5 Apr 2010 7:55 am   //   Filed under: Technology

What this web site looked like in 1997

Time to take a nostalgia trip! I thought it would be interesting to re-post the first web site I ever built. Back in 1995, I had an extremely basic America Online home page. Alas, those files were lost long ago on the hard drive of my dad’s 486 Pentium. However, I do have copies of almost everything from August 1997 onward.

Here’s what my site looked like in August 1997.

And here’s my site in August 1998.

(I’m posting these pages with very few modifications. I changed a little bit of header and footer code, and I only posted the home pages, not the funny/pointless side projects they linked to.)

An interesting thing happened between 1997 and 1998. My site in 1997, like most personal web sites, was just a long lists of links. The message was: “Here’s my name and how to reach me, and a bunch of stuff on the ‘net I’m interested in.” It was kind of like the earliest Friendster and Facebook pages; people defined themselves by what they liked (movies, books, music), not what they were doing.

But around 1998, I began publishing short journal entries and I redesigned my page to look like a newspaper. My 1998 site had a date at the top and some writing below it, but you wouldn’t have called it a blog, since that word wasn’t coined until 1999. I still have copies of all the posts I wrote in 1998, and they’re awful, but it was a start.

In the 12 years since, a LOT has changed about how the Internet works.

My 1997 and 1998 sites were HTML files (basically a text file) that referenced a few small images. Most people were on dial-up; I was lucky to have broadband access at a university campus. In running my site, the only third-party service I depended on was a now-defunct company called Beseen, which offered a free, rudimentary message board service.

Today when you visit daryllang.com, a lot more wheels are spinning. My server executes a few lines of PHP code, calling information from a database and plugging it into an HTML template. A separate style sheet tells your browser which fonts and colors to use. Free services from Google, Twitter, WordPress, and Adobe (Flash, for YouTube videos) are all involved in making this page work.

I’ve designed my site to load even of one or all of these free services fails. (My Twitter feed still displaces on my home page, for example, even if Twitter goes totally offline.) If you look at a lot of blogs today, you’ll see them accessing many different free services to offer basic functions. It’s also amazing how much commerce depends on Google tools like Google Maps and GMail being always on.

Is this a problem?

Let’s go back and look at the links on my 1997 page. You’ll see defunct sites like Audionet, Infoseek, AltaVista, Four11, Geocities and AOL Hometown. Remember them?

Back then, web services were light, cheap and disposable, like simple documents you might care about, or might not. The ever-present “under construction” graphics often signified: “I started this site but got bored. Make of it what you will.” And after the dot-com crash, a lot of useful free stuff just came undone.

So the question is: Is there any good reason we should place more trust now in the free web than we did in 1998? Is the fact that free web services are more important enough to ensure they’re more stable? Put another way: Are you feeling lucky?