The 1995 Blog

1995: The year the future began

Checking out ‘Captain Marvel’s over-the-top, 1995-throwback Web site

Anyone familiar with the clunky early Web, vintage 1995, will be surely amused by the retro design features Marvel Studios has built into its site promoting the forthcoming Captain Marvel movie.

1995 throwback

The floating, twinkling images, site counter, colored text, and faux guest book all evoke Web design, 1995, that watershed year in which Captain Marvel is set. As the Verge put it the other day, the Marvel site is “a throwback … complete with awkward animations, fonts, and colors. The result is absolutely delightful.”

Well, maybe not “delightful.” It is amusing, in an excessive, over-the-top sort of way, as an imaginative spoof on early Web design. As such, it also projects hints of bemusement and faint ridicule — sentiments not altogether uncommon when looking back at the online world of the mid-1990s.

Those were the novelty days of the Web and, as I pointed out in my book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, they “tend to be recalled in sharply different ways. One way is to remember them wistfully, as an innocent time when browsing came into fashion, when the still-new Web offered serendipity, mystery, and the whiff of adventure.”

But more common than gauzy nostalgia, I wrote, “is to look back at the early Web with bemusement and sarcasm, to liken the emergent online world of the mid-1990s to a primordial place, when the environment of the Web was mostly barren and boring, not a place to linger, not a place to do much at all.” It was the “Jurassic Web,” as Farhad Manjoo once called it, in an essay for Slate.com.

What’s “striking about the old Web,” Manjoo wrote, “is how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for.”

But that’s really not true.

Many mainstays of the online world trace their existence to 1995. Think of the innovators who were early to go online: Amazon.com opened for business in July 1995 (and almost no one noticed). The dating service Match.com was launched a few months before. The predecessor to eBay went online that year.

Craigslist.org got going in 1995, too, as a free email listing for apartments, jobs, and the arts in San Francisco.

Also in 1995, Progressive Networks introduced RealAudio technology, bringing streaming sound and live broadcasts to the early Web. Software giant Microsoft introduced the puny first version of its Internet Explorer, setting off what came to be called the “Browser War” with Netscape, the swaggering California startup that had illuminated the Web for millions of people with its memorable IPO in August 1995.

Netscape was the maker of Navigator, the first widely popular Web browser, and its initial public offering of shares made millions for its investors while unnerving Microsoft, which turned to what the U.S. government said were illegal tactics to crush the upstart. By 1999, Netscape was no longer an independent entity.

To poke fun at mid-1990s Web design or, as I wrote in 1995, “to snicker at the ‘Jurassic Web'” can be “to miss the dynamism and to overlook the extraordinary developments that took place online in 1995” — the year the Web “went from vague and distant curiosity to a phenomenon that would change the way people work, shop, learn, communicate, and interact.”

Of course, this is not to overlook how markedly the online experience of 1995 differed from that of today. Just getting online then required patience and, usually, a landline and dial-up modem.

Newsweek said it well in likening Web-surfing in 1995 to “a journey to a rugged, exotic destination — the pleasures are exquisite, but you need some stamina.”

Or, as the Verge said about the throwback site for Captain Marvel:

Not included in this nostalgia trip is the time you’d spend waiting for the page to load.”

Quite so.

WJC

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