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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 as good as inherent to 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, 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 1983, 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.
  • In Agravity Boys, there is a counterpart to our modern-day Internet that instantly transmits data across the entire universe. Chris inadvertently becomes a big-name streaming celebrity on it, providing him and his friends—and, by extension, Earth and its Earthlings—a level of clout that they're not really sure how to handle.

    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 made a later appearance in Red Robin where Anarky takes control of it from a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • European comics set in the Disney Ducks Comic Universe often have Donald log onto "Ducknet". (Or "Anknet", or whatever the word is for "duck" in the language the comic is published in.) It's exactly like the real Internet, except for the name.

    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.
  • In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, it's established that the Irkens use an internet equivalent called the Irk-Net. There's also the Dark Irk-Net, which unlike the main version isn't monitored by the Control Brains, thus making it perfect for conducting criminal activity.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The eponymous Matrix links all the enslaved humans into one giant network that simulates the real world. Agent Smith even ends up "infecting" it and spreading like a virus.
  • In Avatar, the Na'vi has an alternet in the form of Eywa, an overmind-like, super-intelligent being made of alien trees, which is linked to most advanced life forms on Pandora and has a form of internet (i.e. instant global communication) built of its roots and seeds.
  • 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.
  • "A Logic Named Joe": Published by Will F Jenkins, who usually used the Pen Name Murray Leinster. Home computers called "logics" that were networked with each other and with "tanks" that contained the sum total of human knowledge. Logics also functioned as a television and Video Phone, connecting people around the world.
  • In Stanisław Lem's The Magellanic Cloud, envisions the Internet (Trion), smartphone (pocket receiver) and 3D printers (automaton).
  • 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 Exchange, as it is called, in Always Coming Home. A.I.s maintain it for both themselves and humanity. No proper security, but any data older than 24 hours is automatically archived, and digging it up is problematic due to the lack of a user-friendly search engine.
  • The 1909 Short Story "The Machine Stops" is remarkably prescient; it describes a future society where people spend all of their time sitting in front of their computing machines — which provide everything from instant global communication to music streaming.
  • 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 the Terra Trilogy 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.
  • Aeon 14 has the Link, which is fundamentally identical to the Internet but incorporates a Brain/Computer Interface, allowing users to mentally web-surf and have pages projected onto their retinas or directly into their minds. Due to the lack of Subspace Ansible technologies it only works within star systems.
  • In Jeffrey C. Wells's RPG Mechanics 'Verse fic series The Proving Grounds, there's a brief reference to Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness, buying her sword on the aethernet (specifically, aeBay).
  • In the 1989 novel The Night Mayor, everything is linked together through a system called Yggdrasil, after the World Tree in Norse Mythology that holds the worlds together. It's used for communication, for research, and other internet-like purposes. Unlike the actual internet, it's a single system with a centralized control hub, which is a plot point.
  • Foundation Series's Foundation's Fear: The "Mesh" is a network of computers and mechanical devices that do computational work, as well as operate robots. And it has been inhabited by uploaded aliens since roughly the time it was created. A Portal Network of wormholes allow the Mesh to function across interstellar distances, but it's primarily contained on Trantor, due to being a City Planet.
  • A fairy internet is mentioned a couple times in Artemis Fowl. Web addresses end in ".gnom" instead of ".com" and an encyclopedia website called Wiccapedia exists.
  • Nowhere Stars has the Coral Sea, which is basically the internet under a different name; it's implied that this is the main way disparate city-states communicate with each other, as the wilderness between cities is overrun with Harbingers.

