In 1996 our college finally got the internet, and it was a serious game-changer for just about everyone there. While it was horrendously slow — especially compared to today’s lightning-fast speeds — everyone became entranced with the large cyberworld out there. One of the coolest, and most trendiest fads that was born at the time was to have your own website. Remember, this was before MySpace, blogs, LiveJournal and the like, so if you wanted a website, you pretty much had to learn HTML formatting and go with it.
Suffice to say, I was totally on board with this, and created a series of websites (one of which is still in operation, albeit moved to a blog format, even today). It’s bizarre to look back at website design of the mid- to late-90s, because there were so many trends and elements we simply no longer use, such as:
1. GeoCities addresses
Before GeoCities was absorbed by Yahoo!, it seemed like everyone had a GeoCities address. Depending on your website’s content, you’d apply to join a themed “neighborhood” (I did college, for instance) and would end up with a pretty convoluted URL as a result.
2. Animated Gifs
You still see these in forums for annoying people’s avatars, but they were an unstoppable plague that covered practically every website by 1998. Website designers loved them like their own children, but visitors hated them like, well, demonic children. They ended up making websites feel like they were unable to stop moving and just be, and eventually got phased out entirely.
I’ll admit it: I loved me some dancing hamster back in the day.
3. MIDI tunes
And because all of this website stuff was wild and new, there weren’t many protocols on what you should or shouldn’t do — which is why, more likely than not, you’d arrive at someone’s site and instantly hear the strains of “NeverEnding Story” or “Candle in the Wind” blaring in all of its MIDI glory. We thought nothing of forcing visitors to have to listen to our synthetic brand of music. Really, those first few years were all about “sensory overload”.
MIDI tunes were never that great to listen to, but we used them because of the relatively small file size compared to .wavs, and the more ambitious website designers would even create entire jukeboxes so visitors could have their pick of audio poison.
Give some a listen today! Don’t thank me later!
4. Obnoxious use of frames
Frames were basically separate website windows patched together to look as ugly as possible. Not only did they look bad, but some browsers refused to support them entirely, so you’d end up with a broken website. Awesome.
Gah, does anything scream “pretentious and outdated” so much as a guestbook? If you have NO idea what these were, guestbooks were sort of a predecessor to a blog’s comment system. They were basically you asking people to leave a comment if they stopped by. After a while, people got sick of filling these out, mostly because they weren’t about conversations so much as begging for compliments.
6. Hit counters
While many site and blog owners do still keep track of traffic, the late-90s hit counters were more for show than for information. Your site was ALL about the hits, and if you had them, you wanted to flaunt them, preferably with as showy (and animated) of a counter as you could find.
7. Under construction notices
These never made that much sense to me, but they were EVERYWHERE. Basically, if you started making a website but ran out of steam or were too lazy to get the basic framework done in an afternoon, you’d slap up an “Under Construction” notice and then not do anything to the site for the next eight months. I guess back then there was a mentality that a website had a definite finishing point when it came to making one, and if you weren’t there, you were under construction.
8. 3D fonts
Yes, this was never tacky at all, so it’s a good thing everyone did it.
I guess new content back then was either so rare or we were so pleased with ourselves for having it that we constantly had to promote it by slapping “NEW!” graphics next to any of these notices. Then, we finally figured out that people could figure out from dates whether something was NEW! or not, and let it go.
10. “Best viewed with…”
This is another weird relic that you really don’t see anymore. Back then, some of the website design tricks we used would work for one type of browser (opera/IE/netscape) but not the others, so we’d post these informational graphics like visitors really cared SO MUCH about seeing our website that they’d totally switch browsers just to be able to do it RIGHT. Even better, we’d tell them what resolution their screen should be set at.
Ah… good times. Good times.