In search of the last internet cafe on Earth

7 May 2024

Homepages and personal websites may be on the way back, but what of that other venerable staple of the early web: internet cafes?

In the late 1990’s they were everywhere. Venture onto any suburban shopping strip, and there’d be at least one net cafe in amongst the other shops. When I first acquired the domain name in 1998, we went into a net cafe so I could see the website on a computer that did not belong to me, or anyone I knew. To believe the disassociated domain name really existed, and was live online, I had to load the URL into the browser on a device alien to me.

I may’ve told this story elsewhere, somewhere here, before.

But ten years later, well into the first decade of the twenty-first century — the noughties, or aughts, if you must — net cafes were still common place. I used to do contract work, and not every workplace I went to had full internet access for all employees. Many, initially, granted unfettered access only to those at managerial level. Contract staff were deemed too risky for the privilege. Who knows what sort of websites they might lookup while the meter was running.

I was at one such place, near Central Station in Sydney, and on lunch breaks, used to regularly visit a net cafe, located below street level. The place practically had the atmosphere of a night-club; the room was dimly lit, and music blared out of a surround-sound speaker system. And it was massive. There was long row after long row of small cubicles, each hosting a desktop computer.

And it was always busy; remember we’re talking circa 2008 here. It was located a few hundred metres from one of Sydney’s largest universities, so that may have had something to do with its popularity. It seems hard to believe the place is gone now.

As they all have, from just about everywhere. But there are exceptions, and if you look hard enough, or travel far enough, you might stumble upon one of these remnants of the web’s early days.