Wow. you missed a lot. The community was way better back in the day, and the general content of Minecraft had a more complete feel. I felt more content with the game during beta before they started turning minecraft into an rpg-esque game with hundreds of different types of food and mobs and potions.
I started playing in beta 1.6, so I got a taste of the good life.
If I knew how to port forward my router, I would host a small server on my desktop so we could play.