And Now, From the 1994 Version of the World Wide Web: A Free Form Essay
Posted on October 14, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 38 Comments
As old people do, I was just reminiscing about the very early days of Web, on account of this Atlantic article about the impermanence of the Web, which among other things presented this tidbit of fact:
In 1994, there were fewer than 3,000 websites online. By 2014, there were more than 1 billion.
Which floored me because I had a personal Web site back in 1994, which meant that I was at the time literally a measurable percentage of the whole damn Web. That’s amazing.
(I mean, technically, I’m still a measurable percentage. But you get what I’m saying.)
That particular Web site of mine no longer exists; it was a hand-rolled site on a local ISP in Fresno that was bought out and lost to the mists of time not too long after I left that town in 1996. But trolling through my files I was able to find one piece of it: A “free-form essay” based on questions that I originally found either on Prodigy or the USENET, and then put up as its own Web page. Being 25 and fancying myself a clever lad, I made snarky responses to each question. Oh, I was a card back in the day!
Anyway: Here! Unearthed from the crypt! 25 year old me! In 1994! Being…. “funny”!
Free Form Essay
Something to tell you a little bit about….me
1. Describe your physical appearance and attractive attributes…
I have these rough, horny pads on my back, which I use mostly to buff fine old wood. I feel that this distinctive quality is of great use to me when I visit people’s homes, especially if they have nice cherry banisters.
2. Briefly describe your personality…
Dark, introspective, moody…Soren Kierkegaard once told me to lighten up. I hit him. He cried, and then broke up with his fiancee. Wimp.
3. If you could change anything about yourself what would it be?
I’d sure like to get rid of this extra pair of thumbs I have. Seeing as they jut out from the back of my knees, they’re frankly of no utilitarian use at all.
4. What kind of person would you most like to meet? I’d most like to meet someone tall. Like, 8 feet or so. “Hey!” I’d say. “I bet we all look like ants from up there!” Or, maybe, “Hey! There’s cloud forming around your neck!” Then we would laugh, and we’d go have tea.
5. What’s the perfect first date?
The perfect first date is plump, sweet, certainly fresh from the tree, and promising of other dates to be consumed. Personally, I enjoy my dates with a just a dab of jam or cream cheese. But hey, that’s just me.
6. What do you expect or hope for on a first date?
I just don’t want to be hit. Usually when I go out I wear a full complement of goalie pads. This isn’t so bad, except when Gretzky scores off of me in the final minutes of the third period. Man. I hate that.
7. Who do you think should pay for a date?
Whoever can’t get one any other way, I suppose.
8. Do you have a quiet place to take your date afterwards?
Well, there’s the cellar right behind the house. Go on in. There’s a light just as you come around that bend. No, I don’t smell anything funny. No, after YOU.
9. Do you prefer large, small, or intimate parties?
Intimate, just me and my multiple personalities. You’ve never played Twister until 13 different people are using the same body!
10. A long term best friend would have to be…
Damp. Otherwise they crack. Believe me, I know.
11. Favorite actors/actresses, movies, and tv shows…
How about that Rod Steiger! If he’s in a film, you know it’s a classic!
12. The groups and music you like most…
I’m sort of into an atonal thing right now. In fact, I just got this great album: “An Atonal Christmas,” featuring Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. Aaron Neville on harmony, of course.
13. What sports do you enjoy participating in and watching?
Hot oil Parcheesi, Spam hockey, congressional hearings.
14. Any other interests or hobbies? Unusual activities?
I have a large collection of pre-Columbian remote control units. They don’t call them “clickers” for nothing!
15. What kind of magazines and books do you read?
Dixie!: The Jesse Helms Quarterly
Squirmy: The magazine for earthworm enthusiasts
And Discover magazine, for the swimsuit issue.
16. The most exciting or death-defying thing I’ve ever done is…
Tell my mother I slept with her Pomeranian. She’s very possessive.
17. The most exciting or death-defying thing I’d like to do is…
That Pomeranian is still out there, you know. Not that it ever returns my calls.
18. Do you like to travel? If so, where have you been or would like to go?
No! I like it here in my room! Don’t come in!
19. What kind of work do you do, and do you enjoy it?
I’m a repo man for a select clientele of numismatic firms. It doesn’t sound very exciting, just to hear about it, but, let me tell you, when you’re hauling ass down the 405, narrowly avoiding the hot lead being blasted at you by a Latvian crazed by the sudden loss of his ill-gotten 1954 Ben Franklin half-dollar coin, only then do you experience adrenaline rush you can get nowhere else!!!
20. Do you have children, roomies, or someone who depends on you?
I am a foster parent to the entire town of Delano, just north of Bakersfield. Oh, you should see how the faces of the townspeople light up as I stroll through town, distributing sponges and Pez to all the needy children and dentists. Some people say it’s too much for just one man to do, but so long as there is Pez, I will be there.
