The 1995 Blog

1995: The year the future began

Recalling the ‘coolness’ of the early Web

Debate flares from time to time about just what the World Wide Web was really like in the mid-1990s, a pivotal time when Internet-awareness became a reality. Is it best thought of as the “Jurassic Web,” as a primitive and mostly empty cyberplace? Or ought we be more charitable and think of the early Web as a frontier of infinite and unfolding possibility?

Cool sites, mid-1990s (Atlantic)

Cool sites of the mid-1990s (From the Atlantic)

The Atlantic added dimension to that debate yesterday with an intriguing article by Megan Sapnar Ankerson titled, “How coolness defined the World Wide Web of the 1990s.”

If you were not online in the mid-1990s, the article declares, “you might have missed the tremendous effort devoted to curating, sharing, and circulating the coolness of the World Wide Web. The early web was simply teeming with declarations of cool: Cool Sites of the Day, the Night, the Week, the Year; Cool Surf Spots; Cool Picks; Way Cool Websites; Project Cool Sightings.”

The article ruminated some about the early Web, noting:

“Twenty years ago, the web was still very much a hobbyist pursuit. The dot-com boom, typically dated to the Netscape IPO of August of 1995, was still a year away. In fact, the Netscape browser had not yet been publicly released.”

A hobbyist pursuit: Fair enough. As I point out in my forthcoming book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, most Americans at that time had not gone online, although most people had at least heard about the Internet, and at least vaguely understood that it was a worldwide network of interconnected computers.

Going online in 1995 demanded no small quantity of patience, as even Web enthusiasts readily acknowledged. Web-surfing in 1995 was, as Newsweek magazine put it, akin to “a journey to a rugged, exotic destination — the pleasures are exquisite, but you need some stamina.”

It’s a telling line, one that I refer to in 1995. I also discuss how the Web’s novelty days are subject to clashing interpretations.

It is not uncommon to look back with bemusement and sarcasm, to liken the online world of the mid-1990s as a primordial place, when the Web was mostly barren and boring, and not a place to linger. Technology writer Farhad Manjoo has called that period the “Jurassic Web,” and observed that what was “striking about the old Web [was] how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for.”

Manjoo further wrote: “Sifting through old Web pages today is a bit like playing video games from the 1970s; the fun is in considering how awesome people thought they were, despite all that was missing,” by contemporary standards.

“There’s no YouTube, Digg, Huffington Post, or Gawker. There’s no Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Wikipedia,” Manjoo wrote of the early Web.

Right he was.

A somewhat more charitable characterization was offered a couple of years ago by Evgeny Morozov, in an essay in the New York Times. Morozov lamented the passing of cyberflânerie, the pleasure of wandering leisurely online without knowing where one would go or what one might find.

He wrote that the slowly loading Web pages of those days and the unmistakable “funky buzz of the modem” offered “their own weird poetics” — and the promise of “opening new spaces for play and interpretation.”

But the cyberflâneur has faded away, Morozov wrote, adding that “cyberflânerie seems at odds with the world of social media.” The Web, he lamented, is “no longer a place for strolling — it’s a place for getting things done. Hardly anyone ‘surfs’ the Web anymore.”

Well, maybe. It’s certainly not difficult to find ways to squander — or lose track of — time online. (A couple of years ago, the New York Times reported on an emergent “time-wasting gap” between children of poor and well-to-do families, which evoked the rich-poor “digital divide” that attracted much commentary in the 1990s.)

It is, in any case, a mistake to look back and smirk at the undeveloped character of the online world in the mid-1990s, to chortle about the “Jurassic Web.” Doing so is to miss the dynamism — and the insistent “coolness” — of the early Web, and to blur understanding of the extraordinary distances we’ve covered online since 1995.


More from The 1995 blog:

62 comments on “Recalling the ‘coolness’ of the early Web

  1. Pingback: How important was Netscape? |

  2. Pingback: Illuminating the Web: Netscape’s IPO of August 1995 |

  3. Pingback: Lesson misunderstood: NATO’s 1995 bombing in Bosnia |

  4. Pingback: Hype and hoopla in a watershed year: Launching Windows 95 |

  5. Pingback: So. Africa case like the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995? Only marginally |

  6. Pingback: Recalling the ’95 case against lecherous Bob Packwood, whom Biden praised yesterday |

  7. Pingback: The inevitablity of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal in 1995 |

  8. Pingback: The big gap in Monica Lewinsky’s speech |

  9. Pingback: It’s out: ’1995: The Year the Future Began’ |

  10. Pingback: Looking back to 1995, the year the future began | The 1995 Blog

  11. Pingback: Quirkiness on New Year’s, 1995: ‘Far Side’ farewell, errant Clinton prediction | The 1995 Blog

  12. Pingback: Rolling out 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  13. Pingback: Media fail: A 1995 subtext that’s familiar today | The 1995 Blog

  14. Pingback: Watershed status of 1995 explored in book rollout at Newseum | The 1995 Blog

  15. Pingback: Going ‘Majic’ for a brisk radio discussion about 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  16. Pingback: ‘1995 was watershed moment in consumer technology,’ says Intel CEO | The 1995 Blog

