Showing all posts tagged: history

How to design 1999-like websites in 2023

23 January 2023, legacy website, screen shot

Websites designed in the late 1990’s, especially personal sites, like the in-your-face Geocities pages, might have been inaccessible, difficult to navigate, devoid of standards, and completely lacking in latter day best practice methodology, but they were fun. Bold. Colourful. Non-generic.

Professional web designers of the time may have hated them, but I dare say they loved to hate them. And they might be about to again. British web engineer Sophie Koonin — who built her first Geocities page at age ten — is on a mission to bring the flamboyant and weird back to the web.

This time though without the HTML markup hacks, and proprietary code, of twenty-five years ago:

I’d love to see this spirit return today – the experimental and fun side of the web. My goal is to show you how we can be just as creative today but using modern and accessible methods. Because, as fun as they were, old websites were a nightmare for accessibility. We didn’t really use semantic HTML, we used tables for layouts (instead of, y’know, tabular data), everything was constantly flashing and moving. Luckily for us, the modern web allows us to be just as creative while still considering the user at the other end of the browser.

Talking of websites built during the nineties, I found out the other day that entropy8 (screenshot above), an example of beautiful website design from the era, built by Rome, Italy, based American digital artist and sculptor, Auriea Harvey, is still online. I used to visit entropy8 a bit, back in the day. Websites designed by artists are also what the web needs more of.


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Funding uncertainty may see online database Trove close down

10 January 2023

Trove, an online library database containing digital copies of significant historical and cultural Australian documents, maintained by the National Library of Australia, may be forced to cease operating at the end of June 2023, unless it is allocated more funding, according to its recently published strategy document:

The Library has sufficient resources to maintain Trove until June 2023. The future of Trove beyond July 2023 will be dependent upon available funds. To achieve the full strategic vision will require substantial investment. More modest investment sustained over a longer term would enable achievement of the strategy at a measured pace. In a limited funding environment, Trove may reduce to a service focused on the National Library of Australia’s collections. Without any additional funds, the Library will need to cease offering the Trove service entirely.

While funding for Trove, and other collecting institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia, and the National Museum of Australia, was not part of the recently unveiled National Cultural Policy, Australian federal arts minister Tony Burke suggested the matter would be looked at as part of this year’s federal budget, which is traditionally handed down in May.


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A return to blogging RSS and blogrolls for content discovery

6 December 2022
Links page,, late 1999

While I’m not one hundred percent sure we’re entering the end-days of social media, some recent talk of a resurgence in blogging, and a return to using RSS for content discovery, is encouraging. It’s kind of the web I know the best. But like anyone else, I can be found on the socials, Twitter and Mastodon, among them. I should add I’m an introvert, so my socials are relatively quiet. And no, the irony of that last sentence is not lost on me.

I first acquired the disassociated domain name,, in 1997., meanwhile, came along in early 2003. But not before someone else, who’d bought the name, tried to sell it to me in the early 2000’s. But way back in the day, a person’s own website was always regarded the central pivot of their online presence. Pages on the early socials, Friendster, MySpace, and later Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, were always seen as “outposts”.

As a web person you had presences there, because everyone else did, but they were not core to your overall online presence. And for good reason. The socials might have been public web-spaces, but they were privately owned. Fall foul of their terms of service, and you stood have your account suspended, or worse, permanently shut down. Sometimes without recourse, because you were in the realm of someone else who was setting the rules.

But no problem, you still had your largely untouchable core online presence, your website, at your own domain, which was self-hosted somewhere. Until we didn’t. The socials became too easy to use. They were free, and no hosting charges needed to be paid. Having a self-hosted website required some degree — no matter how little — of technical competence. Twitter and Instagram offered unlimited server capacity, ease of use, and, through their sprawling memberships, a multitude of potential followers. No more drawn out wrangling with SEO to find eyes to see your stuff, an audience was already present. You simply (sort of) had to make yourself known to them.

But before SEO and the socials came along, audience building was a little trickier. Website owners and bloggers were required to put in a lot more groundwork. In the late 1990’s I was writing blog posts before blogging was a thing. Back then we called these blogs online journals. To make ourselves known to other people then, we might write an online journal post about them, while linking to their website at the same time. Another option was through guestbook comments.

Guestbooks were one of the earliest methods of interacting with a website owner, and were hugely popular in the late 1990’s. There were akin to the comments section of a blog post, although the discussion was confined to a single page on a website, where the guestbook was situated. Another tried and true way of making yourself known to other website owners was by way of a links page. Above is the links page that featured on disassociated in late 1999. I know a lot of those links are gone now, but later on I might click links and see who is still around.

