This is what the internet used to looklike.
— I don’t know how to navigate this situation.
— Oh my god! The Internet and the 90s was intimate, unfinished, chaotic.
— Everything on here is animatedvery fast.
— I mean when I close my eyes at night this is what I’m gonna see.
But whether you love it or hate it, the early web is disappearing.
— Can I click on it? —All the links are broken? —I wish the links worked.
This is the story of the race to save the early internet.
And it’s not just about preserving history, hidden within the star backgrounds andconstruction signs are lessons that some people think could make today’s Internet a better place.
People like Olia.
— Times New Roman, Welcome, under-construction.
Marquee is very important.
Olia makes art on the Internet.
And she studies the early web.
— Star backgrounds.
We’re gonna make a starry night background, for sure.
This is what we were doing in the 90s.
At the same time in Germany, Olia was teaching web design, and she would show her students websites like these, as a joke.
— I’m ashamed Very short period of my life, when I was making fun.
Specifically she was making fun of the amateur personal web sites that were such a huge part of the early web.
They were constantly ridiculed by professionals.
And it was like a campaign that they stop making webpages, it’s something what you shouldn’t do.
One day in the early 2000s She realized that these pages were disappearing.
So she started a collection.
I wasn’t concerned about the history.
I was just thinking, oh now it will be more difficult for me to make a difference to my students.
But then again quite soon, it became an obsession.
We assume that thethings posted online will stay forever But they don’t.
Software becomes obsolete.
People stop paying for domain names.
Companies that host web sites go out ofbusiness or get sold It actually takes a lot of work andmoney to archive things on the Internet.
And if no one does it things candisappear forever.
Olia started doing the work, and she found herself part of a small but growing group of people who preserve our digital history.
One of those people is Dragan, with an A.
— I’m the preservation director at Rhizome.
Dragan loves the early web.
Today he works to preserve art and culture on the internet.
But in 1999, Dragan was in a band that played computer chip music.
This is actually one of his songs.
He first met Olia at one of his shows.
They started collaborating on projects thatwere all about the early internet.
And then they got married to each other.
As for their work most of their inspiration comes from one place GeoCities.
In 1999 GeoCities was the third most popular website in the world.
It had 38 million pages.
That’s over six times as many as there are in English on Wikipedia today.
Geocities was kind of like an early social media platform but more personalized.
— This dog is like a proto-influencer.
People made websites about their lives.
They formed the communities around things like Backstreet Boys and anime.
And they also reacted to what was happening outside the internet.
Together they called themselves netizens.
Citizens of the net.
— If you have any ideas, I can make this better – wow.
It’s very collaborative.
Yahoo! bought Geocities in 1999 at its height.
A decade later they decided to shut it down.
The entire website.
All its gifs.
All its writing.
All its content was going to be deleted.
But before that happened acollective of digital archivists called the archive team stepped in and downloaded the entire GeoCities server.
— It was like a the fire brigade coming in orsomething.
They captured as much of GeoCities as was possible.
for them which resulted inone terabyte of data.
One terabyte – that’s about how much a desktop computer can store today, compressed into a single file.
Dragan and Olia weren’t part ofthe archive team but what they did with the file was also important.
They created a system that post screenshots from that file to Tumblr.
Their blog helped introduce Geocities to a new younger audience.
— The idea is really to to highlight this culture and to post the picture every 20 minutes on Tumblr basically to an audience that maybe has no recollection of a world before theInternet.
Their research goes beyond Tumblr.
Olia’s exhibited art about Geocities in museums and Dragan works to preserve websites both from the early web and from today.
They think it’s important to preserve the internetbecause it’s constantly evolving, and it doesn’t just look different, it feels different.
This is what the internet looks like today.
It’s plain white approachable — So for example if you think about an Instagram feed it looks very gallery like very neutral.
— Clean and friendless as paper — I hate Instagram No, I don’t hate Instagram.
The Internet is no longer just for netizens.
Half of the world is now online, a lot of the time.
It makes sense that it’sseamless easy to use but that ease comes at a cost.
— Yeah they just all look the same.
That’s like just like a bit sad Platforms limit what you can post and unless you’re a developer you can’t change how most websites look.
— You have to be professional.
You have to learn a lot.
Which is completely different from howthe early web operated.
— Everything was very hands-on — People will not just post something.
They were with their web pages, they were creating the medium, creating the World Wide Web.
In other words people built a sense of ownership into the early web.
The feeling of community that you would have was very very tight.
And all those early web cliches actually helped create that community.
Take gifs, on the early web a lot of them were transparent.
Why? Olia says it’s because they were made to be shared on other peoples pages.
She’s even made a few of her own.
Under construction signs showed that behind an unfinished web site, a person was there, working on it.
And people decorated their sites withwelcome signs guest books and ‘mail me’ buttons so that their pages would feellike homes because cyberspace used to be a destination in itself.
— In the earlier times it was about here you are on the internet and all all of these lamps areglowing and these globes are spinning and the browser would basically tell you’you are on the internet, you made it!’ you connected all the cables correctlyyou installed all the tools.
So it’s not just the aesthetic that Dragan and Olia miss, they also missed the mindset.
What is lost when some of those web pages disappeared forever? That lost this idea that you are the maker of the World Wide Web.
— I mean it looks silly with the backgrounds and the flash animation and the weird colors but you do see personality there that is missing from the modern Internet.
The early web aesthetic is having a bit of a comeback today.
Here’s the official website for Captain Marvel.
Here’s Bojack Horseman’s These websites look like the early web but the actual early web is almost gone.
and communities formed after GeoCitiesare also at risk is disappearing In early 2019 MySpace announced that they lost over 10 years of people’s music, pictures, and messages.
And Flash which made much of the early web run will be shut down in 2020.
So what happened to GeoCities wasn’t unique it was just one of the first to go.
Dragan doesn’t want to see that happen again even if he thinks most websites today look at the same.
So he works on a project called Webrecorder that lets anyone preserve any website.
Because we can’t speak for what future users will want to remember.
— I kinda want to keep on scrolling.
— This is amazing.
If there’s anything to be learnedfrom the rise and fall of GeoCities it’s that things on the Internet candisappear just like that.
But they can also be resurrected by people which means users can also be creators.
You are inspired.
I have a feeling that you will now go and make a webpage.