This week Reddit has reminded me of the history of the internet. I’m confronted with just how much the web has changed over the past 20 years, and also that I am now old. I thought it might be fun to share a couple of memories from my earliest website building days, and contrast that to what we have now.
Not quite comments and not really email, a Guestbook was initially a place for users to leave their name and feedback on your website for all to see. Barb from Muskegon said Thanks. Joe from Dallas said Wow. These would live on your website for all to see, probably next to a speedometer-style web counter to show the page’s lifetime hit count.
Technology wise, usually this involved copying and pasting a script from a guestbook hosting service like Bravenet. You’d put together a lot of your content with third party services like this, because most people didn’t have server access or just the raw skill to create their own. This is partially because a lot of us were putting up our stuff at….
Real History of the Internet: Geocities and Angelfire
These were free hosting platforms where you could sign up and “claim” a spot for your very own website. You didn’t get your own domain, rather you would get something akin to
http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/324359, where the “Sunset Strip” was one of their Geocities Neighborhoods and then you would be the person who claimed hosting spot 324359. You could upload your html and images to your directory and they would be served to the public.
To this day I don’t know what Sunset Strip was supposed to represent, but I chose it because I was 13 and it sounded totally badass to me at the time. Wow, this is turning into both the history of the internet and also my youth! Times have certainly changed though, and now you just purchase your own server or hosting account. This you can configure to your liking and use for multiple projects, unless you have a crap hosting account (see how to choose a webhost?).
To join up with like minded people and have your site be seen, you’d join a Webring created by someone else and consisting of really tacky graphics and a < Previous Next > series of buttons to put at the bottom of your homepage. This way you’d be one more stop in the Alaskan Malamute Breeders Webring chain, and get some of that sweet sweet link juice.
We still have networks of websites today but search engines have also gotten a lot more sophisticated, as have aggregator websites. You don’t need a webring to be found anymore, and you don’t have to contend with 8 bit malamutes backed by lightening bolts on your nice design.
Under Construction Pages with Animated Construction Workers
There was a time when you could just have an idea, put a page up with a title, and slap an animation of a little digging man with the words “Under Construction.” Nothing more. This was considered real and valid use of time and disk space.
Only a certain number of these pages were ever completed with text, and a great many of them were simply abandoned — their little laborers destined to pickaxe the ground for eternity.
You cannot do this today and remain relevant. Today, you would have something to offer your users and a countdown to your actual launch date if you really had to put up a temporary page.
I think back on these old ways and many more, and the 144MHZ Pentium that I used for many of my early web projects. A total brick by today’s standards.
We’ve come a long way, that’s for sure.
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