19 Things We Miss About the Early Days of the Web

We take a look back at early days of the web, with a 28k modem, a GeoCities webpage, and a webcam stream of a coffee pot...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

GeoCities websites, instant messaging, free AOL discs, and blocking up the phone line – today we’re gonna party like we’ve just connected at 56 kb/s. That is, we’re going to take a nostalgic look at the early days of the World Wide Web.

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Okay, okay – we know that the internet existed before the web and that there were other ways of connecting to distant computer networks before the internet was even established. What we’re interested in is a period that began around the middle of the 90s when the World Wide Web first became a popular destination. Let’s get something straight though – just because we miss something, it doesn’t mean that we want it back. Some of us hated school and some of us loved it, but few of us honestly want to go back. It’s the same with the web: it was an amazing time, but that doesn’t make us want go back. Having said that, there are a few things that should make a welcome reappearance.

First Hearing About It

Do we want it back? If something as world changing as the web was just around the corner, we’d like to hear about it.

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Mechanical typewriters and some early computers had a symbol on them that was like a lowercase ‘a’ but with a circle around it. It was rarely used and few knew what it meant. However, by the mid 90s it cropped up more and more often, and finally, the mystery was solved – it meant “at.” It became apparent that in the world of computers things were “at” something or other. Furthermore, people started to see dots everywhere, and this wasn’t a job for an optician. Things involving computers were also dot com, or dot net or alt dot something. Something was going on somewhere, and it involved computers, the @ symbol, and dots.

Most people had an idea that computers could be connected to each other over long distances, and a hacker culture involving “logging on” and “downloading” things had been part of popular culture for years. Increasingly, people on TV shows and in films were “going online” and emailing each other. Basically, it seemed that something compelling was going on somewhere and it involved something called the World Wide Web.

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First Going Online

Do we want it back? You can never get a first time back.

Once you were aware of the internet, how soon you got to actually go online depended on a number of factors. For example, you might have been lucky enough to be exposed to the internet through work or education. For most of us, our earliest forays onto the internet were furtive, and the day we managed to get regular internet access from home was marvelous.

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If you started going online in the middle of the 1990s, one of the surprises was that the internet was already a highly populated world, steeped in traditions and lore. Why did people end sentences with a colon, a dash, and a closing bracket? “What exactly is an FAQ?” you wondered. The newsgroups, the search engines – it was a new frontier to be explored.

Sometimes, you’d be doing something else and think of something great to look up on the internet when you connected later that night. The difficulty in connecting imposed a distance between you and your online life. As often as not, online communities were made up of people you didn’t know in real life. The acronym IRL (in real life) doesn’t get used much these days, in part because the lines, between online and offline life, have become blurred.

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Webcam Streams of Innocuous Things

Do we want it back? In the case of the coffee pot one, we couldn’t stand the excitement.

This is a consummate example of an experience where you had to be there to know what it was like. When you think of streaming media, you tend to think of smooth hi-res video, but many of us found an odd fascination in looking at ordinary things from a great distance at terrible quality. The first webcam stream made constantly available on the internet was a coffee pot in a computer lab at the University of Cambridge.

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If that wasn’t exciting enough, once webcams became more affordable, people would set up continuous feeds of all sorts of things, such as views of outdoor locations, both famous and less-so, and even feeds from within a work environment such as an office. That last one’s interesting because people were still feeling out the privacy implications at that time. In 1995, say, office workers or students might consider a continuous live feed to be a joke or part of an interesting experiment. Now, they’d perhaps (and perhaps rightly) consider it an encroachment on their privacy. Sure, these days you can still see live feeds of things that are far away, but the context is different. It’s difficult for people to feel the same fascination towards a grainy little window showing someone working in an office, even if it’s an office on a different continent.

Gaming the Free Offers

Do we want it back? We’re not naughty enough now.

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When dipping your toe into the world of the internet for the first time, you might not be ready to make a full commitment to monthly payments. We’re not saying that any of those companies were being unfair, but some of those companies were being downright, well, unfair. For example, on top the extortionate minute by minute costs charged by the phone company, you might have to pay the ISP by the minute, too. On top of that, you typically had to pay the ISP a monthly fee. This meant that dial-up Internet access could cost more than broadband internet costs now, and that’s before you start to adjust for inflation. However, for the cunning users among us (er sorry, we mean: you), there was a little dodge you could do.

