Everything is Beautiful, but I miss the Ugly

Emmanuel Jose

Emmanuel Jose

Sep 29 · 10 min read

Reflections on the Internet of the 90s

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https://www.cameronsworld.net/

JavaScript

At the Flatiron School, we’re currently learning about JavaScript and building our first JavaScript projects. The whole process, for me, has led to a nostalgic look back at the internet of the 1990s and early aughts. In the 90s, the world was just getting introduced to the “World Wide Web” and two companies were battling for dominance in the usage share of web browsers: Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and Netscape (Netscape Navigator). Their battle was the first “Browser War,” which lasted from 1995 to 2001.

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For a time, Netscape Navigator was the dominant browser and Netscape tasked one of its employees, Brendan Eich, to build a scripting language for easier programming and more accessible web development. In 10 days, Eich built that language. It was originally known as Mocha, and it was eventually renamed as JavaScript.

JavaScript was never intended to be the standard programming language of the internet and yet here we are. When AOL bought Netscape for 4.2 billion in 2002, Netscape had to release their browser source code to the Mozilla Foundation, who launched the popular Firefox browser in 2002. As a result, JavaScript’s popularity increased. Google and Facebook soon adopted the language for back-end programming and server-side usage.

https://youtu.be/5csmWN3SISM

Today, JavaScript’s versatility in communicating with other programming languages is unmatched and its asynchronous properties allow for tremendous freedom in creating scalable applications, games, interactive functions, and messaging platforms. As JavaScript continues to evolve, it seems there’s very little that it can’t do. With its endless capabilities, it does fall short in one aspect: JavaScript can’t bring the old Internet back.

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https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127045793

Oh how I miss the old internet!

If you were born before the 90s, you may remember how “surfing the web” required dialing up a connection via your telephone line to an internet service provider. My parents and I would collect the free AOL trial CDs that would appear in mailboxes, grocery aisles, office supply stores, and just about every place imaginable. Unless you had access to an internet café, the only way to access the internet was to accrue the beautiful junk mail of AOL trial CDs. Back then, there were no cell phones. At times my home was filled with annoying arguments between my middle school self and my parents about when our single ground line could be used for the internet.

https://youtu.be/5csmWN3SISM

Ooga-Chaka

There were also too many times when my parents would accidentally disrupt the internet connection by picking up the phone. Our dinosaur of a computer then had to laboriously re-dial for a connection. Ah, those were beautiful, simple times. I remember taking some time to set up my first email account, and then putting in even more time helping my parents set up theirs. To this day I still remember my mom seriously asking: “How do I put the dancing baby in my email message?

https://youtu.be/kSK1L3FSYtw

Beautiful, Ugly, Chaotic, and Deeply Personal

There was a sense of play and wonder in the internet back then, especially in GeoCities. For those who weren’t lucky to experience it, GeoCities was a web hosting service launched in 1994 where users could select a “city,” a “neighborhood,” or category from which they could launch their personal web pages. For the price of letting GeoCities have a static banner ad on your homepage (no pesky pop up ads back then), you could build webpages to your heart’s content. GeoCities introduced the average user to HTML and armed them with basic tags, animated gifs, and a visitor hit counter. People, on their own, created beautiful, ugly, chaotic, and deeply personal websites.

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https://blog.geocities.institute/

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https://blog.geocities.institute/

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https://blog.geocities.institute/

Behind the Screens

As personal as these webpages were, they connected and built communities. I spent far too much time perusing fan sites about Anime and Animorphs (Scholastic, please hurry up with the live-action movie!). Despite the numerous starry night backgrounds and questionable blinking graphics and fonts, you found kindred souls behind the screens.

Hopping from one GeoCities site to an Angelfire site and back again was the social networking of the day. Every website was unique. You found people who shared in your interests. You found people who were like you. These websites were full of soul and personality and it was a giant playground of collaboration, support, and creativity.

