At some point in the late twentieth century, all of mankind was united in celebration. We marveled in our own magnificence as we gave birth to widely accessible Internet access.
If you were a web addict back in the late 1990′s, and tinkered with your own website, then there were some tools and services you were bound to come across. We now pay tribute to those early services as we look back on the 10 Web Sites and Services We Loved in the 1990s!
It’s ok, you can admit it. At some point in time, you probably used America Online to access the web. Maybe you were enticed by their omnipresent free trial offers that were packaged with every hardware product and pre-installed on every desktop computer, or maybe you were finally just worn down by their weekly disk mailings. At any rate, AOL connected many of us with our first IMing and online chatting experiences, and it’s where we learned our ASLs, our LOLs, our ROFLs, our LMAOS, and the ultimate, our ROFLMAOs. AOL also gave some free web space for their users to design their firat websites, and introduced us to the concept of a buddy list, which is an invaluable part of a number of websites you probably visit (yes, twitter can thank AOL for that).
Later, once we realized how slow and unreliable AOL was for online activities, and after we got real connections, we turned up our noses at those that hadn’t yet migrated away from AOL or those just coming online with AOL, and we coined the phrase AOLer to scorn the n00bs.
Once you were weaned off AOL, you still needed a reliable messenger to keep in touch with all your 133t friends and buddies, and back in the day, we didn’t have that newfangled skype software with its fancy video and voice chat, so if you wanted to send online messages, you used ICQ (I Seek You) and you got to toggle between instant message mode and live chat mode (where you could see what was being typed as it was typed). When you used ICQ, you didn’t get to login with some custom vanity screen name – you used your 9 to 14 digit assigned ICQ UIN#, and you liked it, because that’s how it was. ICQ is still around today, but it’s not a real popular choice these days, as it considered pretty bloated and is supported with adware. However, many early users still pop on from time to time to say a quick hello to all of their un-transitioned buddies and colleagues that never made the transition to other messaging software.
Another service you may have likely gravitated to as a webmaster in the 1990s, after experimenting with your free AOL home page a bit, was Geocities. In fact, many of us fossils had our first websites hosted there, after all, Geocities offered up to 10 megs of free space to host your site in one of their communities! So what community did you pick with Geocities? Was it RainForrest? HotSprings? I know Enchanted Forest was a popular Geocities neighborhood for many. Eventually, as we matured, we found real hosting services, and Geocities limped along for a good part of the 2000s. It was finally put to rest in April 2009. RIP Geocities.
Once you’ve had your Geocities site all set up, you’d have wanted to start tracking your visitors to see how popular your funny sound clip site has gotten (EVERYONE was posting funny sound clips in the 90s – you had to be there). What better way to track your visitors than to stick on a big flashing 88×62 button ad on the bottom of you page? Enter HitBox, a product of WebSideStory. HitBox was the first really good free stat tracker that provided a bunch of very detailed traffic statistics for your website. In exchange for providing you with free site statistics, the tracking code for HitBox produced a small tile ad on your website, causing many early webmasters to write the text “Just a Counter” above the image so their visitors wouldn’t be persuaded away by the enticing “Enter” sign or seizure inducing casino ads that often appeared on the tracker as seen below:
Thank goodness HitBox’s modern successor Google analytics provides transparent code, and the only agenda Google has is to know everything that every visitor on every website is doing on the web at any given moment.
Other than the lure of free stats, many users were attracted to HitBox so that they could get ranked in HitBox’s Web 1000 directory, which was a listing of the most highly trafficked sites that used the HitBox tracker. In a way, HitBox’s Web 1000 was sort of an early alexa.