Some companies offered a free month of access, accessed via the CD-ROMs that would regularly arrive on your doormat. The procedure was: to sign up for that, complete with credit card details, and then cancel it before the 28 days were up. We’re sure many fellow veterans of the 90s internet scene will be shocked and appalled at the very suggestion that such a trick was ever carried out. Unfortunately, some ISPs made you ring a support number and answer questions, and it involved talking to an actual human person about why you were cancelling the trial.

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Thinking quickly, you had to adopt a “pillar of the community” tone of voice while you made something up. Things got gradually fairer over time, thanks in part to greedy capitalism and the upstart companies that began to edge their way into the market. In addition to a better overall deal, constant reliable Internet access became an essential requirement of geek life. In the end, we all just accepted the situation and started paying those bloodsuckers.

Modems

Do we want it back? With a heavy heart – no, a thousand times no!

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This one’s a classic case of something that we might miss but that we would never want to go back to. If you were in the UK, due to the extortionate daytime phone rates before 6pm, when you went online might be affected by what you could afford. Once the evening rolled around, the possibilities opened up. If it’s the web we’re talking about, “eew, aah, blewp, chrrrrr, bleep, chuur” – that is, a 14k modem – was the minimum you’d need to get around. Older 2400 bps modems went “bluuuu, bweee, chrrrrr” on connection and were only practical for text-mode access. When it became available, a 28k modem offered a quite welcome doubling in speed and a noise more like a Star Wars droid upon connection.

Whatever noise signalled your entry into Wonderland, once you were there, you couldn’t always stay for as long as you wanted. In addition to the costs, modems blocked up the house phone line at a time before most people had a mobile phone. Okay if you were a singleton living on your own, not always okay if you lived with other people. Those strange fools often wanted to use the phone line to make and receive telephone calls.

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The two hour disconnect that most ISPs imposed was the final pointy stick of reality that punctured your little bubble of happiness. This could cause periodic, but mild, annoyance, or even invoke a level of sweaty tension worthy of a submarine drama when downloading a file. In the latter scenario, the end result was hopefully a shaky, breathing out of relief as the last few bytes came through. If things went wrong, and they often did, sitting there and going “fuuuuuuu-” [cut to shot of house with frightened birds flying away from it] was more like it.

Even by the time you’d upgraded to a 56k modem, the final evolution of dial-up technology, you were still left with the feeling that you were missing out on the full experience of what the internet could offer. Dial-up felt slow, even if you’d never experienced anything better. Netscape was particularly guilty of changing its mind about page layout while halfway through slurping up a page on dial-up. One moment things had begun to take shape on screen and you could start reading, then Netscape would decide to move things around, covering up the text. A few seconds later, everything would be readable again. That was until the text suddenly changed color to match a background that wasn’t there yet, adding to your wait. The cute connection noises and quaint limitations may bring back nostalgic memories, but the reality of dial-up is not something we’d ever want to revisit.

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Gopher

Do we want it back? The ideas should be given a new airing.

Two hypertext systems, the World Wide Web and Gopher, were both released into the world in 1991, and they existed as rivals for a while. Like web pages, Gopher pages use clickable hypertext links to link to other pages. Gopher pages differ from web pages because the system doesn’t give much freedom in terms of page layout, imposing a standard color scheme and set of fonts. So, it might sound like Gopher was the inferior of the two from the start, but it does have a few advantages over the web. For one thing, Gopher sites are hierarchical. If you were visiting a site that stored classic literature, you might open the folder containing books by Charles Dickens and then open the folder containing Great Expectations. In contrast, on the web, each site, by and large, uses its own layout, slowing down both the user and the computer. Gopher was, in contrast to the web, fast and consistent in appearance.

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In fact, perhaps Gopher, or at least its approach, could make a comeback on mobile devices? Wiki sites are a good example of a uniform system for getting information. Imagine how chaotic things would be if every page on Wikipedia used a custom layout? Some Gopher sites are still in operation, but the system is not in widespread use anymore. Think about the sensible, utilitarian nature of Gopher next time you need to find something fast on an unfamiliar website.

Bookmarks

Do we want it back? It’s just not as needed with the modern internet.

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You can still bookmark if you want to, but how many of us really do? The problem is that people tend to use the same dozen or so sites over and over again these days, so there is less of a need to build an elaborate, categorized set of links. In addition, web access is so much faster than it used to be and always available. Shaving off precious seconds to go somewhere online had more value, particularly when it might take a couple of minutes to navigate to an exact page within the site. These days, the quickest and simplest way of going somewhere online is often to simply type something related into Google and click in on the appropriate link.