I guess you could say website link pages evolved into the blogrolls that once adorned the main pages, usually a side bar (which I stopped using about ten years ago) of a blog, when blogs per se arrived. The search engines however bought about the demise of the old school blogroll, from around 2007 or 2008. They were concerned many of the inclusions to what were the favourite websites of the blogger, were paid placements. In those earlier days, the search engines were also opposed to the practice of linking to so-called “bad neighbourhoods.”

Bad neighbourhoods were seen as websites having little, or no relevance, to the subject matter of the blog that linked out to them. For instance, it was seen as bad practice for a blog focussed on film production to link to a blog focussed on baking cupcakes. That could only be downright suspicious, couldn’t it? Too bad if the cupcake blogger was the significant other of the film production blogger, interlinking was simply unacceptable, and might earn you a slap down from a search engine.

Hopefully those days are behind us. The web is too vast and diverse a place for anyone to stay in their own lane. But blogrolls have been making a comeback. Not so much on individual blogs, but in the form of a number of aggregator websites, which are focused on content discovery, and the work of outstanding writers and bloggers. Chief among them are feedle, Blogroll,, and FeedLand, which is a feeds repository.

As I wrote on Twitter recently, “search engines are great for finding resources on topics of interest but scrolling through lists of blogs and randomly spotting something compelling is plain fun”. I for one am hopeful of a blogging renaissance, and other ways of discovering content, far from the shadows of the social media giants.


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Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters by Mandy Sayer

22 November 2022
Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters, by Mandy Sayer, book cover

The McDonagh Sisters, Isabel, Phyllis, and Paulette, were Australian film producers active almost one hundred years ago. Based in Sydney, the trio made six films, including two documentaries, in an age of filmmaking that saw the transition from silent features to sound, or talkies.

The youngest, Paulette, was one of only five women film directors in the world. Phyllis produced, art directed, and conducted publicity. And the eldest, Isabel, under her stage name Marie Lorraine, acted superbly in all the female leads. Together, the sisters transformed Australian cinema’s preoccupations with the outback and the bush — and what they mocked as ‘haystack movies’ — into a thrilling, urban modernity.

Their work and lives are the subject of a new book, Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters: Australia’s First Female Filmmaking Team, published by UNSW Press, by Sydney based Australian writer and novelist Mandy Sayer.

The sister’s stories are a fascinating chapter in the history of both Australian film production, and Australia itself. Sayer’s book will help introduce their now often overlooked work to a new generation of people with an interest in Australian filmmaking and its past. For a glimpse of the McDonagh’s work, have a look at this trailer for their 1930 film The Cheaters.


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Tune into the aftermath of the Big Bang on television

21 November 2022

If you’re still using an aerial (is that still a thing?) instead of cable (is that still a thing?) or internet, to watch TV, and — presumably — still possess an old school (think rabbit ears) TV, you may be able to pickup remnants of the Big Bang, the force of cosmic nature, that brought the universe into being.

Like COBE, WMAP scans the sky over and over again, soaking up the ancient light from the Big Bang known as the cosmic microwave background. Microwaves are a low-energy form of radiation but higher in energy than radio waves. The cosmic microwave background blankets the universe and is responsible for a sizeable amount of static on your television set–well, before the days of cable. Turn your television to an “in between” channel, and part of the static you’ll see is the afterglow of the big bang.

All you’d see is static, some of which may be post Big Bang microwaves bouncing around the cosmos, but it might be more interesting than some of what is broadcast on the terrestrial channels.


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The Fanzine Scan Hosting Project preserving fanzines fanfiction

18 November 2022

For every well-known work of fiction, there’s an extended universe behind it, called fanfiction. Look at the likes of Star Trek, The Twilight Saga, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and a whole lot more, it’s all there. Stories written by adoring fans of the original books, films, and TV shows, expanding on the creator’s canon, and exploring other weird and wonderful story arcs.

At times not all of these works are sanctioned by the series creator, but that won’t always stop the most die-hard of adherents. If they think there’s a story to tell, they’ll write it. But while works residing online, in electronic format, are likely to be preserved — at least for now — publications such as zines, or fanzines, which usually exist solely in paper format, are another matter.

The Fanzine Scan Hosting Project, an initiative of An Archive of Our Own, or A03, one of the most extensive online repositories of fanfiction, along with a number of collaborators, aims to preserve physical fanzines, and eventually make as many as possible available in electronic format online. Needless to say it’s a big job, but progress is being made:

Over the last year or so, however, Open Doors’ Fan Culture Preservation Project has expanded, finally giving them room to launch the Fanzine Scan Hosting Project. So far, they’re making their way through the backlog of scans that Zinedom has already accumulated, which Dawn estimates is “a couple thousand.”