Even in the 1990s webmasters needed a distraction from the grueling task of uploading badly marked up HTML pages and MS paint designed graphics. So what was there to do relax online in 1997? Before we networked socially, before we were pwning in the popular MMORPG games such as WOW or Counterstrike, we learned the etiquette of online group social interactions in a breakthrough game called Subspace, sold by a now extinct gaming company VIE (Virgin Interactive Entertainment). The marketing phrase in subspace was “Meet people from all over the world… then kill them.”, and it was a great place to be if you missed AOL’s online chat and wanted to be called n00b or lamer every few seconds. Subspace still survives today as Subspace Continuum. These days it’s user operated, totally free, and is still superior to a lot of the free flash games that you probably kill time playing. Maybe I should pop back on? It’s been a while!
6. Yahoo! Directory
Forget optimizing your website for Google, in the 90s it was all about simply trying to secure a directory listing with Yahoo! So, you’ve been frustrated waiting a few hours to a day or so to get your latest pages by Google? Maybe you’re upset that your competitor just passed you for placement for the phrase “imitation animal ears in New Hampshire”? You do not know suffering unless you submitted your website to Yahoo! In the 1990s and waited through a submission process that was sometimes several months long, just to have a Yahoo! link reviewer reach your site during the 6 minutes of downtime that you’ve had that year because your host was performing network upgrades, and as a result, received a letter of rejection stating your listing was denied because only websites with continuous uptime are accepted.
On another note, I remember an old Yahoo! trick known amongst the really savvy submitters, which was to add a keyword to your site title (Yahoo did not grab the site title from your website, and you manually entered it along with your description). Yahoo! Usually wanted your domain name used as the title of your site, but if you could sneak in an extra keyword, you could hit gold. I remember altering the title of free-clip-images to read free clip art images in Yahoo!’s directory and it scored me the #1 search for free clip art. That result was worth about 1500 hits a day from Yahoo! search. Boo-ya.
7. Netscape Composer
When I first started browsing the web, my browser of choice was Netscape. Back in the 90s, Netscape Navigator actually had less credibility than IE, and the browser was often referred to as netcake by 1990s website elitists. However, one vital feature that was bundled in with the browser, which started me off designing very badly coded but visually decent pages, was Netscape Composer. Composer was a predecessor to the more advanced WYSIWYG HTML editors that have since become such as FrontPage, GoLive, Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Expression Web, etc. I remember one quirk of the program was that it added the code &nsbp literally all over the place. Cleaning up the code of the pages after designing it in composer was always a fun task.
Before sitepoint became the webmaster mecca as it’s known today, there was a one man website, run by Matt Mickiewicz, that aimed at providing tutorials and reviews for webmasters known as webmaster-resources.com. Webmaster-resources.com was a fairly small website, but contained a lot of helpful information for the budding webmaster. In fact, the information at WR was so useful, that the fellas from sausage software, located way overseas from Matt, decided to join up and establish sitepoint.com. Today sitepoint publishes website design books, maintains a very popular forum, and has spun its success off to a variety of related websites and projects.
It wouldn’t be right talking about websites from the 90s that had “-Resources.com” in the title without talking about CGI-Resources.com – another one man operation which was run my another famous Matt, Matt Wright. CGI-Resources was THE website to visit once your you had matured past the geocities free hosting phase, and wanted to add some power to your pages (namely cgi scripts). Matt also maintained another related site, also quite popular in the day, which was scriptarchive.com where many of Matt’s own scripts could be downloaded. CGI-resources.com is still up and running (as cgi.resourceindex.com these days), however it has since been succeeded by the very popular hotscripts.com.
At the end of the 1990s, we were introduced to Napster – that music sharing program that was named after the nappy hairdo of college student Shawn Fanning. With Napster, we violated the intellectual property rights of music companies wildly and with unbridled passion, as we were not yet told it was a no-no to do so. We listened to our ill-gotten tunes while designing our websites, chatting with our buddies, and engaging in MMORPG games. Napster introduced the concept of peer to peer file sharing and music sharing that would later be picked up by services such as limewire, emule, and dozens of others. However, when Napster was shut down, it was the end of innocent times, and music pirates would now know that their music sharing hobbies could now have consequences.