When the web was first becoming established, it exploded, and information was scattered everywhere. Remembering where a useful resource was located was sometimes difficult. Added to that, we netizens tend not have the loyalty to specific sites that we once did.

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Bookmarking wasn’t only a personal matter either. Often, interesting sites would have lists of other related sites. Link-rot, the gradual disappearance of sites and individual pages, played a part in killing off bookmarks, too. Year by year, a percentage of the smaller, particularly hobbyist, websites disappear off the face of the Earth. One way or another, people just don’t bookmark like they used to, and carefully cultivating a couple of hundred links, perhaps with comments, has gone the same way as recording the top 40 pop chart onto a cassette or drawing custom artwork on a video box. Browser plug-ins exist for social bookmarking, but there isn’t much mainstream interest. It’s a shame, but that aspect of the web has changed, perhaps for good.

GeoCities

Do we want it back? We could do with the spirit of those early, pioneering days.

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The were plenty of hosting services for websites, but from 1994, GeoCities was the nexus for amateur content creation on the web, and much of it was, well… amateurish. A classic GeoCities website often featured a textured background, perhaps a starfield. An animated “under construction” graphic would often sit above the jerky scrolling message along the top of the screen. Just as you were beginning to get your bearings, a MIDI file would begin to play forcing you to knock your coffee over as you reduced the volume on your speakers. By the time you’d begun mopping up said coffee, grainy screencaps would have popped up, pushing the main text of the page out of the way. Thankfully, back then, the “stop” button in the web browser was more prominent (and more useful).

Any veteran of the golden age of GeoCities knew that the key to good typographic design was to use as many fonts as possible. In as many sizes as possible. With as many weights as possible. In as many colors as possible. Of course, nothing, not even a 1996 GeoCities X-Files fansite, is perfect, and sometimes, the designer would accidentally leave underline selected for the entire page. Other times, you’d have to contend with weirdness such as text on top of other text, not to mention the dreaded missing image icon that made navigation a case of experimentation and pot luck. And another thing – when are those morons at Facebook going to wake up to the fact that people love FLASHING TEXT? There was even an element of excitement as you attempted to navigate this pulsing, throbbing mess of colors, unexpected sounds, and raw HTML tags: would the whole thing make your browser crash? Young kids who think that Tumblr is near the limit of sensory overload should try GeoCities circa 1998 for a few minutes.

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It might sound like we’re making fun of those glorious early sites, but they had a lot going for them. Often, you’d bookmark a favorite so that you could check back from time to time, and it felt more like a destination than a simple page of information. The content itself was often the unpretentious outpouring of someone who wanted to tell you about his/her favorite show, or how to fix something, or simply some information about themselves.

Clicking “like” or “follow” on a Facebook page feels like an empty experience compared to signing in to a guestbook on an old-style fan website. The new paradigm, of pages that exist on a bigger site, is more efficient, but is it better? Hmm… Perhaps, a next generation of the web could bring back individualism and warmth to amateur websites. If you’re planning something like this, Mark Zuckerberg, we beg you, no flashing text.

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Upgrading to Go Online

Do we want it back? Want it back? We’ve still got it.

In the earliest days of the internet, text mode was the primary interface for accessing online services, meaning that almost any computer was suitable. By the time the World Wide Web became well-established, even if you already had a computer that could get you onto the web, you might be in for an uncomfortable experience. After a first go on the Internet, your hard drive started clicking away at such a rate that you expected to see smoke coming out of the back of the computer. After an hour or so of the onslaught upon its feeble CPU and RAM, the whole thing crashed harder than the saucer section of the Enterprise D in Star Trek: Generations. At that point, it was time to upgrade your, previously, perfectly good computer.

If you were rich (or simply financially foolhardy), it was a time for a spanking new machine. High spec? We’re talking a 15” monitor, 8MB of RAM along with a Pentium processor and not forgetting some little speakers that said “multimedia” on them. With this futuristic baby on your desk you were not only ready to face the technological world of the 1990s, but you were reasonably future-proofed. Or so it would seem… A few years later, you were back to swearing at the machine due to its slowness when surfing the web. That’s before the pointer froze due to the strain.

It was okay though, you had an ace up your sleeve, a plan that could not fail. It was time to replace the computer with a faster one, one that will never get too old to do simple things on the internet…

Usenet

Do we want it back? Certainly.