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https://blog.geocities.institute/

Today GeoCities is dead and every website looks the same. Yahoo acquired GeoCities in 1999 for $3.7 billion, but shut it down a decade later in 2009. As a result, 38 million webpages were lost. Yes, many ugly and garish webpages disappeared, and in their stead, we now have a web full of slick, beautiful, cookie-cutter websites. One reason for this: templates. Every time we build a new project at Flatiron School, we often utilize HTML or CSS templates, and, in particular, Bootstrap.

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https://www.friday.ie/blog/why-do-all-websites-look-the-same/

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bootstrap. As a student new to web development and software engineering, it is immensely helpful to “paint by numbers” in the use of templates. I also understand that websites must be functional, but to be honest, I miss the originality and expression from the days of internet’s past. Now, everything looks the same.

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https://twitter.com/timcaynes

Visual Conformity

As the internet’s capabilities have grown, the visual conformity has tightened. Everything is streamlined, pared down, and generic minimalist text is centered on large background images. In the spirit of GeoCities, Myspace allowed users to customize their accounts. But similar to GeoCities, Myspace came and went. The social networks that now dominate our lives don’t actually allow for much expression. Customization and personalization have come to screeching halt, and the extent to which you can express individuality in this time of the pandemic is choosing what Zoom background to have behind you (starry night backgrounds will never go away!).

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https://www.friday.ie/blog/why-do-all-websites-look-the-same/

Blanding

Coming from an art background, I understand that design and aesthetic sensibilities change over time, but everything seems to be conforming to a clean, flat, and cold style as companies transition to digital and mobile platforms. Instead of developing a brand to stand out, there is now a trend of branding to blend in called “Blanding.” It’s especially apparent now that many logos are starting to look like each other.

Top row: previous logos. Bottom row: current logos.

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https://twitter.com/OHnoTypeCo

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https://twitter.com/OHnoTypeCo

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https://www.malvolio.com.au/trends/branding-or-blanding/

Save the Internet!

With the web becoming increasingly homogenous, I look back even more fondly at the at the internet of the 90s. I’m certainly not alone. There are many who want to preserve and celebrate the rich digital history of the early internet. When Yahoo announced the impending shutdown of GeoCities in 2009, a group of digital archivists called the Archive Team stepped in and downloaded as much of the GeoCities server as they could. How much memory was taken up when compressed into a single file? Only 1 terabyte.

https://youtu.be/2LzyRcLJdlg

Resurrection

On the one-year anniversary of the death of GeoCities, the Archive Team released the GeoCities server as a torrent. Olia Lialina, an artist, curator, professor, and archivist based in Germany, and her husband Dragan Espenschied, the Preservation Director of Rhizome, a non-profit organization that champions new-media art, downloaded that torrent file and have helped re-introduced GeoCities to a younger generation. Olia and Dragan created the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age website and its corresponding Tumblr webpage. The idea of both blogs is “to highlight this culture…with an audience that has no recollection of the world before the internet.”

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http://theoldnet.com/

What’s old is new again?

Another excellent website that allows you to take a digital trip down memory lane is The Old Internet Again, which “attempts to restore vintage web browsing on vintage computers. It uses the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine API and a proxy that strips out any incompatible JavaScript and stitches together as many links as it can.” When you visit the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine, which was founded by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, you can see digital snapshots of what websites looked like in the past. There is even a little bit of a comeback today with the official websites of Captain Marvel and BoJack Horseman adopting the 90s internet aesthetic.

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https://www.marvel.com/captainmarvel/

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http://bojackhorseman.com/

Impermanence

Despite preservation efforts, more websites from the 1990s and early 2000s are lost every day, and current websites are at risk of being lost forever. Servers and domains can be neglected and technology is continually updated or replaced. Nothing online is permanent. What happened to GeoCities and Myspace can happen to any website.

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https://blog.geocities.institute/

As a user, I miss the days of the early internet when creativity and expression were celebrated every day. As a developer, I recognize that I have a role in shaping the future of the internet. We have the power to create and make the internet, and we have a responsibility to honor, preserve, and enrich its digital history. It is my hope that by doing this, we will ensure that its creative spirit can continue into the future.

