January 29, 2008
Looking Back to 1996

Recently, an e-mail came my way bringing my attention to this interesting piece from back in 2006, as a user decides to look back 10 years and see what the Web was like back in 1996. The author of the piece, Eric Karjala, writes occasional articles and blogs regularly at 3,300 Diggs. But it's interesting to see it still getting forwarded, more than a year after its spread and all those Diggs, and it's a reminder that, to whatever degree you buy into the idea of a Long Tail, an extended archive does leave content dormant for a renaissance someday. (That's what I keep thinking about some of those random blog pieces I wrote that I just know someone is going to find valuable in the future--ham radio, anyone?

Remember when I said last July (if you read it):

It can't be repeated often enough: change takes time. When we look at where we are now compared to where we are 10 years ago, it seems a major difference. The number of people who have reliable Internet connections in the past decade has mushroomed. Yet, I hear others talking about how we might all be wirelessly connected in five years, and I think about the technological bubbles many people live in. The length of time it takes for technology to move from early adopters to the public at large, the difficulty of infrastructure reliability on a national basis, the digital divide that is too often ignored, and a variety of other factors can't be forgotten.

Well, this site is proof of that. Eric provides screen shots of some prominent sites from 1996, for McDonalds, The New York Times, Best Buy, White Castle, Pepsi, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Nickelodeon, and Lego. He writes:

In their defense, the technology was different in 1996. Although Internet Explorer 3.0 could run Java applets and inline media, Netscape Navigator could not, and in any case nobody felt comfortable doing anything more complicated than making a few animated GIFs. Additionally, very few web designers had even the most rudimentary of aesthetic sensibilities, and nearly half of them were clinically retarded. The internet in 1996 looks like it had been created in its entirety by a panel of 13-year-olds with Geocities accounts who had about half an hour to spare each night before bedtime.

So, while it seems change is coming along way too slowly for those who are working every day at the cutting edge, it is good to get a little perspective every now and then and realize just how much things have changed in a short time span.

By the way, 1996 was also the year I first got Internet service at home, and this page helps kill a little of that nostalgia for dial-up, in the days when AOL had too many users per line in Kentucky, and I spent most of my evening dialing 70 or 80 consecutive times to receive a busy signal.

Thanks to Natalie Lent for passing this along.