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June 24, 2013

It’s 1996 and This is the Web

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

It’s easy to look back and gawk, kind of like watching those films of 1890s inventors trying out their flying machines. It’s curious and embarrassing at the same time.

O how we forget! The web has come a long way. No one thinks about the early days any more, until someone like me fumbles through some older folders and discovers screen shots of the Internet from 1996.

Specifically, this screen shot, taken from my book Dan Gookin’s Web Wambooli:

Yahoo's Home Page in May 1996.

Yahoo’s Home Page in May 1996.

I had forgotten the hideous background color that was omnipresent with the web back then. I called it Netscape Gunboat Gray.

Of course, through the lens of time, it’s easy to see the mistakes of the early days. No one quite knew the web’s potential. It was a novelty, to be sure, but who could guess which direction it would take? Who would know how many gazillionaires it would create? Who would have put their finger on the number of industries it would destroy or regimes it would topple?

I remember friends telling me about the web as early as 1993. I had an Internet account back then, and I remember using the Gopher to explore things. But it was so limited.

My original foray onto the Internet was in the 1980s, when it was the ARPAnet. My Apple IIGS was on an Internet-like network. It forwarded mail and files between computers in my home town as well as computers in Texas and Colorado. Back then I used something called the USCD Message Service to read what would today be considered blog posts. That’s because the Internet was all text then.

When the web splashed onto the scene in 1993, it helped make the Internet look more like magazine. It became visual as opposed to textual.

A problem in the early days was that text was slow, so it took a while for the images to load — even tiny GIF files would unveil on the screen like a slowly lowered window shade. So a common trick was to turn off images.

The old images on/off trick allowed web pages to load faster in the 1990s.

The old images on/off trick allowed web pages to load faster in the 1990s.

You can pull that trick today as well, although it’s considered an advanced configuration option. But back in the 1990s, the Netscape browser featured an Images button: Click the button to enable to disable images on a web page.

Back then, this web site (Wambooli) even had a second version of every page that was just plain text, no images. That was really common, but keep in mind that the average person was using a dial-up modem to view the Internet. Speed was an issue.

As far as content was concerned, I recall the web being fascinating and spending hours just going from one page to another. A lot of the pages were created by college students and hosted on university sites, but that didn’t limit their appeal. And, of course, the search engines of the day weren’t as fast or thorough as Google or Bing are now.

The web could still be evolving, but I think it’s mellowed out a bit. Insane innovation may still happen, but my guess is that the web you see now will look similar to the one humans will view in the year 2030. That is unless the robots rise up and destroy us all. Which, of course, they will.

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