Remember the 1990s? No? You weren’t born yet or at least weren’t old enough to form consistent memories? Well, if you weren’t there, let me tell you: It was a strange, transitional decade. Gen X was entering young adulthood, in many ways emulating their Boomer-era parents with angsty, anti-establishment views, expressing alienation and rebellion against over-consumption via grunge dress, literature, film, and music. The generation following, millennials born in the 1980s and ’90s, came of age in this weird new online world, a time when the world was generating informational connections never before seen in human history.
The evidence of the early days of what was originally known as the World Wide Web (and later, the internet) still exist. Though the utility of permanent digital signatures is debatable, there’s no arguing that it’s fun to go back and check out what some of those first weird websites look like. That’s why we’re here today: To revisit some of the most novel, wacky, yet cool websites from the ’90s that still exist as a kind of time capsule. Take me to the useless websites!
The invention of the World Wide Web is credited to Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist who created the interconnected world we now live in while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (per CERN). In a shocking twist, Berners-Lee weaved this “web” not to share puppies, dirty pictures, and divisive points of view, but rather to connect scientists around the globe so that they could more easily share information.
In a tribute to Berners-Lee, the 1989 website still exists and is still functional. The curious can browse the people involved, read a history of this web and a summary of the “project,” learn how to code, and donate to support this nascent tech sans social media. If you’re really going for retro, you can set up your display to appear in the original green type upon a black background (a symbolic irony to the void that the internet would become).
The World Wide Web (www, get it?) wasn’t all about sharing information in academia. Strawberry Pop-Tart Blow-Torches demonstrated that scientists could show a little pyrotechnic flare in their off-time.
Strawberry Pop-Tart Blow-Torches takes users through the steps of igniting the delicious breakfast pastries in a very scientific manner. Whether or not this was for satire is lost to the annals of electronic history, but let’s be real: Setting Pop-Tarts aflame does look like a blast. (This is not an endorsement. Please do not light your breakfast food or your kitchen on fire. This is a real thing, and a real dangerous thing.)
Who hasn’t checked the weather on the internet? Whether it be searching online for snow in mountain passes, colored leaves and fall foliage, or the destruction wrought by mighty natural disasters, nearly all of us have, at some point or another, watched one of the hundreds of thousands of webcams from across the planet. It all began with an exclamation point in the Golden State.
FogCam! first booted up in 1994 as a San Francisco State student project. The site is still active, making it the oldest continuously operating webcam in the world. According to Fogcam!, the Trojan Room coffeepot cam at the University of Cambridge, which arrived in 1991, may be the first ever webcam, but it was retired to a small farm upstate in 2001.
First there was Fogcam!, and then there was Space Jam. In 1996, Space Jam represented the pinnacle of online tech. Set up as a preview for the cutting-edge film (the one starring Michael Jordan, not Lebron James, for those of you too young to know). Users can still surf the Space Jam universe accompanied by clunky, lumpy graphic stars.
This website once again proves the adage that where there are nerds, there are Trekkies. People can still learn the throatiest language from “where no man has gone before” at the Klingon Language Institute. The KLI is a mid-1990s guide to “promote and support this unique and exciting language.” If you want join in on an “exploration of the galaxy’s fastest growing language,” just make sure you’ve got a glass of water or tea handy because Klingon is not a beginner dive into geekdom.
Looking to get the latest 1990s projections of Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Greg Maddux, or former Toronto Blue Jay pitcher Pat Hentgen? Look no further than USA Today’s fantasy projections from the best in business.
Speaking of nerds, the fantasy baseball homepage shows what the fantasy sports experience used to be before websites began to do all the work for players: A deep dive into the statistical world. If you don’t believe me, you can just ask Jeff Sagarin, whose 1996 ratings apparently weren’t that bad. Sagarin remains one of the foremost fantasy baseball experts in 2022.
Perhaps unknowingly previewing the darkest corners of the web, Zombo’s slogan was, “You can do anything at Zombo.com. Anything. The only limit is yourself.” Of course, this only applies if “anything” is carried out to Zombo’s cheesy, samba-style waiting room music.
Per Tiago Dias and Tom Green’s 2010 work, Foundation Flash CS5 for Designers, Zombo was a 1999 site created as an inside joke between George Washington University faculty and students. The funky, super-vintage landing page is a parody of intro web pages. Yes, websites used to have intro pages that served as waiting rooms while information inside loaded. Today, you still can experience that dusty, old-school beginning internet world for yourself.
GOP control of Congress, blizzards, financial crises, war, and uncertainty in Russia. Apparently, not much has changed in the last three decades. Might as well just shut things down and Macarena the night away . . .
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