  17. Pingback: What ‘Time’ forgot in its look back to 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  18. Pingback: Much tedium, little drama in CNN rehash of O.J. Simpson trial | The 1995 Blog

  19. Pingback: Monica Lewinsky’s essay was solid: But award-winning? Probably not | The 1995 Blog

  20. Pingback: O.J. and DNA: Applying the ‘Page 99 Test’ to ‘1995’ | The 1995 Blog

  21. Pingback: Recalling the quaint early struggles to describe the Web | The 1995 Blog

  22. Pingback: 20 years on: Recalling O.J.’s wretched bestseller | The 1995 Blog

  23. Pingback: Part One: Highlights of ‘1995’ interview with | The 1995 Blog

  24. Pingback: Part Two: Interview takes up scandal and the ’90s ‘zeitgeist’ | The 1995 Blog

  25. Pingback: Dow opening today at record high: Reminiscent of 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  26. Pingback: ‘The Internet? Bah!’ Classic off-target essay appeared 20 years ago | The 1995 Blog

  27. Pingback: ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ was best ended in 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  28. Pingback: Talking Internet history, and 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  29. Pingback: Saluting the unassuming wiki, 20 years after its launch | The 1995 Blog

  30. Pingback: Terror in the heartland: Oklahoma City, April 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  31. Pingback: ‘The Internet Tidal Wave,’ 20 years on | The 1995 Blog

  32. Pingback: Downed pilot eludes Serbs: When Americans took notice of Bosnia | The 1995 Blog

  33. Pingback: Hinge moment at the O.J. ‘Trial of the Century’ | The 1995 Blog

  34. Pingback: Microsoft warns Netscape in prelude to the ‘browser war’ of 1995-98 | The 1995 Blog

  35. Pingback: The ‘cyberporn’ scare of 1995: Demonstrating the early Web’s corrective power | The 1995 Blog

  36. Pingback: 1995 as tipping point: Recalling Smith Corona’s bankruptcy | The 1995 Blog

  37. Pingback: Of space shuttles and love-sick woodpeckers, 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  38. Pingback: 20 years after its launch, Amazon showing an unlikable side | The 1995 Blog

  39. Pingback: What ‘Clueless’ at 20 can tell us about exploring the recent past | The 1995 Blog

  40. Pingback: The ‘Netscape Moment,’ 20 years on | The 1995 Blog

  41. Pingback: Dilemma on the Merc’s front page: Lead with Netscape? Jerry Garcia death? | The 1995 Blog

  42. Pingback: Contrived ballyhoo: Recalling Microsoft’s rollout of Windows 95 | The 1995 Blog

  43. Pingback: A memorable ‘first’ in 1995: Discovering the exoplanet | The 1995 Blog

  44. Pingback: Prediction of the year, 1995: Internet ‘will soon go spectacularly supernova’ | The 1995 Blog

  45. Pingback: Remembering launch of Alta Vista, ‘a high-speed system for finding information’ on early Web | The 1995 Blog

  46. Pingback: Christmas and cyberspace, 1995: Toe-dipping online | The 1995 Blog

  47. Pingback: ESPN’s O.J. doc: Less exceptional than its rave reviews | The 1995 Blog

  48. Pingback: The ‘Netscape Moment,’ 21 years on | The 1995 Blog

  49. Pingback: 22 years after, ‘Newsweek’ takes red pen to flawed Internet column | The 1995 Blog

  50. Pingback: CNN series gives kitchen-sink treatment to the ’90s | The 1995 Blog

  51. Pingback: The 15 ‘most influential’ Web sites? A third of them date to 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  52. Pingback: Re-reading Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Internet predictions: Bah! | The 1995 Blog

  53. Pingback: Why a ‘Clueless’ remake would be a terrible idea | The 1995 Blog

  54. Pingback: When the Web was new: Remembering Netscape and its fall | The 1995 Blog

  55. Pingback: Checking out ‘Captain Marvel’s over-the-top, 1995-throwback Web site | The 1995 Blog

  56. Pingback: The 1995 Blog turns five: A look back at five top posts | The 1995 Blog

  57. Pingback: Nobel Prize: Recognizing the 1995 discovery of the first exoplanet | The 1995 Blog

  58. Pingback: With us still: 1995, 25 years on | The 1995 Blog

  59. Pingback: With us still: 1995, 25 years on | The 1995 Blog

  60. Pingback: 25 years on: Bill Gates’ ‘Internet Tidal Wave’ memo, a seminal document of the unfolding digital age | The 1995 Blog

  61. Pingback: Memorable moment in an exceptional year: The Netscape IPO of 1995 | The 1995 Blog

  62. Pingback: Looking back 25 years: Alta Vista and ‘high-speed’ search for the early Web | The 1995 Blog

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on July 16, 2014 by in 1990s, Anniversaries, Internet, Watershed year, World Wide Web and tagged , , , , , .


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: