The Alternet
Where popups are still a problem.

Mari: What's the I.N.S.?
Satoru: It's a new form of communication. Computers exchange digital information with each other over fiber optic cables.
Mari: ...can it do video games?

The idea of networking computers together is almost as old as the idea of the computer itself. The first modern computer networks started appearing in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. From there it was only a short conceptual leap for science fiction writers to imagine a computer network on a global scale.

It wasn't until The '80s that what we now know as The Internet appeared, and it wasn't until The '90s and the Turn of the Millennium that it exploded into the mainstream. Writers aren't the types to just sit around and wait, however, and many began working Internet-like global computer networks into their fiction long before it became a part of everyday life.

In the hands of the more prescient among these writers, their fictional proto-Internets are nearly identical to what we now have in real life under a different name. The effects the Internet has had on society and the applications to which it's been put were anything but predictable, however. In the hands of writers whose imagination fell short of — or just went in a different direction than — reality, this can easily fall into Zeerust territory.

In some stories set in the future, a variation exists in which the Alternet is a fictional successor rather than alternative to the Internet we know. This is especially true in stories set After the End, in which the Internet has been destroyed and rebuilt, or in space, in which new technologies that alter the Internet's basic functionality are necessary in order to extend its reach beyond our planet.

Compare It's a Small Net After All, which is when what is purported to be the modern-day Internet works very differently in fiction than in Real Life.

No relation to the real Alternet, a left-wing American political news website.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • The "I.N.S." (Information Network System) in Miimu Iroiro Yume No Tabi. For all intents and purposes, the I.N.S. is the Internet.
    • Video chatting, online gaming, online shopping and video streaming are all shown, more-or-less as they would turn out in Real Life, in its introductory episode.
    • The same episode even invokes, lampshades, and averts It's a Small Net After All when the Little League team can't find all their opponents' batting averages online because not all their parents had bothered to put them up.
    • The trainspotting episode has Satoru and Takeshi consult the I.N.S. to look up train schedules and maps to plan out their day trip—when a severe earthquake hits the area Satoru's hotel is situated in, Satoru's parents use the I.N.S. to get up-to-the-minute information on the extent of the damage.
    • A later episode has a reporter mention working for an "I.N.S. news service".
    • All in all, it's pretty darned impressive for a show that aired in 1984, predating even Max Headroom. And when you consider that the show's very titular character is a "meme" that the gang finds on the "Information Network System"... it goes way, way, beyond impressive and slides right up to the edge of "maybe Time Lords are real".
  • Serial Experiments Lain has The Wired, which may or may not be alive. Or another dimension. The anime takes place in "the present day" and "present time" and was created at a time when the internet was already clearly named and defined.
  • Real Drive calls it "The Metal", a contraction of "Meta-Real". Its virtual properties make it look like an ocean that you can dive into. In fact, diving into the waters of The Metal is a key part of the series.

    Comic Books 
  • Albedo: Erma Felna EDF has the Net, which is voice-activated, capable of auto-piloting most vehicles in addition to providing communication, and is sentient and was placed by the Creators to keep watch on them.
  • Final Crisis makes brief mention of a supervillain-created Unternet, which exists alongside the normal Internet. The heroes use it to communicate after Darkseid takes control of all Earth's media and uses it to broadcast Anti-Life. It also made an appearance in Red Robin.

    Fan Works 
  • The Star Trek Online fic Bait and Switch has narrator Kanril Eleya mention having watched videos of professional vodchakhim (more or less alien violinists) on the "extranet".
  • Empath: The Luckiest Smurf has the Mirror Net (a medieval fantasy version of the Internet that uses magic mirrors), with Hogatha the witch contacting other sorcerers through Magebook, and the Smurflings using it to challenge the Game Master to a magical online multiplayer game.

     Film — Live-Action 
  • In the movie version of V for Vendetta, the monolithic computer from the comic book is replaced with something called the Interlink, more or less implied to be the same as the Internet (minus the free speech aspect, of course).

  • This is Older Than Radio, with the probable Ur-Example being Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century (written in 1863, though it wasn't published until 1994). The book speaks of networked calculating machines, banks communicate via a linked network of fax-style document machines, and in general it's made abundantly clear that instant long-range communication is essential to Verne's 1960s Paris.
  • The short story "A Logic Named Joe" by Murray Leinster had home computers called "logics" that were networked with each other and with "tanks" that contained the sum total of human knowledge.
  • The Matrix (not the film franchise) in William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy is probably one of the first, and the Trope Namer for Cyberspace. Finding databases on the Matrix involves moving a small avatar resembling a point of light along a grid.
  • Some works in the Star Wars Expanded Universe feature something called the Commnet. More prevalent is the Holonet, a system of Subspace Ansibles that allow real-time holographic communication across the galaxy.
  • Tales of MU has the Magitek ethernet, not like real world ethernets at all. Forums are known as tapestries (threads, get it?).
  • The dataspheres and the megasphere in the Hyperion Cantos are successors to the Internet.
  • The City of Mind in Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home (1985).
  • The 1909 Short Story "The Machine Stops" is all about such a network, with people mostly sitting in Facebook all day long.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's eponymous reference updates itself over the "sub-ether," implied to be a galactic Internet-like communications medium.
  • The Chaos Timeline features the so-called Weltsystem with national precursor systems akin to ARPANET established up to half a century earlier.
  • Ender's Game calls its Internet "the nets" and depicts it as several interconnecting but discrete networks, like in the old days of CompuServe and Prodigy (when the book was written). It also depicts participation in important political debates as by-invitation-only and closely moderated, rather than the free-for-all that politics on the modern Internet has become.
    • The sequels continue with the Ansible-enabled FTL version of the nets that connects the Hundred Worlds together (in the absence of FTL Travel).
  • The Noon Universe novels, particularly Beetle in the Anthill, feature the Great Planetary Informatorium, which functions akin to the internet, except it seems to be a single supercomputer containing the complete collection of Earth's accumulated knowledge, and the response times to a search query are rather long (several hours).
  • Federation of the Hub has the ComWeb, a Federation-wide email system.
  • Christian Nation has the "Purity Web", a heavily monitored and sanitized version of the internet which people can only access through wrist mounted devices.
  • The postapocalyptic reddit novel R-Virus has survivors transfer to the darknet, which is real, though originally intended as an emergency Internet and alternative option to the increasingly censored internet. In combination with the Serval Mesh (also real), an app that allows smartphones to build networks from device to device instead of through cell phone towers, redditors can still connect almost anywhere, any time.
  • In Turtledove's Worldwar series, The Race arrive on Earth with an internet of their own, which a select few humans gain access to.
  • Diane Duane's Star Trek novel series Rihannsu mentions that the Enterprise has an internal discussion board for the crew's use. The second book, The Romulan Way, speaks of a Vulcan version of the Internet that was in use around the time the people who would become the Romulans left the planet. The primary Romulan religion of the books' present actually started out as a messageboard meme.
  • The Culture's neural lace allows one to access one that incorporates all five senses (possibly more, being The Culture), has instant response to your thoughts, and is about the closest you can get to a Mind.
  • The Archonate has "The Connectivity", which seems to be roughly equivalent to planet-spanning WiFi.
  • In The History of the Galaxy, the worlds of the Confederacy of Suns are united by the Interstar network, which is, basically, Internet IN SPACE!. It uses massive spherical Hyper-Frequency (or HF) orbital stations to generate stable FTL channels. The way Interstar works is by joining each HF station to the central Interstar node located in orbit of one of the Core worlds of the Confederacy, which then routs all signals to their destination. The Interstar bandwidth allows billions of people to connect to another world's sites via VR. The network is considered to be so important, that no one has ever bothered to protect either the HF stations or the central node (because it's unthinkable to destroy them). Naturally, the newly-discovered Harammins disagree, as their first act upon encountering humanity is to destroy the central node and, basically, end Interstar. Only after defeating them, humans use the ancient computer Logris as a new central node to restore the connection.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Labyrinth of Reflections trilogy takes place in an Alternate History, where the Internet is barely used thanks to the development of cheap and easy VR (using 28.8k dial-up modems), which gave rise to the Deep. The big computer companies banded together to create Deeptown, a large virtual city where people interact with one another, work, and, pretty much, live. Since that takes away much of the Internet's appeal, it's only really used to get factual information that can't be easily obtained in the Deep. Note: The author is an avid FidoNet user, and the series is likely inspired by this.
  • Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark has the Ultranet, a successor to the Internet in the late 21st century. It's not clear what happened to it once humans settled other worlds, as there is no Subspace Ansible in this 'verse despite the presence of Casual Interstellar Travel. While the details of the Ultranet are not revealed, it's mentioned that it works more through keywords (similar to AOL) than through URL.
  • In Terra by Mitch Benn, Fnrrn society has the Source, a planet-wide information network accessed through the tablets everyone carries. The scientist who invented gravity-manipulation published his work on the Source, so that no one group would have access to it.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Planet Pirates series has "Looking GLASS", the Galactic Library All-Search System.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Max Headroom had the System, which usually looked like a 3D wireframe image of whatever Edison Carter's controller was hacking into at the time, but sometimes worked very similarly to the Real Life version.
    • The episode "Dream Thieves" has a scene where Edison flounders around trying to look up background information for a story on the System until Theora and Murray graciously intervene—the scene absolutely nails it. Apart from the silly-looking OST, that scene could have been filmed today.
  • Firefly has the Cortex, which spans the star system in which the franchise takes place. It's used for both video chat and browsing information in the series. RPG materials explain that access is cloud-based and pay-by-the-minute for private citizens unless they can afford a dedicated source box. Waving someone comes up as a verb for messaging, the way "wire" is used about sending a message over a telegraph.
  • In Phil of the Future, Phil introduces Keely to the Giggle, "the thing, that replaced the thing, that replaced the thing that killed the Internet in a pay-per-view battle royal" in the future Phil hails from. It's a helmet with a screen on it that contains all of mankind's knowledge up to 2121 and constantly updates itself when information changes.
  • The Optinet in the Alien Nation series (well, in the TV movies that presumably take place 20 Minutes into the Future of the 1990s, when more "futuristic" technology shows up). It looked like graphical MS-DOS.
  • In Ronald D. Moore's unaired pilot 17th Precinct, a police procedural set in a Magitek world, there's something called "the stream", which looks like a tube of smoke. Newspapers and police reports can be found on the stream and magically "printed" by passing a piece of paper through it.

