Remember using dialup in the 1990s? Back when the technology was new, the online world wasn’t overrun with corporations, and everyone was basically trying to figure out what the internet even was? If you miss those days and you want to revisit an information superhighway where regular people created quirky online homes for themselves instead of just filling in text boxes on Twitter, rejoice: the old web lives on at Neocities.
Old web trends never die; they just become ironic
Surfing in Neocities (“surfing the net” is what people used to call farting around on your computer) suggests an alternative reality where Web 1.0 never died. There are tons of abandoned, half-finished pages; midivmusic autoplays when you open every other page (I don’t miss this, actually); and animated GIFs of construction equipment are everywhere. It’s a place for eye-destroying graphic design, web rings, and in-depth discussions of obscure topics.
The main difference between neo-1990s web pages and the real deal is the tone. None of the Neocities sites I checked out were run by old people clinging onto the web experience they know best; instead, it’s all young people consciously choosing an outdated style to call back to a “simpler time” that they didn’t actually experience.
Real 1990s pages bristled with enthusiasm for the newest thing (“I can make the cursor into a bomb! Look at my hit counter! I’m on the cutting edge!”). Neo-90s websites are more about preserving the vibes of the past through curated collections of blinking tile GIFs, guestbooks you can sign (remember those?), and personal statements of purpose. Newer sites tend to be laid out better and are easier to navigate than ‘90s sites. The look is inspired by the best of Web 1.0 design, but with the benefit of hindsight. I guess that’s fine.
How to make your own old-school Neocities website
Neocities will let anyone sign up and make a page for free, with 1GB of storage and 200GB bandwidth to work with. If a gig isn’t enough memory for all your animated GIFs and midi files, a $US5 a month membership gets you 50GB of storage and way more bandwidth than you’re ever likely to need.
For inspiration, you could visit the many sites on Neocities that feature tasteful and cool 1990s design — but for the uncut, real deal ‘90s web, visit GeoCities itself.
GeoCities — yesterday’s Internet of tomorrow, today
Launched in 1995, GeoCities was the early internet’s best known host of free, user-created websites. Over 38 million pages were still being hosted by the service when parent company Yahoo pulled the plug in 2009. Luckily, all that 90210-era greatness was not lost forever: Many of GeoCities’ sites are available now through the internet’s wayback machine, or you can check out this GeoCities archive, with sites organised by “neighbourhood” just like they did it back in the day.
Tips to give your website a 1990s feel
If you’re going for an authentic 1990s personal site, keep in mind that most of the design choices back then were made by people who didn’t seem to know or care that they were making design choices.
Here are some once-ubiquitous markers of Web 1.0 for inspiration.
- Tiled background: Because space was limited back in the day, backgrounds were often a repeated 64X64 pixel design. You can’t go wrong with a star field, like the one used on the original site for Space Jam.
- Cram everything together: A hallmark of 1990s websites was a cluttered, everything-all-at-once look.
- Or go with “just the facts”: The alternative to the hoarder-house style of the 1990s is the “only text” look, or the even more minimal “literally nothing is here but links to files,” as you can see on this strangely unnerving archived GeoCities page.
- Animate everything you can: You’ll need blinking and scrolling text and as many animated GIFs as possible. For added eye strain, tile an animated GIF for your background image.
- Add frames: To make sure your visitors can effortlessly navigate to your “cool web links” page, use frames. Check out this ancient personal page for a master class on frames, animated GIFs, and devil-may-care design.
- Do not edit your content: Never ask yourself, “is this boring?” Or “Who would actually care about this?” Just post whatever. It’s your page, and it’s more interesting if you’re more honest.
- Don’t forget to include any awards you win: People on the 1990s internet loved giving out awards that others could display on their page. If no one gives you one, make up your own.
- Include your ICQ number: So your guests can message you on ICQ. (You know what that is, right?)
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