March 9, 1996: Apple
confirms that it will shut down its eWorld online service at
the end of the month.

Part messaging service, part news aggregator — and all with
Apple’s customary premium prices — Apple’s short-lived eWorld
was ahead of its time. Subscribers are advised that they can
switch to America Online (AOL) instead.

Apple’s first go at the internet

Apple had launched eWorld on June 20, 1994, less than two years
earlier. It represented Apple’s first deep dive into being a
provider of internet services — several years before Steve Jobs
returned to the company and embraced the importance of going
online with devices like the
iMac G3 and
iBook.

The impetus behind eWorld was a proto-social network, called
AppleLink, which link Apple with its dealers and support
centers. In the early 1990s, when John Sculley was still
running Apple, the decision was made to turn this idea into a
consumer-facing service.

Years before Apple launched iTunes, iCloud and other
internet-based services, Apple acquired a data center in the
San Francisco Bay Area from banking giant Citigroup. It also
came to a licensing agreement with AOL, the company that built
the basic technology eWorld was based upon.

The electronic village comes to life.The electronic village comes to life.
Photo: AppleTypically for Apple, the idea was for
eWorld to be a “walled garden” so Cupertino could totally
control the user experience. Today, of course, Apple’s
moderated approach to its App Store makes it something of a
rarity. In the 1990s, however, it was not a big departure from
the norm. AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were all attempting to do
similar things, since nobody was quite sure yet what the
internet would ultimately turn into.

eWorld didn’t just contain material written by Apple.
A bit like the Apple News app, it served as an aggregator of
news and entertainment from other sources, all filtered through
a familiar Apple interface.

Looking at eWorld today, the big surprise for a lot of people
will be how cartoonish it looks. The notion of turning the
internet (or, at least, a version of it) into a Sim
City
-style settlement, with different buildings
representing different services, seems very unnecessary — and
non-workable — to users in 2017.

It makes sense, though, when you consider that what eWorld was
narrativizing an abstract idea in much the same way that the
graphical user interface “borrowed” the metaphor of the desktop
to explain computing concepts to a new audience. Full
web-browsing support didn’t arrive until 1995.

The other massive shock for modern audiences will be how
expensive it was. Two off-peak hours with
eWorld’s dial-up service cost $8.95, while hourly costs
beyond this (or during the day) set people back $4.95.

Sadly, while Apple is today superb at gauging the right moment
to leap on new technologies, in the 1990s its ability to do so
was somewhat diminished. eWorld only attracted 147,000 users at
its peak.

You can get a more detailed, Flash-based demo of how eWorld
operated by clicking
here.

Do you remember eWorld? Leave your comments below.

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