who ran the Internet to that point.
The computer world was a series of isolated islands that all used different methods to send email. By far the largest island was CompuServe, which was owned by the unlikely H&R Block income tax preparation service. Anyone who was anyone in the tech world had a CompuServe account and a monthly bill to prove it. Using @xyz.com was not necessary because everyone you needed to contact was on the same online service and people often have accounts on every service, like AOL and Prodigy.
This post was inspired by finding this document as I was going through boxes starting the process of unwinding a life time of accumulating “stuff”
While the users of the ARPA net had email techniques to send to each other using the @ sign, sending between the coming internet and an island (like IBM’s PROFS system – intended for internal corporate email) only could get outside the corporate moat by traveling through a gateway with each extra destination needing its own gateway and ways to translate each proprietary format to another format.
The Internet sendmail program made all of that go away. All you needed to do was add the @someplace.net after the other user name and anyone in the world could send a message to anyone else in the world in a few minutes.
This change killed CompuServe – now living your electronic life inside the palace walls had little value – as support forums and discussion groups moved out onto the Internet where what you you said and to whom was not limited by the income need of an online service. America Online greatly expanded its market share by offering online access without a per minute charge. CompuServe cratered immediately and was purchased by AOL which refocused CompuServe as the simple service for people not smart enough to understand AOL. For me, that was one of the darkest moments during the time FindAnISP.com existed.