    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: Inara is shown using a touchscreen video chat app to pick potential clients a couple of times. "Waving" someone comes up as a verb for messaging, the way "wire" is used about sending a message over a telegraph. RPG materials explain that access is cloud-based and pay-by-the-minute for private citizens unless they can afford a dedicated source box.
  • 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.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Stream of Consciousness", people can access the Stream, an online repository of all human knowledge, via neural implants.
  • Star Trek;
    • In an early script for the Next Generation episode, “Coming Of Age” mentioned that Mordock was a legend on the "Galactic Computer Network".
    • The prop for Picard's family album had an invitation for his Starfleet graduation ceremony that told him to RSVP through Starfleet Internet.
    • The Deep Space Nine episode, “Past Tense” shows that 21st century Earth had a communication network called the Interface that required users to create an account, let them access the Net and watch news channels.
  • The Doctor Who episode, “The Girl Who Died” has The Doctor defeating the More by making a video of them and editing silly music onto it and threatening to upload it to the Galactic Hub if they don't leave Earth alone. This is presumably some alien internet as the episode's set in the 9th century.
  • The Interweb in the Babylon 5 series is the Earth Alliance computer network. The Interweb carries an extensive range of information resources and services. Search programs could be loaded to the Interweb. Given Babylon 5's remote location within the Epsilon Eridani system, a tachyon link was necessary to establish an Interweb connection and download information from Earth across interstellar distances, and even then it took time to download information. Judging from its name, the Interweb is likely a descendant of the Internet.
  • Pandora: The successor of the Internet is called "the datastream".
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Prendrick's Planetary Parlour", James Prendrick's latest venture is the Prendrick Portal; a screen and keyboard connected to an analytical engine, which itself is connected to a "cellular telegraph" system, enabling the transmission of text and pictures, either person-to-person, or in group "chat spaces". Like all of Prendrick's ahead-of-their-time inventions, it's abandoned before the end of the episode, but not before Brakenreid almost falls for a 419 Scam, various permutations of hacking are discussed, and Murdoch gets to express his bewilderment that the main thing this miraculous system seems to be used for is sharing pictures of cats.

  • 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.
  • Red Markets has the Ubiq, a wireless network connected by stratospheric relay balloons similar to Google’s Project Loon. While originally intended to preserve net neutrality, its unique infrastructure (including an isolated corporate campus on top of a mountain) allowed the Ubiq to remain running during the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • GURPS Technomancer is Our World Only With Magic, so it has the regular internet. However, according to GURPS Magical Items 3, it also has the ManaNet, which uses ectoplasmic optic fiber cables known as mana conduits to transmit spells and mana. Pyramid magazine #115 updates this concept with mana-based counterparts of professional networks and crowdsourcing.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade has SchreckNet, a computer network set up by the Nosferatu when they got in early on ARPANET. It was originally meant solely for secure online communication by the Nosferatu, but by the time of 20th Anniversary Edition, it was opened up to other clans, who were able to access special Kindred-only sites through a combination of Disciplines and blood magic. U-turned with 5th edition, however, where general hubris from the Camarilla leads to the NSA discovering SchreckNet, which is then (at least, publicly declared to be) dismantled by the Nosferatu.
  • In the alternate history of Etherscope humanity discovers an adjacent 'etheral plane' in the 1860s. Etherspace can be explored, used for energy production, and even manipulated by machines. The titular Etherscope is the collective name for the various cities humanity has constructed in etherspace. The Etherscope has essentially become this world's version of the internet, allowing the storage of information and global communication. In true cyberpunk fashion, people can even transfer their minds into the etherscope using 'scopejacks' or 'scope tabs'.


