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Remembering eWorld, Apple's forgotten online service

Benj Edwards | June 10, 2014
Twenty years ago this month, Apple introduced an online service to compete with the likes of AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe

Just before the Internet's meteoric rise in the public consciousness, large centralized dial-up services like America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe dominated the online landscape. In this competitive climate 20 years ago, Apple introduced eWorld, a subscription-based information service available to Mac and Newton users. Despite its closure in 1996, eWorld remains notable for its city-based interface metaphor and as a symbol of Apple's overreach in the era.

Users accessed eWorld through custom client software written by Apple and connected using a traditional dial-up modem hooked to a telephone line. Upon connecting to the service, the eWorld software displayed a playfully-illustrated aerial view of a small city. Each building in the city represented a different topical focus for the service, containing articles, chat rooms, discussion boards, and file downloads centered around various themes.

For example, clicking on the Business and Finance Plaza building opened up a new window that presented the user with articles from Inc. magazine, business-themed discussion boards, and stock quotes. Other buildings focused on games and entertainment, shopping, learning (with encyclopedia access), and Apple product support.

At launch, the service cost $8.95 a month, which included two free hours of access time. Additional access charges were $7.95 an hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and $4.95 an hour otherwise. While such prices seem high today, they were similar to other online services at the time. (Flat-rate ISPs made this pricing structure obsolete soon afterward, however.)

It's worth noting that in a time before the endless firehose of Web-based information we find ourselves inundated with today, most eWorld users could get by using the service for only a handful hours a month--they'd mostly check email a few minutes at a time, read forum messages, and maybe download a file. Even so, eWorld's access prices drastically limited demand for the service.

Trouble in eWorld

From its start in June 1994, eWorld suffered from an obvious lack of marketing and promotion from Apple. Print ads for the service were few and far between, and due to the the lengthy time it took to make changes in Apple manufacturing processes, nearly a whole year passed before Apple bundled the eWorld software with all new Macs.

On top of those problems, the consumer Internet hit in a big way in 1994, becoming the subject of numerous media reports and stealing the spotlight from traditional centralized online services.

On its first birthday, Apple announced that eWorld had attracted 90,000 members. At the time, AOL measured its subscribers in the millions. To expand its reach, Apple planned a Windows client, but it never materialized. That limited potential eWorld subscribers to Mac and Newtown owners, who formed a small minority of the computer using population in the mid-1990s.


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