Resources

Cameron’s World

I don’t know if you have a website or not but let me tell you something… writing an intro is hard. Instead of putting…

www.cameronsworld.net

The History of JavaScript: Everything You Need to Know – Springboard Blog

Let’s take a look at the history of JavaScript: what it is, how and why it was created, and what’s next for the…

www.springboard.com

JavaScript: How Did It Get So Popular?

How the first browser war- and an especially productive 10 days-led to the creation of JavaScript, the most important…

news.codecademy.com

Free JavaScript training, resources and examples for the community

JavaScript.com is a resource for the JavaScript community. You will find resources and examples for JavaScript…

www.javascript.com

Remember These Free AOL CDs? They’re Collectibles Now

smithsonianmag.com The word “collectible” has different meanings: an object rare enough to be prized, or some thing…

www.smithsonianmag.com

AOL’s Journey: From Dial-Up To A New Brand

AOL, the company that once defined the Internet, is turning 25. It has had its fair share of ups and downs: Its market…

www.npr.org

An Ode to Geocities – The History of the Web

Geocities is likely a site you’ve heard of. It may even have been a site that you used. It’s origin, and the movement…

thehistoryoftheweb.com

One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age

“BTW – That house in the “HOME” button below really *is* my house!” There are several reasons why you read an interview…

blog.geocities.institute

Bootstrap

Quickly design and customize responsive mobile-first sites with Bootstrap, the world’s most popular front-end open…

getbootstrap.com

Why All Web Design Looks the Same But It’s a Good Thing

My best friend and I were Harry Potter fans when we were teenagers. We would spend hours exploring J.K.Rowling’s old…

shakuro.com

Web Design Trends: Why Do All Websites Look The Same? | Friday Blog

When Dave asked this question in the studio the other day, we all knew what he meant right away. All websites look the…

www.friday.ie

Blanding, or the Branding Paradox

In my 25 years in this business, I’ve come to believe one thing above all others: Brands are like people. Some are…

www.basedesign.com

Blanding: What Is It, How Did We Get Here and What Does it Mean Going Forward? | The Fashion Law

“The new logo has a heavier, bold look with a geometric sans-serif treatment.” This is what Bloomberg’s Rob Walker…

www.thefashionlaw.com

“Branding” or “Blanding”? | Logo Design & Branding, Mornington Peninsula

All of the above brands started with character. Put them all together, and they stand out from each other. Each logo is…

www.malvolio.com.au

PAGES IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (former FIRST REAL NET ART GALLERY)

False Memories For Internet Explorer 6, Windows 2000, and virtual machine Online for short time September 11 through…

art.teleportacia.org

Rhizome

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rhizome.org

One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op

This tumblr accompanies One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age, the Geocities research blog by Olia Lialina and Dragan…

oneterabyteofkilobyteage.tumblr.com

Conifer

Collect and revisit web pages – Free, open-source web archiving service.

conifer.rhizome.org

Archiveteam

And we’ve been trashing our history Archive Team is a loose collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and…

www.archiveteam.org

The Old Net

Welcome to the Old Internet Again!

theoldnet.com

Internet Archive: Wayback Machine

See what’s new with book lending at the Internet Archive

archive.org

Captain Marvel

Set in the 1990s, Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history…

www.marvel.com

Bojack Horseman Actor NEW Website!

Enter the stable of BoJack Horseman’s acting website. Star of 90s sitcom, Horsin’ Around, and an upcoming show on…

bojackhorseman.com

Archiveteam! The Geocities Torrent

Well, here we are on October 26th, 2010. Can it really be a year ago that Archive Team had dozens of people assaulting…

ascii.textfiles.com

Museum of Endangered Sounds

Edit description

savethesounds.info

Museum Of Bad Art – art too bad to be ignored

IMPORTANT: Our gallery is currently closed. Renovations to the building are ongoing. When we know it, we will announce…

museumofbadart.org

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