21. Are you considered comedic, serious, average, boring or psychotic?
I think when most people consider me, they consider me as I’d want to be considered; as a roiling mass of chemicals. “Now, there’s a fine specimen of Potassium!” They would say. And they’d be right.
22. Anything else you’d like to say about yourself?
Just one reminder: Bus fumes are NOT as tasty as they look. Really.
For those of you curious about it, 46 year old me’s thoughts on 25 year old me’s humor stylings are that it’s tolerably amusing but trying maybe a smidge too hard. If today me were filling out the same questionnaire, he would probably also do mostly humorous responses, but they’d probably generally be a lot drier, hopefully a bit more subtle, and would probably skip over the cracks relating to mental health, because it’s not 1994 and easy cracks about mental health aren’t really funny anymore.
But yeah, that’s me at 25.
I consider things I did at that age and think that maturity is a good thing.
I liked “just north of Bakersfield.” The specificity adds a lot.
I am 44 and married to a scientist who was an early adopter of all things internet (and who I met in 1992) so yeah, I was also on the internet when the end could be reached. It was really black and green and boring though. Maybe that was just our crappy monitor.
My personal web domain dates back to January 1996. “married to a scientist who was an early adopter of all things internet” is too wimpy for me, my wife, our son. We have been highly paid PIONEERS, the early adopters come MUCH later. I was one of the first Non-Bell Labs people to use UNIX, via 300 baud acoustically-couple modem. I got the USAF interested in packet-switching, BEFORE the internet. I came in #2 in a Hacker Con, for my “billion kilometer hack” of the Galileo spaceprobe. M.S. in 1975, Artificial Intelligence & Cybernetics; Ph.D. Dissertation formally “Molecular Cybernetics” — first paper anywhere on what’s now called Nanotechnology + Artificial Life + Synthetic Biology. Yadda yadda. Reading and writing Hard Science Fiction helps a lot with successful software/computer Futurology, as hinted by my 1979 company Computer Futures, Inc.
As part of my Masters in Library Science, I cataloged the World Wide Web in 1993 – there were 300 websites, 22 of which were devoted to bird watching for reasons I never quite understood…
Funny, but definitely not as funny as you are now. I agree with Malcolm Teas, when I look back on 25 I realize that maturity is, indeed, a very good thing!
Wow, you were kinda morbid back then.
RE #4: I hear that Peter Mayhew is hitting the convention circuit fairly heavily lately. I’ve heard he’s a lovely man.
Very cool–thanks for posting this! I don’t have anything that old. I might have stuff from my graduate school days, 1995 and later. Hmm…come to think of it, I need to make copies of those disks anyway. Sounds like I’ll be doing some archive diving soon.
Well, um, you are very, very funny- now. But I admire your courage. Can’t think of much I did or produced at 25 that I want remembered.
Well… age has definitely improved your sense of humour. You’re still dead on about the Latvians though.
Your writing has improved as has your sense of what other people will find funny.
Maybe I should go find a copy of the magazine article that I wrote back in the ’80s. I know for a fact that my coding style has improved since then – I found an old program that I wrote around that time and it’s horrible.
I was 25 in 1990. Newly sober and in college. I was on the Internet back then, back when it was UseNet and FTP sites. (Actually, I was on the Internet, or MilNet anyway, 10 years earlier.)
Ahhhh, to be 25 again. Or even double that…
By 25 I had written my PhD Dissertation, been a professional author for 13 years, won literary awards, founded three corporations, worked on space missions to Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus and interstellar, designed and operate robots, won my first lawsuit, and entered decades in Limbo, trying on 6 Professorships, taking a pay cut to teach kids in ghettos and barrios, and expected never to be married — set in my ways as I was…
I contributed to my college’s physics website in 1994! I’m surprised I never ran into you at the parties.
Ah, yes. The early days of the internet. I remember when Yahoo was a hand-indexed list of all sites on the internet and how amazing it was when altavista launched and you could actually search. the. web.
But most of all I remember watching the coffeepot in Cambridge to see when it needed to be filled. That was the coolest! Kids today have no appreciation of early video entertainment.
And while I’m at it, GET OFF MY LAWN!!!
The coffee pot update was, sadly, switched off in 2001.
I started college in 1988, when the big news was that AOL and Prodigy were setting up gateways so their users could exchange email with each other and the rest of the world via BITnet.
Anybody remember bang addressing? (No, it’s not a sex thing.)
Trying too hard – I think that’s generally true when people are (somewhat) out of their depth. I was reading a Guardian column by a stand-up comic a few days ago and I tried to analyse why I was vaguely dissatisfied with the whole, while I mostly enjoyed the process of reading the parts. When I reread the column I noticed how the writer had tried to make a joke in every other sentence – which just doesn’t work in a newspaper article. A good columnist uses humour but isn’t obsessed with scoring. The stand-up was out of his natural element and was trying too hard.
Same with juvenilia, of course. Which is the amateur stage you go through before you can become a pro.
Your way back machine reminds me of a conversation we were having at work about the term “The internet of things”.
We have come so far since 94 and even half way there.
Old enough to remember Clifford Stoll writing in Newsweek that Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of MIT Media Lab, was nuts for predicting that newspapers and music would be bought directly through the internet…
I remember when Negroponte solemnly announced that he was going to go apostate, switching to Windows because the Mac and Apple were obviously doomed. and pretty soon nobody would want them.
“The perfect first date is plump, sweet, certainly fresh from the tree, and promising of other dates to be consumed. Personally, I enjoy my dates with a just a dab of jam or cream cheese. But hey, that’s just me.”
The perfect first date is the first date out of the package, silly, and after that all the other dates are the perfect first, second, third and fourth dates (and so on).
So who said that academics OR science fiction authors were good at prophecy? ;)
I have no witty come back, I don’t like date’s ( of any kind). I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed this read.
My first web page was in 1994, too. However, the first Wayback Machine snapshot was in 1996.
I dunno. Maybe I’m just in a good mood today, but it’s pretty funny. My fav: “You’ve never played Twister until 13 different people are using the same body!” *snerk!*
(I could totally see the late, lamented Stargate franchise having a go at that, with strategic a communication stone malfunction.)
I remember when you could actually read the whole list of new Yahoo indexed sites every day. Heck, I remember when you could read the whole list AND click on all the links!
I did various BBS things starting in the early 80’s, got on a little bit of the net in ’86, and went whole hog into USENET in ’87. I still have a core group of friends who met in ’90 and we all visit when time and money permit.
The earliest stuff of mine on the web was on a yahoo technical writing group (now migrated) from 1998. I’m pretty pleased with how relevant much of the advice still is. Most of the out-of-date stuff is related to software: which to use or what version and there have been many changes over the years. But advice on working with engineers/customers/internal support/marketing/management, negotiating salary, getting a start, creating useful manuals and help, negotiating for better equipment, and getting your company to take your job/department seriously was pretty timeless.
My memory of the web at that time was a site (I believe hosted at a Midwest University) that was a roulette wheel – you clicked on it and it spun you to a random website. Oooh this one is in Australia….
#5 (the perfect date) was pretty good. The rest (in my arrogant opinion) are somewhere between “mildly amusing” and, to use your phrase, “trying too hard.” You’ve definitely gotten better at the funny.
I too was on the interwebs back in 1994! Mostly it was Usenet (I also remember using ancient browsers such as NCSA Mosaic and Lynx), but I did save my website before it was taken down….
Yay, PEZ. I just wish that it was easier to buy the original PEZ flavor, peppermint.
My first web site was about the 500th. It was DARPA’s first site, for the STARS Project, and the third government site after NASA and NRL. I had a “Take a Flying Leap” link like the roulette wheel that dbr describes; it would take you to a URL chosen at random from the entire list of known sites.
At that time I had been on the net for 21 years; I first logged onto ARPANet in the fall of 1972 through the TIP at BBN. I’d started in computing at Brown U. in 1965 when Andy van Dam began teaching and doing research there. We developed something called Hypertext.
I’d just like to say “welcome” to all the newbies who are commenting in this thread.
I didn’t get one till 1997. But it is there on the Wayback machine, don’t ask me why.
Thank you so much for linking to the Atlantic article. As a result, I’ve been sucked into the story from the Rocky Mountain News about the 1961 bus/train accident. Great journalism!
Had you met your wife by the time you wrote this? If not, I think the universe is having a laugh at your tall joke.
I first got on the internet in 1993. We had to do a group project for one of my classes and our professor wanted us to use this thing called ’email’. The college I went to did not have any windows computers with internet access. We were using some old terminals that were command line only. I remember thinking the internet was stupid. We could just call each other. We did not have the internet in our dorms. We had to go to the computer lab.
I wonder if there are others that thought the internet was pointless and stupid when it first came out?
On a side note, I don’t understand John’s 20 something sense of humor. I just don’t get the jokes in the piece he posted.
I was going to make fun of you for writing “utilitarian use” and still having the temerity to go on to become a successful, professional writer.
But then you got off the line about paying for a date only if you can’t get one any other way, so I decided to forgive you. ;-)
I remember the course notes for my TCP/IP course saying: “Some authorities believe that, one day, as many as 10,000 computers will be connected to the internet.