Before the turn of the millennium, most ISPs would provide Usenet access as part of the core service. Basically, Usenet was a forum system that was accessed through a special application called a Usenet client. It offered thousands of discussion groups, all accessed through a consistent interface reminiscent of e-mail, its close cousin. As with some of the other points, you have to picture what it was like, back in the 1980s or 1990s, to be able to post up a question and have it seen by thousands of other experts and enthusiasts around the world. There was also a social side to it, as you’d see the same names cropping up again and again on different groups.

From around the turn of the millennium, Usenet saw its popularity diminish thanks to web-based forums, which themselves are now losing out to social media sites. Frankly, sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are rubbish mediums for detailed debate compared to what Usenet used to offer. Google took over stewardship of the Usenet archive around the year 2000, but infuriatingly, seems to have gradually lost interest in it. Accompanying the decline in popularity, years of stored up discussion are now very difficult to access. Thanks, Google!

Web-based forums offer a few advantages of their own, but it’s a shame that Usenet has gone from being the primary medium for internet-based discussion to being largely forgotten about. In many ways, it was the original online social network.

This is a discussion about the then upcoming Star Wars: Episode VI from 1982 on the group net.movies. This discussion thread features Tim Berners-Lee’s first Usenet post about the World Wide Web in 1991 on the group alt.hypertext. This is Douglas Adams’ first post to alt.fan.douglas-adams in 1993.

Cheating at Quizzes

Do we want it back? There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.

There’s a type of competitive quiz that just isn’t viable now. If you were part of a minority that had web access in the early days, it was laughably easy to beat general knowledge quizzes by making use of a search engine. We’re not saying that anyone here sought to profit from this, but often relatives would ask you to look something up, making you wonder, “Well, what’s the point?” Who can forget The Office episode in which David Brent walks up to Ricky, the temp with a university degree, and lamely tries to pass himself off as an expert on Dostoevsky? It worked until Ricky mentioned something that Brent had forgotten to look up. We had to look up the name of the temp character (we’re not THAT clever), by the way. It’s an aspect of knowledge that has changed forever.

The Old Tools

Do we want it back? The tools are still there if you know how to use them.

The web is a marvellous thing, but some of us needed to get under the hood and deal directly with the inner workings of the internet. FTP is still in use today, but it’s not as prominent as it used to be. These days, you tend to grab files from a peer to peer service like BitTorrent or from a direct link on a website. Using an FTP client, you’d navigate through the directory structure on an FTP server, and it’s possible that it might be a faster and simpler experience than finding the file you needed than what we’re often stuck with today – until you started downloading via a modem, that is.

Telnet was a handy little tool. Basically, you could use it to log into another computer and run programs on that machine via a command line interface. In fact, in the early days of the internet this might be the only type of access that you could get. Perhaps a university would offer you shell access, as it was called, and you’d dial in, run an email client, browse the newsgroups, drop off some files, compile some code, and then log off again. All this, without installing any software on your computer other than the dialler and telnet client.

The “finger” tool enabled you to retrieve information about someone else’s account on a server, and it was widely used in academic life. When you fingered someone (no snickering in the back), you’d be given basic information about the time and duration of their last login and the contents of their .plan file, a plain text file detailing what an individual was planning to do next. A lot of technologists such as id Software co-founder John Carmack maintained an informative .plan file for many years.

Along the same lines, the word “homepage” has changed its meaning, but originally, it was a page on a web server that began with the tilde symbol (~) followed by the username of the person. It comprised of a page of information about that person, a sort of combination business card and curriculum vitae. Between the .plan file and a homepage, you could quickly find out who a person was and what they were up to.

FAQs

Do we want it back? Some of us are still admirers of a well-kept FAQ.

An FAQ list, in its most common form, is a text file containing a list of frequently asked questions, with answers, about a given topic. It was a format that came to prominence when Usenet was at its height and most popular newsgroups would have an accompanying FAQ. FAQs are still around, and the format turns up on the web from time to time, but in the world of fandom, standalone FAQs are dying out.

In the good old days, they were a fantastic source of information for the terminally nerdy. Red Dwarf, Star Trek, whatever your area of interest, geeky or technical, there was a probably an FAQ for it. There is even an FAQ FAQ list, the first question of which is “What are FAQs?”

At times, you might consult an FAQ to discover a vital fact that you needed, but as often as not, FAQs were simply fascinating reading matter. The Red Dwarf FAQ that originated from the alt.tv.red-dwarf newsgroup was last updated on 10 April 2000, and it’s a good example of the treasure trove of geeky information that you could gen up on by reading an FAQ. “Who is Grant Naylor?” and “What does smeg mean?” are the sort of questions with answers you’d find there. In some ways, it was an early example of the way that the internet could offer pure, raw information on a computer screen without frills.

