Back in the 90's, everyone wanted their own little corner of the web, and thanks to geocities, tripod, and angelfire, anyone could. Like, literally anyone. You could just jump in and.. make a site. About Christmas. Your DJ side business. Whatever you watched on Saturday mornings.
There was something for everyone - auto-playing midis, nauseating color schemes, animated everything, visitor counters, ... just toss everything you can dream up in a hat, shake it up, and dump it all out on every page. Sigh. Those were the days.
I didn't save these sites 25 years ago in the event I started a blog though. Nonono.. you too can browse the best the 90's had to offer! Sites like geocities.ws and oocities.org were quicker than the rest of us (well, I don't know about you, but me anyway), and scooped up a ton of sites after yahoo announced the party was over.
My first website was hosted on geocities back in the 90's, and was all about one of the most successful console games ever.. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I must've played it through a couple dozen times, and eventually wrote up a walkthrough of it with pictures and everything. My corner. My contribution.
I cared about it so much that, even though I remember editing and uploading static files using CuteHTML and CuteFTP (oh wow, they're still available.. wonder if CuteHTML supports React and jQuery now), I didn't hang on to a copy of the site. That's really unfortunate.. seriously, it's everyone's loss. It probably looked like Sheila's Shellter up there, but with a different web ring and some clever title like The Canon of Ganon or something.
Upon further reflection, it died a good death. 🙄
Even further back
Geocities was hardly the beginning though. And as amazing as it is that those sites are still around, did you know the very first site ever is online too, just as it was from 30 years ago? A few pages that basically linked to the entirety of the Internet at the time. You didn't need google, just a sheet of paper!
Over the years, servers moved around, systems were reformatted, files were lost... history became legend, legend became myth and for two and a half decades, the first page passed out of all knowledge until, when chance came in 2013, it was hosted once again at its original domain. 🧙♂️
Check it out, in all its simplified simplicity, including a list of people at CERN who were developing the WorldWideWeb project, some help docs, a list of other servers connected to this early "web", etc. I can't believe they hung on to them.. I can't even find my first website, and I know I saved it somewhere...
It's.. quaint, how few servers there were in the beginning. Most of them seem to be lost forever, but the Internet Archive crawled some before they disappeared, such as:
- NCSA's HTTPd web server, eventually supplanted by Apache (source code)
- the Fermilab Theoretical Physics Dept
- NIKHEF (National Institute of Subatomic Physics)
- the Software Technology interest group
- SunSite, Sun Microsystems and UNC (read more)
There were also attempts, pre modern search engines obviously, to manually index the entirety of the web. One attempt was Netscape's Open Directory Project, whose goal was to "produce the most comprehensive directory of the web by relying on a vast army of volunteer editors".
It strikes me, looking at that list of servers, that the beginning of the web was full of good intentions. Scientists, engineers, professors.. universities, science labs... the WorldWideWeb project was supposed to be bring together all kinds of centers of learning.
From a 1995 talk by Berners-Lee, called Hypertext and Our Collective Destiny:
I had (and still have) a dream that the web could be less of a television channel and more of an interactive sea of shared knowledge. I imagine it immersing us as a warm, friendly environment made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out.
I would like it to bring our friends and colleagues closer, in that by working on this knowledge together we can come to better understandings. If misunderstandings are the cause of many of the world's woes, then can we not work them out in cyberspace. And, having worked them out, we leave for those who follow a trail of our reasoning and assumptions for them to adopt, or correct.
Unfortunately, it's far outgrown that early vision, morphing into something that at times is vitriolic and ugly, used for exploitation or maliciousness. Don't blame the tool - it was as inevitable as the human spirit. How people use it reflects what's already in their hearts, and there's a lot of good on the web too.
For about a year after the first website was made available again in 2013, there was a pretty concerted effort to restore and maintain archives of a lot of software and hardware related to the same timeframe, which you can read about here.
It's fun to checkout the awful pages of Geocities, but this is real history.