  • Pete Townshend of The Who developed a concept album called Lifehouse in the '70s, which involved a futuristic setting where pollution is so bad, people are forced to link their minds up to an interlocking computer system called The Grid (a good thirty years before The Matrix), where they communicate and exchange information. The album was essentially in Development Hell until he decided to use what songs he had in latter Who albums.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Alternity supplement Dataware. The Grid is the Earth's worldwide network of computers, telecommunications (including television, fax. email, etc.) and online service providers.
  • The Mesh in Eclipse Phase is a wireless mesh network that employs post-Singularity technology in order to make routers unnecessary for anything less than interplanetary communication.
  • The Matrix in Shadowrun was retconned to be implemented after the Crash of 2029 destroyed the internet. In 2064 another Crash destroyed the wired Matrix and a wireless mesh Matrix was built.
  • Mindjammer has the Mindscape, which is accessed via implants and primarily used to store and exchange memories. It is kept updated across interstellar distances by FTL starships called Mindjammers.
  • The Web in Transhuman Space is only ever called that, with the implication that "internet" is seen as archaic. Because Everything Is Online and most people (at least in Fifth Wave states) have some form of Augmented Reality, the Web is everywhere. However, since there is no FTL communication, speed-of-light delays mean that the Martian Web has limited access to the Earth Web, and the connection between the Lunar Web and Earth is too slow and narrow for most purposes.
  • Trinity was written after the Internet existed, and presumes that practically everything is wirelessly connected. It also assumes a "Communications Crunch", in that bandwidth has become very scarce, and people might find that they can't get on the 'Net at a given moment, because other people are prepared to pay more for the bandwidth. Given current issues with net neutrality, this isn't too unlikely a future.


    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect has the extranet, which is all but admitted to be the galactic version of the Internet. Data is passed between planets via mass effect comm buoys, and bandwidth is prioritized to military and government first, corporate subscribers second, and individual users third. Advertisements on the Citadel tell people to look up extranet sites based on keywords instead of a URL.
  • The UMN in Xenosaga is a Hyper Space internet that spans the entire universe. It is also physically keeping the universe together. The network serves as a Subspace Ansible, as well as allows for instant material teleportation and materialization. Attempts to send humans and other biological matter through the UMN results in pretty horrific outcomes. IF the person even rematerializes in his previous form, he will almost certainly suffer from mental degradation and go psychotically insane.
  • It's right there in the title of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, which serves as the Internet equivalent for the 2040s-era Strangereal. This is the only game in the Ace Combat series that has such a concept in it, and it's a big part of the plot.

  • A time travel arc of Melonpool shows that the Ubernet now hosts all the actually useful stuff available online.
  • In the future of S.S.D.D, the Maytec Consortium runs a very fast, secure, and expensive network. The internet is effectively run by the Collective of Anarchist States and banned pretty much everywhere else, though it's still popular because the Maytec network doesn't have free porn or bootleg movies.

    Real Life 
  • The World Wide Web as we know it today was not the first attempt to create a civilian computer network. A number of predecessors exist, some of them taking on quite different forms from what the internet eventually became. This article from the Computer History Museum goes into more detail on many of these old networks, along with the challenges of archiving them now that they have started falling by the wayside.
    • The Minitel was a Videotex-based service operated by the French government. Launched in 1982, it was actually far more advanced than the civilian internet during its heyday, offering chat rooms, banking, hotel reservations, online shopping, and, of course, porn (or at least sex chat in the form of "Minitel Rose"), all at a time when bulletin board services were the height of the internet and the dot-com bubble was just a sparkle in the eye of Americans. Eventually, though, the global internet and its more open model caught up and soon quickly surpassed Minitel (which never took off outside of France and Belgium), and Minitel faded during the '00s before being shut down in 2012.
    • Prestel in the UK provided a similar function, though it was far less successful. Amongst the various services, Micronet 800 (aimed at the burgeoning home computer scene, as many people accessed Prestel via their home computer and a compatible modem instead of the originally-intended dedicated terminal) even featured downloadable software and a couple of pioneering online games!
    • One could consider the internet portals of The '90s like America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe to be a smaller-scale version of this. They provided links to favored web sites (often within the corporate umbrella), email services, newsfeeds, and other content, but only limited access to the broader World Wide Web. Even as the internet grew in the '90s, however, these services still provided a convenience for non-tech-savvy users, with AOL famously advertising itself as "so easy to use, no wonder it's #1!" Only with the emergence of Web 2.0 in the '00s did these portals fall by the wayside; as of 2016, only AOL still survives, and even then in a highly truncated form that exists largely as a legacy service for those remaining few people who still use dial-up.
  • Around the same time that the US military was working on the ARPANET project that later birthed the civilian internet, the Soviets were also doing research into computer networks, as laid out in Benjamin Peters' book How Not to Network a Nation. As one could guess by that title, the project failed, and by the time of The Great Politics Mess-Up it had largely been abandoned. Peters noted in his book that, ironically, the Soviets' efforts failed because they ran the project in a competitive manner of a sort often associated with capitalism, causing it to be beset by infighting and competition between the many institutes and laboratories involved at the expense of the greater project, while the capitalist American ARPANET succeeded because it was run along centralized lines of a sort often associated with socialism, with a great deal of collaborative planning and state investment.
  • A more successful — if shorter-lived — attempt at a 'socialist internet' was Project Cybersyn, a computer network devised by Stafford Beer for the Chilean government of Salvador Allende. It was designed to streamline the central planning of Allende's socialist government, connecting voters, workplaces, and planners more efficiently than before while cutting down the bureaucracy. It was swiftly ended by the regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1973, but ideas from it continued to live on in both socialist thought and, ironically enough, in business management, and it's been cited as an antecedent to the modern idea of "big data".
  • At least a few authoritarian regimes have their own civilian computer networks that are cut off from the wider internet as a means of controlling the populace and stopping the flow of critical international news and dissent. North Korea (of course) has the Kyangmyong, while Myanmar/Burma and Cuba are known to have a "dual internet" system, where most of the population is only allowed to access a small, closed network while only a few people (mostly tourists and government officials) are allowed to access the real internet. Iran has also launched a "National Internet Project" aimed at limiting foreign influence and preventing CIA surveillance.

Alternative Title(s): Fictional Internet, The Internet By Any Other Name, Internet By Any Other Name, Alternet