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Algorithm says nanny murderer Lord Lucan in Brisbane

8 November 2022

British aristocrat Lord Lucan who is alleged to have murdered Sandra Rivett, his family’s nanny, in London in 1974, is said — by an algorithm — to be living in the Queensland capital, Brisbane.

A pensioner living in suburban Brisbane is runaway murderer Lord Lucan, says a leading computer scientist who claims state-of-the-art facial recognition technology has positively identified the elderly man as the missing British aristocrat.

While many believe Lucan died soon after killing Rivett and attacking his wife, speculation has endured that he remains alive, and living in hiding somewhere. Everyone, it seems, turns up in Australia…



Can you imagine a web without GIFs when they are gone?

13 October 2022

Once the mainstay of motion design during the early days of the web, GIFs appear to be on the way out, and may soon be non-existent. I shall miss them. Some of them that is.

GIFs are old and arguably outdated. They’ve been around since the days of CompuServe’s bulletin-board system, and they first thrived during the garish heyday of GeoCities, a moment in history that is preserved by the Internet Archive on a page called, appropriately, GifCities.


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7000 free to read online children’s books from the 19th century

4 October 2022

Don’t we love freely available collections of digitised artworks or books? Well, here’s another one, seven-thousand historical children’s books, courtesy of the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature.

Most titles in this collection were originally published in the mid to late nineteenth century, so will doubtless differ somewhat from what is seen in contemporary children’s fiction.



Romans once thought Hadrian’s Wall was built by Severus

24 September 2022

Hadrian, who was Roman Emperor from 117 until 138 CE, built Hadrian’s Wall, right? Why else name the famous stone barricade after him? But as this fascinating Twitter thread by John Bull points out, for a long time it was believed someone else was responsible:

So you know Hadrian’s Wall? Well for over 1000 years everyone thought it was built by someone else.

Severus, who was Emperor from 193 to 211 CE, was one person nominated by Roman historians:

Severus was a pretty safe bet for these Roman historians. Everyone knew he’d done a lot of campaigning in Britain. He’d definitely built a bunch of stuff there. Even died there. HE built the big wall, they said.

But no, it was Hadrian. To his credit however, Severus did strengthen the wall several decades after its construction.



Craigslist keeping it simple and the same for twenty-five years

21 September 2022

When I started designing websites back in the day, you were lucky to get a couple of months out of a look. With new web technologies, and design ideas and trends, constantly emerging, it was necessary to redesign almost monthly*. We’re talking personal sites here, but in the late nineties, they were the closest thing an aspiring web designer had to a social media presence, or something like LinkedIn.

I’m certain though there are any number of still active websites that have not changed in the last twenty-five years or so, and American classified adverts site Craigslist is among them. Speaking recently to PCMag writer Emily Dreibelbis, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, says staying the same is the best way to serve their users:

Because that serves people better. I’ve learned that people want stuff that is simple and fast and gets the job done. People don’t need fancy stuff. Sometimes you just want to get through the day.

* or what felt like every month.


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A timeline of electric guitar invention and innovation

19 September 2022

A timeline of electric guitar invention and innovation, by Dutch guitarist and tutor Paul Davids. Starting from 1950, when the Fender Telecaster guitar arrived — originally called Broadcaster — followed soon after of course by the Gibson Les Paul, and then right on through.

Almost all guitars currently on the market are either a direct descendant of, or very similar to, a handful of instruments that came to life during the span of one decade: the fifties.


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When the famous die, people flock to their Wikipedia pages

14 September 2022

When someone famous dies, visits to their Wikipedia page usually surge, as this visualisation by The Pudding shows. Sometimes the count goes off the scale. A case in point is late musician Prince. When he died in 2016, his Wikipedia page was viewed over eleven millon times in the two days afterwards.

More than 1,300 notable people died in the past three years, according to Wikipedia. Here are 84 who got over half a million pageviews in the first 48 hours after their deaths. Although no one grabbed our attention quite like Prince, the spike in pageviews after a celebrity’s death can often overshadow that of other major events, even a presidential inauguration.

One can only imagine what the pageview numbers will be for British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, who died last week. Incredibly, or perhaps not, her death was noted on her Wikipedia page within seconds. Editors of the online encyclopaedia were also swift to change the page of then Prince Charles, to King Charles III, this before his regnal name had been officially confirmed.


