In the early days of the WWW, it was big news when a new home page appeared. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (then famed for Mosaic, the first graphical web browser) maintained a what’s new web page, where we all found out what new home pages had appeared that month.
- Screenshot of NSCA Mosaic v0.6 for Windows, the first version to achieve beta status, released September 28, 1993.
In September 1993, for instance, the NIH established an experimental WWW server, the U.C. Berkeley Museum of Paleontology created a hypermedia exhibit (“hypermedia” was a home page that had links and graphics), and a couple of guys created a web page about “all the available, up-to-date information about Australia.” They continued to provide this service until June 1996 (which saw the establishment of home page about Jennifer Aniston, “San Diego’s hottest rock band,” and “a library of original textures that can be used for Web page backgrounds”), when the task had clearly become overwhelming.
I was very reluctant to use the WWW, and actually used it as little as possible up until August of 1995, when it started to become unavoidable. Not only was I quite sure that Gopher was a superior technology, but the WWW struck me as an enormous waste of bandwidth. There was no information being presented that I couldn’t get through a telnet or FTP (text-only) server. I was a 15-year-old fuddy duddy, certain that this newfangled WWW was too fancy for me.
What I did really like was the quilting bee mentality of the WWW. I taught classes to groups of early internet users, back in 1994-5, and many of those folks were retirees with a passionate interest in one particular topic, and they wanted to make a home page to share it. One guy was all about a particular Civil War battle that a great-etc-grandfather had fought in. Another literally saw it as a quilting bee — she wanted to make a home page where she could share images of quilts and some of the patterns she’d designed. It was ultimately that urge that convinced me that the WWW was well worth using. It was so easy to contribute information, such a snap to create a webpage to share some bit of knowledge, that I couldn’t resist.
That spirit infused the WWW for years. The .com boom killed it. Everybody figured that their little web page might be worth millions, and we all became greedy. Why give away my mincemeat pie recipe when I could sell it for millions? Corporations ruled the internet, and all of the big names offline were the big names online. It was Wikipedia, to my surprise, that pulled the internet back out of the muck and brought back the original spirit, the desire to share one’s knowledge out of a pure interest of enriching others’ knowledge. And it was blogs that brought back the concept of the personal home page, but improved.
I get a kick out of looking at all of those What’s New pages. There are sites listed that I haven’t thought about in years, even one site that I made. The web is more useful now, but I think it may have been better then.