It's the Net Jim, but not as we know it.

Yesterday’s excellent post by Diamond Geezer got me thinking. He was writing about his personal Year Zero for communication, known more generally as 1996.

“I live in fear of a time I call 1996.

….

I came home from work last night and worried that it was 1996. My computer was working, but my web connection appeared to be wholly and utterly dead. No emails would download and no webpages would refresh. I couldn’t read the latest headlines, nor chat away merrily to online acquaintances. I couldn’t check my bank balance, nor poke the RSS feeds of the most recently-published blogs, nor anything else I currently think of as normal.

….

In 1996, 1996 felt utterly normal. In 2008, however, the normality of 1996 feels very distant, very isolating and very dull. In 2008 we take connectivity and communication totally for granted, and we’re often completely lost when systems fail. “

You can read the full post here. (If you haven’t read it already, please do follow that link, it’s an excellent piece of writing and these excerpts just don’t do it justice.)

I’m not sure when my own personal Year Zero was, or even if there really was one, I think e-mail, digital TV, the Web, mobile phones and so on arrived gradually over a much longer time span for me.

It did get me thinking about how things have moved on. From my first encounter with the text based bulletin board that provided me with my first ever “online” conversation, to today, when I am a few clicks away from sharing pictures or movie clips. From my first ever mobile phone (which I kept for years and which was ultimately nicknamed “The Brick” by my harsh students) to the one I have now, which seems to be rather more powerful than my first PC.

But I think the main change I have noticed is the move from search to find. Looking back, I remember spending time searching for information on the Web, but I also remember that actually finding anything vaguely useful was a relatively rare event. Things did improve of course. Was it the fact that the Web grew and there was more useful and interesting stuff to find, or did search engines just get better? Of course there is so much web clutter around now that I occasionally fear a return to the darker days. Sometimes the Web is an excellent source of reliable information, at others all I seem to find are pages and pages of material of dubious relevance or reliability. Yet here I am, creating another one!

Yesterday’s excellent post by Diamond Geezer also got me exploring.

I’ve often thought about taking a surf through the Web Archive, but until yesterday I hadn’t actually got around to it.

The Archive contains an amazing number of pages, but there are still plenty of gaps: a missing picture here, or a broken link there. It’s a bit like finding an old book that has a few pages missing, or pictures that have been torn out, but there is still plenty to see and I can see that I’ll be spending wasting more time there.

I even found my own maths site on there (the Archive must be pretty comprehensive to have included that), and was able to see how it grew from shortly after its humble start as a few pages on the website of the school where I worked at the time, to the over-large, not-quite-manageable-in-my-spare-time monster that it has become.

I surfed around for a while and pondered about how quickly the early Web had acquired an oh-so-dated appearance.

Then I had a thought, I thought of Old Jim. I loved Old Jim’s place: “Drop by for a smile.” I loved Old Jim’s attitude: “Shoplifting encouraged.” I still have some of his whimsical animations tucked away (well you never know when you might need a dancing elephant). Old Jim was my first ever Internet acquaintance, I emailed him after I cheekily used some of his creations and linked to him, not expecting a reply, but I got one.

Old Jim’s speciality was animated HTML pages, with groovy backing music provided by himself. When I first visited it was mostly Christmas stuff, but as time went on more and more animations appeared.

Of course Old Jim really was old. His site disappeared, I can guess why although I never found out for sure. Don’t go there now, not unless you are a fan of gynaecological photos, but the pages stored in the Web Archive can still bring Old Jim’s old place back to life.

So there I was, back at my personal Year Zero. Not my first encounter with the Internet, digital TV, email and the rest, but a glimpse of the very first site I ever created and my very first online buddy. I felt quite nostalgic, but I wouldn’t want to go back to the way we were.

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