    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect
    • The Shepard trilogy 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.
    • In Mass Effect: Andromeda, in addition to a Nexus-wide email system, the Tempest has an internal discussion board for the crew's use. This is mostly used as a source of jokes, ranging from Gil going sorry-not-sorry for stress-testing an engine at 5 AM (Liam's response reveals that they have automatic censoring in the future, too), to Jaal explaining various words of the angara language to amusing reactions from the crew.
  • 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.
  • In the Trails Series, the continent of Zemuria has the "orbal net," an orbal energy network capable of transmitting various kinds of data wirelessly. It is still in the early stages of development, however, so the orbal net is more accurately a rough analogy to the real-life ARPANET in that it's basically a primitive Internet that is primarily used by the military. A late sidequest during the first Cold Steel game in the Roer Industrial City reveals there are plans to expand it for civilian use.
  • The setting of the .hack franchise (originally 20 Minutes into the Future, now Alternate History) shows an alternate development of the internet following "Pluto's Kiss", an incident where a computer virus practically destroyed the original internet and almost caused a nuclear war. For some time afterwards, internet usage was restricted to government use: it would take several years until the internet was open to the general public again, by which time computer hardware had been standardized to a single operating system, ALTIMIT, which was completely immune to malware. In addition, hacking has become a capital offense.
  • In Crusader, the tyrannical global corporate hegemony the World Economic Consortium maintains a massive world-wide computer network handling virtually all electronic interactions, allowing them to monitor credit accounts, videophone calls and so on with impunity. The Resistance employ hackers to "skate" the WEC secured networks, scavenging for information, and extraction specialists to tap into WEC facilities' systems and taking temporary control of the teleporter grids, allowing Resistance operatives to get in and out of enemy installations quickly and easily. The latter usually involves re-wiring the installation's communications grid to receive and upload data files from and to operatives on the ground, digitally outmatching Consortium "gadget jockeys" (the "sniffers on the grid") and keeping the signal across multiple networks stable, backfeeding comms into power-grids to cause static and shenanigans.
  • The opening cutscene of Mutant Rampage: Bodyslam explains that "The Cybernet, a fiber-optic communication network, links everything. The rage of the Cybernet is Bodyslam!"
  • The Boxxy Quest series is set inside the internet, and has multiple villains each trying to replace or remake it as they see fit.
  • In the world of Hypnospace Outlaw, the eponymous Hypnospace is the "sleeptime network" — a version of the internet accessed through a Brain/Computer Interface while one sleeps. The player serves as a moderator on this network, empowered to remove infringing content and users. It also has a competitor called "CyberWorldz".
  • The EXA_PICO universe has two different types of networks for its respective planets: the network containing the data of the three Ar tonelico amplification towers (with two of them being directly connected and the other one having an independent network that is only linked to the others by a weak, sound-only line), called the Binary Field, in Ar Ciel; and the plant-based mixture of spiritual world and cyberspace known as Genometrics in Ra Ciela and Soreil.

  • 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.
  • Leif & Thorn tech runs on spells and crystals rather than electricity and silicon, so they have the Internet, but magic. Complete with Cracked-type article sites.
  • Grrl Power: The Veil is part of the Extra-Strength Masquerade, a world-spanning spell that makes it harder for people to notice supernatural occurrences. However, because it's so widespread, people piggyback other spells on the system, allowing it to act as essentially a magical internet. When the Veil is damaged, the Council temporarily disables this function to reduce the strain on the system. They forgot that the alarms on their most dangerous vault also used this system, so when someone broke in the alarms couldn't reach the Council to inform them. This was the entire point of threatening the Veil in the first place.

    Web Original 
  • Look to the West has (in the 21st century framing story) Motext, which is something between a less advanced internet and a more advanced Teletext.
  • RWBY: Remnant has the CCT (Cross Continental Transmit) System, which functions like a cross between the internet and cell service, since smartphone-equivalents called "scrolls" rely on it too. Unlike the real-life internet, it works via four massive satellite towers in the capital of each of the four Kingdoms, but they have a rather crippling weakness: if any one of those four towers goes down, the whole system fails, which is exactly what the villains do to the Beacon Tower in Vale at the end of Volume 3, ending global communication - which is a problem when inch of land in between the four is infested with Grimm.

