The idea that once something hits the internet, it’s there forever, isn’t true. Things disappear from the internet all the time, from once-thriving online communities being killed when their hosting company goes under, to publications that have their archives wiped, to personal sites that vanish when their owners stop paying the server bills. But the sites below are 1990s soldiers that avoided all of those pitfalls, to give us a look at the early internet, and a way to see ourselves online.
I started with 404PageFound’s excellent collection of somehow-still-running websites, then mined a little deeper for some of these other “diamonds.”
Personal sites: The soul of the early internet
In a world before Twitter, TikTok, and Youtube, the thought of publishing your important thoughts to a potentially worldwide audience with no filter was incredibly heady stuff for people tired of boring their friends and families. The World Wide Web made it possible, and, as a culture, we learned that most people aren’t very interesting.
- Jim’s Website: These kinds of “personal” sites were the Twitter users with three followers of the old-timey web. There were billions of them: Some guy puts up an intro page, adds a few “funny” pictures and some links to random other sites, then calls it a day. No one visits, and it sits there, a never-visited monument to banality. This one was rescued from Geocities through the restorativland project.
- Vanity Plates: This site chronicling funny vanity licence plates was made in 1996 and was last updated in 1999. It’s like a time-capsule of the made-it-myself days of the web, from its stripped-down design, frame-based navigation, and plethora of “awards” from other websites (including the prestigious “HomePC Wild and Wacky site award”).
- Spork.org: No offence to whoever created this fan-page in 1995, but its “aren’t I so random?” faux-veneration of the spork isn’t funny; it’s depressing, especially 25 years later.
- The Courtly Lives of Kings, Peerage, Saints, Knights, and the Commoners: I have an intense love-hate thing with this Angelfire page from 2003. This is the life’s work of Margaret Sypniewska, who has been researching genealogy and history since the early 1960’s. Amazing, right? But the design of her site is so eye-destroyingly terrible, it’s painful to read, literally.
- Inside the X: I am in love with this X-Files page. Fans sat down and typed out detailed descriptions of every scene and line of dialogue for every X-Files episode in its 11-year run, plus the Lone Gunmen and The Simpsons/X-Files cross-over episode. Such dedication!
Artists and thinkers
Along with one-joke and no-joke personal sites, intellectuals and artists of the early days were asking themselves what this whole web thing was about, with no one predicting that it would start out as a way to pay our bills online, and end up driving everyone insane.
- Parallel/Suzanne Treister – the hall: I have no idea what’s going on with this Australian site. It’s some kind of virtual trip through a castle in the form of altered photographs, but then there are a ton of stylised swastikas too. Maybe anti-Nazi? Pro-Nazi? Either way, it’s part of the November 1995 issue of PARALLEL, a journal that “presents cross-disciplinary work from artists and writers. It contributes to the on-going research into web practices and theories.” Check it out: Your guess is as good as mine.
- The Simulator: This 1997 web art experiment attempts to explore “the edge between the simulacrum of the internet and banal physical existence” through a choose-your-own-adventure style trip through the day of a wage slave. Funny and slyly subversive, The Simulator still works!
Primitive entertainment marketing
While regular people and artists were grappling with how to harness the power of the web, marketers quickly figured out it was best used to get people to watch your movies and TV shows.
- The Nanny: I’m not sure why, but the original The Nanny website lives on, providing fans with cast pictures, an episode guide, and the phone number for how to get tickets to a live taping of The Nanny.
- Space Jam: The Space Jam website has been live since 1996, but recently, it was moved from its original location at SpaceJam.com to a new home. I’m just glad they kept it around.
- Jurassic Park: This marketing site for the original Jurassic Park dates back to 1997, and is an early example of clever movie marketing. It’s all in the form of the employee intranet at InGen.
- The Field Guide to North American Males: Inexplicably, the site for Marjorie Ingall’s “just barely-a-book” is still live, and it’s a testament to good design. It’s dated, sure, but its clearly presented information, minimalist look, and actually funny text makes me want to buy this book — available used for like 50 cents ($0.70) on Amazon.
The Flash graveyard
When Flash took over web design in the late 1990s, many innovative, creative websites that didn’t load right were created. I’d point you to good ones, but they are all dead, a victim of flash no longer being supported — so it goes, with all of Man’s great endeavours. Check out this blog-post, though, for a look at some of the most notable Flash-revolution sites.
Web 1.0 politics
Back in the 1990s, internet propaganda wasn’t boosted through shadowy boiler-room operations in former Eastern bloc nations. It was homegrown and organic and some of it survives.
- DoleKemp96: Bob Dole’s vote-for-me site is cringey and dated, but it’s the first presidential website ever, and it was groundbreaking at the time. Plus, it’s still hosted with its original domain name, and the history of its development and preservation is fascinating. You can also check out Clinton/Gore’s site, complete with downloadable screensavers and spinning GIFs.
- People Eating Tasty Animals: Owning the libs online isn’t a new thing. This parody site seems tailored to make sensitive liberal people sputter angrily. It contains all kinds of pro-meat information, and an extensive hate mail section. I can only assume its continued existence comes down to pure spite.
- McSpotlight: In the interest of providing equal time for lefty propaganda, enjoy this site from 1996. It has a serious problem with McDonald’s, and contains all sorts of fiery (if outdated) takedowns of the company’s business practices, legal strategies, and more.
A lot of people made a lot of money in the 1990s and 2000s buying and selling web domain names, but despite potentially profitable domain names, the two sites below have been proudly indie since the mid-1990s.
- Taco.com: Technical Advisors provides system and network administration. “We do not sell tacos. We do not make tacos. in fact some of us do not even like them very much.” This is purely speculation, but you have to figure someone offered them something for the domain name at some point. But instead, they keep up their 1990s-era site.
- Milk.com: Dan Borestein says milk.com is “not for sale.” He’s been running the site since 1994, and says he likes the name and doesn’t need the money — unless the price is high enough. “If you’re not offering $US10 ($14) million, I’m not interested,” Borestein writes.
Hall of Fame
The sites below are among the OGs of the web 1.0 era. They’ve been around forever and are still famous.
- Heaven’s Gate: Most of the members of the Heavens Gate flying saucer cult killed themselves in 1997, but the website remains, reportedly maintained by two living members of the group. They keep it exactly the same as it was when it launched, too, an eerie tribute trapped in amber.
- FogCam: One of the first webcams on the internet, the FogCam has been broadcasting a view of San Francisco State University’s campus since 1994, back when looking at someone else’s college campus was a technological revolution.
- Aliweb: Aliweb, one of the first web search engines, proves the old adage that being first isn’t always a ticket to success. Aliweb required sites to send their information in instead of indexing what was already there, so it didn’t work. But the main page has been up since 1994, populated with links as dead as its business model.
- Zombo.com: Parody site zombo.com is legendary for doing nothing. A parody of the promise-everything, deliver-nothing style of the early web, Zombo’s boasts and extended flash animation are inexplicable without the backstory, but it’s awesome anyway.