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Apollo Remastered, beautifully enhanced photos of the Apollo flights

5 September 2022
Aquarius, lunar module, Apollo 13, photo courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA.

The above image is of Aquarius, lunar module of the ill-fated Apollo 13 Moon flight of April 1970.

Here it is seen moments after being jettisoned by the Apollo crew. For those who came in late, Aquarius acted as a “lifeboat” for much of the shortened Apollo 13 mission, after an explosion damaged Odyssey, the command module. Without Aquarius the crew may never have returned home.

I’m not sure though if it features in Apollo Remastered, the new book by British author and science writer Andy Saunders, which contains a veritable trove of photos from the Apollo missions. Saunders has spent the last few years enhancing four hundred previously grainy images, making them far sharper and clearer than those originally released.

Some before and after examples of the remastered photos can be seen in this BBC report by Jonathan Amos. And if you’re not familiar with the Apollo 13 story, American filmmaker Ron Howard’s 1995 feature of the same name is well worth a look.


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Why didn’t the Roman Empire spawn the Industrial Revolution?

3 September 2022

The Roman Empire — which dominated the then known world for near on five centuries — gave us its trademark roads, plumbing, floor heating, a postal service, concrete, and surgical tools.

Had the empire — as a whole, rather than the partitioned east, west, entity it later became — remained at its peak a lot longer, we can only speculate as to what other innovations may have been spawned.

An Industrial Revolution perhaps? Possibly. But prior to the fifth century, Common Era? Not likely, says Bret C. Devereaux, an ancient and military historian at the University of North Carolina.


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Albertina Museum makes thousands of digitised artworks available

30 August 2022
Tete-a-Tete by Edvard Munch, Albertina Museum collection

The Albertina Museum, in Vienna, capital of Austria, has released some 150,000 digitised images into the public domain. This will be a boon for anyone with an interest in European history and art, or both. Some of the images now freely available include works by Edvard Munch, featured above, who is best known for his painting The Scream, along with Albrecht Dürer, and Gustav Klimt, among others.

Nearly 4,000 of these images date between the 12th and 15th centuries, with another 23,000 dating to the 16th century. The Albertina has a large collection of works by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), a German artist who was famous for his woodcut prints and a variety of other works.




Interview with Frank Prentice Titanic crew survivor

24 August 2022

An incredible interview with the late Frank Prentice, who worked as a storekeeper on doomed ocean liner Titanic. He recalls the ship stopping after being struck by the iceberg that led to its eventual sinking, though he didn’t feel any impact.

Prentice also talks of convincing a woman, Virginia Clark, to board a lifeboat even though she was reluctant to leave without her husband. When Prentice finally leapt from the ship, seconds before it sank, he swam through waters and was later pulled onto the lifeboat Clark was aboard.


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Kurzgesagt asks is civilisation on the brink of collapse?

19 August 2022

What if a tragedy — something like a full-blown war, or a deadly pandemic akin to the bubonic plague — befell the human race, plunging any survivors into a new dark age? Would they be able to pick up the pieces and (eventually) restore civilisation as we know it? Is such a catastrophe even possible? Kurzgesagt looks at the question.

At its height, the Roman Empire was home to about 30% of the world’s population, and in many ways the pinnacle of human advancement. Rome became the first city in history to reach one million inhabitants and was a center of technological, legal, and economic progress. An empire impossible to topple, stable and rich and powerful. Until it wasn’t anymore. First slowly then suddenly, the most powerful civilization on earth collapsed. If this is how it has been over the ages, what about us today? Will we lose our industrial technology, and with that our greatest achievements, from one dollar pizza to smartphones or laser eye surgery? Will all this go away too?



Untapped a collection of out of print Australian books

15 August 2022

Untapped is working with Ligature Press, the Australian Society of Authors, Melbourne Law School, and libraries across Australia to make out-of-print books available once more. A growing selection of titles — dating back to 1926 so far — can be found in their collection.

Untapped is a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers, working together to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life. It creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries.


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Pirates are not about buried treasure and maps leading to it

13 August 2022

It seems there’s a lot I don’t know about pirates, except they are the scourge of the oceans. What they are not about — among other things — is buried treasure, and hiding maps leading to the booty.

On the other hand, if you are an insider, there’s a code that both binds and protects. Pirate crews can also be egalitarian, with their leader being chosen by ballot, according to Rebecca Simon, a historian who studies pirates past and present.

Many pirate ships had rules called articles. Some articles prohibited drinking on board because alcohol could cause trouble. Gambling was usually banned, too. There were rules about compensation if someone suffered a severe injury such as losing an arm or a leg.