A guide to designing and building websites in 1997
11 July 2022
It’s 1997 and you want to build a website, a history of the early days of website development, by Jay Hoffmann. The first version of disassociated went online in 1997. I even held a small launch party. We went to an internet cafe so I could see disassociated on a third-party device that was not mine, nor anyone I knew.
Despite this, I worked to the HTML 3.2 standard — a non-proprietary specification for building websites to — published by the W3C. My desire to use standards was two-fold: they promised to make the web a little more accessible, and hardly anyone else was working with them. It made me feel like some sort of counter-culture rebel.
When the HMTL 4 spec came along in April 1998 though I quickly adopted it, because, you know, it was shiny and new. I only talk about standards because they were the only paper resource I referred to when coding — sorry, marking up — a website. I didn’t rely on text books to teach myself web design, but rather the online tutorials of the time. Plus a little, actually considerable, trial and error.
I worked at some big-end-of-town company for a short time in 1998, where I furtively printed out the HTML 4 spec, twenty pages at a time, here and there, throughout the day, for several weeks.
Why I needed to waste all that paper — once printed the spec was almost the size of a telephone directory — when I could’ve referred to the document online (via dialup), eludes me now. I think having the spec, bound in a ring-binder, sitting on my desk at home, validated my then fledgling web design aspirations.
For somebody surfing the web in 1997, a book might feel a bit… 20th century. If you already knew the basics of getting online, why not poke around some sites that might help, right there in your browser.
Hoffmann’s article also mentions a bunch of early-on-the-scene web design agencies, including Razorfish, who were behind the production of This Girl, the monthly serialisation of the life of a fictitious twenty-something living in New York, called Phoebe. The work of Razorfish, and the exploits of Phoebe, were one of thousands of web influences I absorbed.
I wonder what became of Phoebe. And that print out of that HMTL 4 spec.