Initially, I wanted to write an article about the pre-2000 internet I only vaguely remember (being around 11 at the time). And then, it quickly became apparent that a spot of Googling was not enough to bring it back to life. In the process of searching for old websites I used to frequent, basic screenshots of crafty HTML trickery and garish GIFs concocted in Paintshop Pro, what really hit me was that millions of opinions and web-design relics are essentially lost to the current day.
What does this mean for how the internet will be looked at in years to come? For me, having so much of the internet get ‘recycled’, deactivated and deleted is a devastating loss of culture, history, and prevents mine and so many other people’s memories from being shared with future generations.
I tried to view emails from my 12-year-old self to reacquaint myself with my favourite ‘web rings’, forums and personal blogs, but Yahoo bluntly told me that my old account “has been inactive for an extended period of time and is being recycled”. So I tried to search for names of old blogs I knew about, but most links led to “Problem Loading Page”, broken images and dodgy hosting websites. Below I’ll talk through how I first used the internet, and the scraps of a nostalgic net I’ve been able to uncover!
1996 B.I. (Before Internet)
Yes, the first form of the internet was alive and kicking in the 1950s, but to all intents and purposes, in 1996 I had no idea what the internet was. I was in year 6 of primary school, aged ten going on eleven and I has decided I wanted to run my own magazine (print, of course). At this point of time, the word ‘blog’ had only just begin its onslaught into our collective consciousness:
I borrowed my dad’s Amiga 1200 PC and started compiling a few pages of content for my new project (entitled ‘Bazaar’). A few trusty classmates helped me out – one classmate drew a cover image of me (a dopey looking dog), one wrote a poem about snowflakes and another wrote about her favourite music. To top it off I bought a CD for my magazine competition prize. I charged my classmates 20p for the first and only 12-page issue of Bazaar. What led to its failure was (according to one classmate) the fact that 20p was too steep for such a sparse mag!
~1998: When I Discovered the Internet
A year or so later, I discovered ‘the internet’. Again, with the help of my dad’s PC magazines, and books not unlike this 1997 Web Design and Desktop Publishing for Dummies, I started to connect ‘the internet’ to self-expression; you could spread actual words and thoughts through this fantastic invention, with some crazy code called HTML. My dad’s computer was painfully slooooww, so when I went over to my nan and granddad’s house it was a real treat to use an up-to-date Windows desktop PC with faster internet. The scariest moment for me was realising I didn’t know how to copy and paste from a webpage! I clearly had a lot to learn about the online world.
Before I go any further, I want to take a moment to lament the cruel deletion of this web hosting site and the plethora of historical websites along with it. In years to come, I have no doubt future generations will marvel at the tidbits of 20th-century websites somewhat saved from infinite obscurity by the likes of The Deleted City, The Archive Team and the Wayback Machine.
Setting up my first website with GeoCities was by no means an easy feat. Thanks to slow internet pre-2000s, it used to take half an hour to pull up my File Manager, and probably another ten minutes to upload an individual image… I used to get a bit cocky and try and upload more than five files at a time, boy was that a mistake!
My Fave Early Internet Memories
This was pre-Facebook/Twitter and other fancy sharing technologies, and so your only real way of self-promoting your website and letting a ‘webmaster’ know how much you enjoyed their little space in the internet universe was via a guestbook.
– Adding a ‘glow’ filter to text as seen here – at the time most of us were having a love affair with Internet Explorer, but apparently the text doesn’t work on Chrome or Firefox 🙁
3) Marquee Text:
This style is so out of date it barely works in code anymore, but you can view examples here. Not content with just uploading mere text, us pioneering webmasters then took it upon ourselves to thrust lines of text from left to right, top to bottom, or even to ‘bounce’.
I am forever indebted to the still-live but most likely forgotten Angelfire websites such as this and this which have allowed me to provide some actual examples of these delightful, blinking graphics:
7) Making your browser scrollbar as garish as possible
Opening My Horizons
The excruciating squeaks of our modem were the gateway to a universe of other peoples opinions and glimpses of tangible but far-off next steps in my life. The sheer possibilities of where my life would go after high school were formulated into searches on Google (and AOL, Ask Jeeves and various defunct operations) including but not limited to:
1) how to start my dream retail business in fashion
2) how much money I would need to rent retail space in Los Angeles and how much it would cost to live in a ‘condo’
3) which American universities in glamorous locations would admit a poor foreign student like moi.
4) volunteer organisations in Africa that badly needed an inexperienced and a starry eyed 16-year-old girl to help ’em out.
Certainly a lot has changed!
Some More Retro Internet Reading Material: