Reading about the retro 90s-style Captain Marvel website (which I have not actually seen and only halfway believe exists) started me thinking about the net in the 90s, the old, wild web. And, basically, I miss it.
Don’t mistake me. I wouldn’t trade modern bandwidth for modem noises. And once Web 2.0 settled the fuck down and got over itself, it really was an improvement.
But the internet back then was something else. I remember building my first web site on Geocities, and I’m totally willing to talk about it openly because Geocities is gone and you (probably) can’t find it to shame me with.
It was perhaps everything you’d expect from a nerdy 15-year-old’s website in 1998. The color palette, the ridiculous embeds, the grainy GIFs. Ah yes. But it was also absolutely not something you would expect.
It was not a writing site, though I did put a couple hundred thousand words up on it. They were off to one side. Let me explain. I started with a home page, as one does. From this page, there were two links which I imagined as leading to either side, like two wings of a house. Or a museum. Or a mindfucking modern art installation that’s more haunted house than exhibit.
Depending which path you took from the main page, you’d encounter a series of other pages. Each with two links – go back, and go forward. Each page was connected only to the one before it and the one that came next. There was no skipping around. (You can right-click the back button and go wherever you want, so long as you’ve been there before, but that’s cheating.) This was an intentional part of the design, which I considered seriously before implementing, and not merely lazy or uninformed construction. Remember – haunted house. The two paths crossed in several places, and these individual pages might have three or even four links, allowing you to criss-cross in your wanderings through my mental madhouse.
There were hidden links as well, the hyperlink text rendered in the background color so it could only be found by meticulously moving the mouse all around the page until it changed shape. Because that’s an annoying thing we did back then. If you remember AIM, you probably remember people with “invisible” quotes in their profiles. Same thing. These links opened into “hidden” rooms, and those were where I put the really insane stuff.
There were terrible teenage poems and the text of at least three full “novels,” and images, embedded .WAV and .MIDI files, probably a few pieces of utterly mad, geometric “art” I doodled and scanned and painstakingly uploaded over the course of many hours.
I honestly can’t remember most of it. It was something I spent a couple weeks on and then largely moved on from. It was an installation, in the artistic sense of the word. An experiment. It was fucking bizarre and probably embarrassing but it certainly wasn’t typical and it got its share of weird looks and confused e-mails sent my way. So that was something.
Maybe what I really miss is having the kind of free time to throw away on a project like that. I dunno. Maybe. But probably not, because like I said: I built it, I watched it for a month or so, and then I moved on and pretty much ignored it forever. But the 90s internet had a lot of other things I miss. The community of Livejournal, the possibility of actual anonymity in the pre-social-media age (and the oft-times hilarious, other-times terrifying levels of confidence granted by said anonymity to one and all).
On the other hand, there were the absurd color palettes and design schemes of even professional sites, coupled with soul-crushing download times. So, eh, it’s a wash?