    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.
    • Paul Otlet, a Belgian pioneer of library and information science, conceived the Mundaneum, a Great Big Library of Everything consisting of index cards filled with encoded information, and tried to establish a research service that allowed the paying public to phone his team to look up information, imagining that it would expand to include a technology called “electric telescopes” that enabled live streaming of multiple document lookups (an early version of search engines) and allowed viewers to see associations between documents (anticipating the Semantic Web detailed below). He convinced the Belgian government to fund his efforts, but the Mundaneum, without the research service, was mostly destroyed by the Nazi invasion of 1940.
    • The essay As We May Think, published in The Atlantic in July 1945 by Vannevar Bush, later to become the first science advisor to President Harry S. Truman, describes the concept of memex (short for memory expansion), a device the size of a large desk for storing and scanning knowledge, largely through microfilm, and later magnetic tape, as well as creating “associative trails” and ways to share the information electronically. Memex predates concepts such as hypertext, photocopiers, personal computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, speech recognition, and online encyclopedias.
    • The Brazilian writer Machadode Assis wrote the essay O Passado, O Presente, e o Futuro da Literatura (The Past, Present, and Future of Literature) published in 1858 with the following excerpt:
    "When steam is perfected, when combined with the telegraph it has made distances disappear, it will not only be goods that will travel from one side of the globe to the other, with the speed of lightning; it will also be ideas!"
    • Philosopher Ted Nelson created hypertext, a foundational technology of the World Wide Web. However, his proposed implementation of it is called Xanadu, and has several advantages over the Web, mainly two-way unbreakable links (the Web only has one-way breakable links), simple and standardized copyright protocols complete with micropayments to authors (the Web is very confused on copyright and does not have such micropayments), three-dimensional graphical links allowing simultaneous comparisons between different pages (the Web does not allow this), “zippered lists” and compound documents that allow computers to collate pieces of other pages to create new ones (the Web does not allow this) and (according to Nelson’s claims) superior security. The Xanadu project is an infamous example of Vapor Ware, having been in development from 1960 to its release in 2014, while the Web’s extreme simplicity meant it was widely adopted much faster during that period.
    • 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!
    • Teletext is a read-only precursor to both of the above.
    • 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.
    • FidoNet is a network that connected the early BBS systems with forum messages and email using a store-and-forward system to cut down on phone bills over connecting to other systems directly before the internet saw wide use outside of academia. It's also how modern SMS messaging works for reliability.
    • The Unix to Unix Copy Programs (UUCP) was a suite of tools to copy files, email and netnews (not unlike a BBS) from one machine to another. Typically, machines were connected by dial-up phone lines, at intervals, so content took hours or days to reach everywhere. Google Groups hosts an archive of Usenet posts.
  • The "Dark Web" refers to networks and websites that are not indexed in the World Wide Web, and thus, cannot be accessed through conventional web browser, requiring special peer-to-peer programs to access. It is notorious for being the internet equivalent of a Wretched Hive, with its uses including criminal activities from selling drugs to distributing illegal digital content.
  • 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 Soviet collapse 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.
  • Amateur radio hobbyists have developed several methods for linking computers that don't touch the infrastructure of the Internet (and quite a few more that do). AX.25 in particular is a link layer protocol (like Wi-Fi and Ethernet) for linking computers over ham radio.
  • Gopher was an early competitor to the World Wide Web's Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Unlike the web's system of hyperlinks, Gopher used a hierarchical system similar to a file browser. Gopher was invented in 1991, but had died out by the end of the decade. There are still a few gopher servers floating around out there, and some web browsers support the gopher protocol either natively or via an extension.
  • Gemini is a Spiritual Successor to Gopher that embraces Gopher's minimalismnote  while offering modern features like encryption. Sites (or capsules) are meant to be simple to set up, and the bare bones aesthetic favors text-only clients with minimal bandwidth.
  • Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, proposed a technology known as the Semantic Web, which would essentially replace the “dumb links” that today’s World Wide Web is built on, with links that indicate associations such as whether a source being linked to contradicts or corroborates the link’s surrounding text (think TV Tropes’ own way of denoting disambiguating links by coloring them green), along with software that encodes meaning found in the hypertext’s contents, making the whole Internet machine-readable. Work has slowed significantly on it since the 2010s.
  • A concept in Quantum Physics known as “quantum computing” (invented by R. P. Poplavskii, Paul Benioff, Richard Feynman, and David Deutsch) involves building computers that go beyond the binary thinking of “classical” computers that is commonplace today, and instead use quantum states to make calculations much faster. Some quantum physicists, notably several professors at Delft University in the Netherlands, dream of building a network of quantum computers that would serve as an alternative to the internet, existing alongside it while being able to solve select problems much faster. (Sidenote: The current industry estimate for when a quantum computer might be able to break the existing internet’s main security systems is 2033, but a 2022 preprint suggested that the technology is available right now.)

Alternative Title(s): Fictional Internet, Alternet