Some digging in a dusty file box the other day yielded no fewer than three floppy disks. What wisdom might these ancient tablets convey? Fortunately, there was at least one device in the house which still had a floppy drive. Result: mostly disappointment. The files were either first drafts of things I’d sent off to magazine editors in the late 1990s, or grouchy letters to my landlords of the same era. However, there was, archived with apparent pride, my first effort as a Web developer.
Step into the WABAC Machine. The year is 1997. I was the admin assistant for a team of software engineers. I was also something of a mascot; if the guys (yup, all guys, except for me) had a noncritical technical task they thought I could handle with a little instruction, they threw it to me, because I guess I looked really grateful to be doing something besides ordering lunch and taking the abusive phone calls of the company CEO. The most enduring instructions they gave me was how to use FTP, IrfanView, and NotePad to develop the team Web site. Of course, these tools seemed insufficient once I made a few changes–I wanted colors! Silly typefaces! Dizzying background images! And HTML seemed so hard to learn…
I remember downloading a lot of trial versions of the trendy WYSIWYG software of the time: an early version of Frontpage (which had me puzzling over these things called “stylesheets”), Adobe PageMill, and the editor which came with Netscape Gold. The one I used the most seemed to be NetObjects Fusion, which I notice is still available. It was a big, handholding, friendly giant of a program; it set everything into tables and
FONT tags, and we were buddies. I felt masterful.
Nobody I worked with was a Web professional–no designers, no information architects, no UI devs. Creating Killer Web Sites had only just been published, Web Pages That Suck was treated mostly as a humorous diversion, and even Jakob Nielsen was as yet rather obscure to the average person making a Web page. It was in this Wild West environment that I devised this:
I’ll enhance that retro atmosphere with a sample of its markup:
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
<META NAME="GENERATOR" CONTENT="Mozilla/4.03 [en] (WinNT; I) [Netscape]">
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Page-Enter" CONTENT="revealTrans(Duration=1,Transition=6)">
<TITLE>ES Home Page</TITLE>
<FONT FACE="Wide Latin"><FONT SIZE=+4>Engineering Services</FONT></FONT></H1></CENTER>
<CENTER><IMG SRC="grey_dots.gif" ALT="grey_dots.gif (6699 bytes)" HEIGHT=47 WIDTH=890></CENTER>
<CENTER><FONT FACE="HELVETICA"> </FONT></CENTER>
<FONT FACE="HELVETICA"><FONT SIZE=+2><A HREF="[...]">ES
<FONT FACE="HELVETICA"><FONT SIZE=+2><A HREF="[...]">Current
ES Status Report</A></FONT></FONT></LI>
Yeah, go on. Snort, carp, whatever. But this is how we did things then, back when browsers “innovated” with crap like
MARQUEE. A year later I was back to using text editors–haven’t touched a WYSIWYG since. Just a year later I was using CSS and disdaining
FONT, and a year after that I was riding the dot-com boom as it crested. So it’s worth examining your old work product, if only to swell with pride over how far you’ve come since then.
What was your first Web page like?