Rackspace vintage website Dec 1998
Robert Rivard

If we think about the World Wide Web as our planet’s galaxy, it appears to be increasingly cluttered with orbiting space junk. Of course, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

There are billions of archived and abandoned pages and websites out there, much of it stuff that simply reminds us of how elementary and simple life was on the Internet 15 to 20 years ago — although it didn’t seem so simple then.

By the mid to late ’90s, most of us were transfixed and a bit confused as the Web rapidly developed. Had we been more prescient and understood exactly where we were going, why, we’d all be billionaires. What a boring world that would be. Nobody would show up for work in the morning.

Why bring this up now? Last week, a more Internet-savvy friend of mine — one of the prescient guys who did see where things were going – sent me the website for Heaven’s Gate, a now-defunct cybercult.

From www.heavensgate.com.
From www.heavensgate.com.

Followers were obsessed with the passing of the Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997 and cult leader Marshall Applewhite’s delusion that it was being trailed by a UFO ready to transport the souls of his followers into interplanetary travel.  All 39 members committed suicide in a San Diego home that same year. Now, 16 years later, Heaven’s Gate’s website and writings/gibberish are still out there for a new generation of Web users to access. It’s a fanatic’s time capsule, though it was never intended to serve that purpose.

You’ve Got Mail

For those of us who remember the launch of the World Wide Web, created by Tim Berners-Lee, a story documented in his book, Weaving the Web, these old pages trigger nostalgia. Some of the introductory coding exercises taught in schools today are more sophisticated than some of the early Flash pages with their frozen in time color schemes, typography and design.

Wired magazine published an article earlier this year, “Internet Archaeology: Behold the Most Hilarious Abandoned Websites.” The story includes a reference to Ryder Ripps, an Internet conceptual artist and his 2009 launch of Internet Archeology.

Hubspot.com offers an interesting article, “This includes the first WWW page.” href=”http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/look-back-20-years-website-design://” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>A Look Back at 20+ Years of Web Design,” which includes the ” title=”This was, of course, the World Wide Web website.” href=”http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>first page posted on the Web.

Then there is search engine graveyard posted on SearchEngine.com, “Where Are They Now? Search Engines We’ve Known & Loved.” Remember AltaVista, Excite, and AskJeeves?

And then there is archive.org and its Wayback Machine with 368 billion archived Internet pages. I used it to search for some early San Antonio web pages.

Here is H-E-B on Dec. 22, 1997. One of the other city’s largest employers, USAA, goes back to April 21, 1999. The earliest City of San Antonio webpage is dated April 2, 2001.

City of San Antonio early webstie

Here is the earliest archived page of the Express-News online: Dec. 21, 1996, with the top headline, “(O.J.) Simpson Wins Custody of His Children.” Back then, much of the content was behind a paywall. Check out a page from the Aug. 15, 2000 edition of mysanantonio.com, when it was jointly owned and published by the Express-News and KENS-TV.

Check out Rackspace.com on Dec. 12, 1998: “Why Wait? You Need Answers Today.” One more: Here is UTSA.com on Jan. 31, 1997.

Rackspace vintage website Dec 1998

A curated collection of early San Antonio web pages would make a good project for a local college student. Perhaps someone already has done it and will share it with the Rivard Report.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook. 

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.