You know what’s a great way to celebrate the new year? By looking back on the past and laughing at it with the feeling of smug superiority. With that in mind, I’ve gotten some wonderful full-color laminated user guides for the Netscape-driven internet of 1997. It’s like looking at the internet of some alien species. A species with impeccable spellingby the standards of Earth 2015 but ghastly taste in web design.
These have copyrights stamped in the corner and even have an ISBN number. This raises some interesting questions about the speed of copyright decay in this new millennium. As a technical guide, these things are perfectly worthless. Everything that isn’t obvious is completely obsolete. This is like the driver’s manual for a Ford Model S. The only value is historical, because anyone still using one is obviously a weirdo hobbyist who already knows how it works.
|Click for ginormous view.|
I will say this about 1997: At least they realized how complicated and confusing the internet can be. Far too many people are dropped in front of a web browser these days and left to figure things out for themselves. And they do. They figure out how to Google their Facebooks and email their Pinterests. But they are never taught how to detect scams, spot dodgy URLs, deal with malware, or update their machine. This isn’t just dusty old folks, either. A whole generation of kids has learned to reflexively click on horrible back-alley sites like Adf.ly, which overwhelm the user with walls of confusing ads all labeled “Download Now”.
(This is a massive downside to Minecraft. For about two solid years the mod scene was a complete mess, and I really wish something could have been done. Young people+frequent indiscriminate downloading=massive security risk.)
In the old days the ignorant were mostly a danger to themselves, but now their machines end up being assimilated into massive botnets capable of staging attacks that harm all of us.
And the first step of educating the public isn’t just making good documentation, it’s realizing that documentation is needed in the first place. We’re all so used to the internet by now that we often forget how deep these systems are.
|Newsgroups? Really? I thought that by 1997 those things were basically ruined by porn and spam.|
It was a strange world in 1997. I think we’ve got better aesthetics now, but a lot of the old problems remain. Flashing banner ads have been replaced with auto-play videos. Domain squatting has been replaced with patent trolling. Email spam is down, but comment spam is way up. And interstitial webpages have been replaced with… Uh. Actually, I guess we still have those. For some reason.
What I think is strange is that in 1997, corporate websites were generally safe and clean and easy to use, while the dark alleys of the net were where you ran into walls of banner ads and popup windows. This is nearly inverted today. If you want something really cluttered and advertising-heavy, you need to look at corporate news sites, because most blogs and hobby sites are relatively light and clean.
It’s a mad world. I wonder what it will look like in another 18 years.
 by the standards of Earth 2015
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