E-mail: The Early Days

Do we want it back? It’s still there for some uses, and it’s been superseded for others.

E-mail’s not only an everyday thing now, it’s become a bit passé as a way of communicating. However, there was a time when it was cutting edge. When you got an internet account at home, it usually came with an e-mail address, making you feel like you were at the brink of modern technology – if you could just remember the thing.

Do you remember when you first used it? Perhaps a relative moved away, and you were able to stay in contact through the medium? Compared to writing a letter and then going through the hassle of actually posting it, e-mail was super convenient. The only problem is that you needed the other person to have a computer, an internet connection, and an e-mail address. Of course, geographical distance made no difference in the world of e-mails. “You know, I just got a message from New York,” you’d tell an amazed relative.

Checking one’s e-mail became part of the routine of first connecting to the internet, and most of us felt excited when there was a number next to the inbox folder. There was even a study done that claimed that the reward of having e-mail was just potent enough and regular enough to make checking for mail psychologically addictive. The modern equivalent would be seeing a little red symbol with a number in it on Facebook. In addition to messages from pals and work related ones, e-mail lists were a bigger thing back then. Certainly, you’d feel like a professor of Red Dwarfolgy as you discussed the show with other academics from far and wide.

The novelty started to wear off after a while, and new messages in the inbox became as routine as white envelopes coming through a letterbox. Boring stuff would often sully the inbox, telling you that you’d signed up for this or that. You might get a message from a person selling something. And then another. And then another. By the mid-90s, you could be receiving more than 50 spam messages a day, and some of us took to installing special software to try to cope with the deluge. We wonder how many messages from long-lost relatives or genuine once in a lifetime opportunities were lost to spam filters? Probably not very many, but there was always a sneaking suspicion that it might be the case. Thankfully, spam protection tends to be built into every e-mail service now.

These days: Seeing things in your inbox? Boring stuff. Getting an actual letter in the post? Exciting!

Seeing the Web Featured in Films

Do we want it back? Filmmakers seem to have (largely) realized the folly of daft computer scenes, now that everyone’s got a computer.

As ever, films present an exaggerated version of reality. See our feature on unrealistic computer scenes in films. The problem with unrealistic depictions of the internet is that by the 1990s, a lot of the audience were already using the internet. In a film, receiving an e-mail meant music playing and a 3D envelope spinning around on the screen. In real life, it meant a beeping sound and a little open envelope icon. In real life, we might pop into the other room to make a cuppa while a page fully loaded (slight exaggeration, perhaps, but you know what we mean), while people in films in the 1990s seemed to have the equivalent of broadband access, via a dial-up modem, on computers that were so fast, we wouldn’t mind a setup like that now. Of course, seeing the internet in films made you feel all the more desperate to get online, if you weren’t already.

Instant messaging and Chat Rooms

Do we want it back? Difficult to say. Do we like revealing what we’re up to? Do we like being bothered?

IM (Instant Messaging) is still around to an extent, but it is, by and large, a casualty of social networking sites and services like Skype. In fact, how many of us switch off the instant chat feature in Facebook to avoid being bothered? Back in the early days of the internet, we could spend an entire evening simply chatting online. Boringly, IM had practical, work-orientated uses, but most of our fond memories of those services come from the social side.

The early instant messaging clients such as AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and ICQ were pretty neat and sat in the background when not in use. When at home, you could set your current status to let people know if you were “busy,” “working,” “free for chat,” or were due to “be back soon,” and you could look down your list of contacts to see what they were doing, too.

Chatrooms are a close relative of IM, and that concept has suffered a similar decline in popularity. Again, in both cases, when first introduced, they had the quality of something new, as you could be chatting away to someone on another continent, a novelty at the time. Now hardly anyone uses IM, and chatrooms are nowhere near as popular as they used to be. There’s no point in using it if there’s no one to talk to on the other side. For many of us, chatrooms and IM were a big part of our lives in the 1990s.

Browser Wars: The Prequel Trilogy

Do we want it back?

Mosaic was the first popular web browser, but chances are you’ve never heard of it. With a graphical browsing environment that required a mouse, along with inline graphics, it was perhaps the first web browser that would be recognizable as such to most people now. Netscape Navigator was a commercial alternative to Mosaic that appeared at the end of 1994. At the same time, Microsoft saw the potential of web browsing on personal computers and licensed a version of Mosaic to give away free with its Windows operating system, retitling it Internet Explorer. Now we have established the three main players in the first generation of the browser wars: Netscape, Internet Explorer, and “others.”

In the computer business, there was a lot riding on which company gained total dominance in the browser world. Netscape and Internet Explorer were fairly similar in features, and which one you installed was just as likely to depend on your position on techno-politics. Perhaps you were stuck using a Windows PC, but you balked at the near-ubiquity of Microsoft products on the desktop? It felt traitorous to install Microsoft’s browser on a Mac. Browser installation in the 90s – it was paranoid.

Pop-ups, allowing the website to open up additional windows, were a feature of most of the early browsers. It wasn’t long before the feature was being abused, and before long, you’d have windows popping up all over the place. Popping up? Clever advertisers eventually found ways to make the pop-ups pop-under, sometimes making one’s computer pop under the strain of all the extra work. Later browsers made pop-ups optional, before eventually disabling them by default.

Web designers themselves were split on which browser was best, and badges proclaiming “best viewed on…” in support of either of the major browsers was a common sight on webpages of the time. If you wanted to try something different, one of lesser known browsers such as text-based Lynx was worth a go. Many of the real experts swore by the commercial Opera browser, the browser that introduced advanced features such as tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking.

In time, Internet Explorer became dominant and Netscape went out of business, but the Netscape browser rose again to eventually became Firefox. There is a browser war going on at the moment, but it’s marred by a lack of mean-hearted dirty tricks by the big players. It’s nothing like it was in the 90s.

Downloading Film Trailers

Do we want it back? Feverishly checking out the latest trailers still exists, and it’s much more convenient, thanks to streaming video.

The term “long awaited film trailer” took on a bigger meaning if you were downloading it via a modem. For a reasonable quality clip, you might be blocking up the phone line for more than an hour. The Phantom Menace teaser trailer was an early must-have trailer. Once you downloaded it, you’d sometimes have to download a special player, complete with the needed codecs before the damn thing would even play. Then you’d have to hope that your computer was powerful enough to play it, sometimes having to play it at a smaller size as for full smoothness.

The quality? Compared to broadcast television or VHS video, those early film trailers had a sharpness that older formats lacked, but digital encoding with reasonable file sizes meant the introduction of blocky artifacts. Many will remember seeing “Every generation has a legend…” pop up on screen with sparkly bits around the text due to the low video bit rate, followed by a slow pan across Tatooine that was a bit jerky. It was barely even worth watching fifty or sixty times. If you were the only one amongst your circle of friends with the equipment, you could invite them for a viewing and subsequent dissection. Perhaps you’d burned the massive file (along with the player) to a CD-RW disc to show people at college? We’re making it seem like there was a serious point to all of this, but as often as not, it was all about the giddy thrill of watching the video playing on a computer screen.

The Old Search Engines

Do we want it back? Sadly, we’ve got places to go online, and we usually want to go straight there.

Back in the old days, the web was a more diverse place with more of an emphasis on smaller, independent sites. Added to this, most of us were getting used to this new way of accessing information, and we needed all the help we could get. Web search was a more diverse field too as there was no clear leader and the different search engines had different strengths.

AltaVista was very popular in its day, and it was something of a power user search engine, offering precise search results according to your search terms. One misspelling and you’d discover all the other people who were as bad at spelling as you were. 

Yahoo worked in a way that was closer to modern search engines in that it tried to serve up pages that were related to your search terms rather than those that simply featured your search terms in the title or near the top. In addition to search, Yahoo also featured an extensive web directory with thousands of categorized pages.

Ask Jeeves pioneered the use of question based queries, and as Ask.com, is still a popular search site today. A dedicated web-head of the mid-1990s would have a preference for one of the search engines, but they might have a few others bookmarked, as a backup when the favorite didn’t seem to be able to find something.

Google changed everything by being so… so… infuriatingly good. From the start, it nearly always guessed what you were after. Admit it, you sometimes feel a little victory when it corrects your search and it gets it wrong. As rare as that is. If you had a friend who kept going “I think you mean…” and always being right when they corrected you, you’d soon get sick of them. But no one got sick of it, and one by one, all of the other search engines fell into relative obscurity compared to mighty Google. Just think, if the other companies had upped their game, we might now hear people saying “I think I’ll AltaVista that when I get home” or “I better Yahoo it, just to be sure.”