This article was written by Zanelle Awinyo, Year 9 - as part of her new series: 'Free Fact Friday'
On August 6, 2001, the internet bench, also known as the “cyber seat” was placed in
Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England.
As unbelievable as it sounds, at the time this was believed to be the bench of the future. In 2001, there were no smartphones, which meant no quick access to the internet. While wi-fi did exist at the time, it wasn’t used as much as it is today.
It would mainly be used by university students and researchers.
In addition to this, mobile internet was only limited to a few sites, which could only be accessed slowly and for a high cost, not to mention on only certain phone models. The only way to access the internet in 2001 was to have your computer physically plugged into it.
How was this problem overcome? … The cyber bench.
A customized bench, that allows four people to be seated at a time, where the public plug their laptops into modem (a small box that connects your devices to the Internet using cables) jacks for free. Or at least that's the way MSN (Microsoft Network)- the creators of the bench, said it worked.
Even once you had connected your phone cable to the bench, you had to dial up to the internet over a phone line. Your laptop would have to dial to a regular landline phone number to connect to MSN, the Microsoft Network. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t actually an internet bench. It was just an ordinary bench with phone extensions run to it and a fancy title.
Two teenage boys at the time had found this error and at Microsoft’s expense, they made international calls for free, via the bench, in attempts to call Bill gates.
(Spoiler: It didn’t work)
For a three month trial period, in 2001 you could have dialed up your own internet account from The World’s First Internet bench. A technical disaster; but a Marketing Masterpiece. MSN had gained popularity and attention from the media. Many believe that was all they were hoping for at the time. Companies, to this day, sometimes still use similar marketing techniques.
It may not be an Internet bench; but through the form of 'giveaways' and press releases (I'm sure you are all familiar seeing the unpacking of these on your Instagram/ Youtube feed.) Instead of trying to get to the front page of newspapers like MSN wanted to in 200; in 2020 it’s trying to get as many likes, tweets or reposts to spread publicity for the company/brand.
The World’s First Internet Bench, if you wanted to visit it today, is located in the Abbey Gardens. It has been replaced by a normal bench with a plaque that tells you all about it.
If it was a publicity stunt for MSN, it was definitely successful as even to this day; we’re still advertising it. By visiting the bench, researching it or writing about it; we learn more about MSN and are able to spread that information.
Even 19 years later, you now know about ‘The World’s First Internet bench’ simply by reading this article.
And that’s a Free Fact you now know.
Tune in next Friday for another fact you didn’t know you needed.