As mentioned in the post about the earliest under construction signs, there is not much sense in knowing what exactly was the first under construction sign or rainbow bar and who exactly created them. At the same time it is a great opportunity to talk to the people who made graphics, or wrote scripts, or put together collections that were used by many and influenced the web. By this you get reminded about the motivations of early web users, their idea about the state and the future of the WWW, and learn about their work flow.
It was a pleasure to talk to Steve Kangas, the creator of one of the earliest under construction signs, the digging man . The sign can compete in popularity only with the under construction ribbon. Steve is also the author of the restless counter . He made the warm welcome to the internet and left an important reminder . In 1995 he put these and other graphics (99 in total) together on the Animated Icon Browser website. It is still online!
On the page about himself Steve Kangas recalls:
“Early in 1995 I saw a graphical web browser and decided that the web was the most staggeringly awesome thing happening on the planet. I quit my profession and have devoted my time since then to exploring the web, spending an average of 10 hours a day online, either surfing or creating web projects. This is an excessive amount of time for any one pursuit – more time than it will be possible for me to sustain – but, well, it was worth it (in my opinion). I felt like a spectator at the Big Bang (“isn’t that neat! Imagine the universe that will grow from this!)”
Al the GIFs on Animated Icon Browser look familiar, they all became viral. They are all superstars. And there is something they all have in common: they are obviously not made by the same person. I asked Steve if the graphics were made by him or if he knows who are the authors. He said:
All the animations at http://126.96.36.199/mmmm/ were mine. None of the graphics were.
All the animations used pre-existing graphics, most of which seemed fairly commonplace at that time. I have no idea who created the original graphics. Many of them came from a site called “Icon Browser” (that’s why I used the phrase “Animated Icon Browser”). […] It was an influential site at the time – people everywhere used their icons. Maybe you can find it somewhere.
My goal at that time was just to advertise the possibility of animation. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Netscape 1.1 came out everybody was excited about the possibility of using font colors other than black and link colors other than blue. When Netscape 2.0 came out, it was mind-blowing, by comparison, that images could actually animate.
I spent many hours in Photoshop, modifying popular icons frame by frame, trying to keep file sizes under 3K. That’s the most absurd thing now, but it really seemed necessary then.
Of course I looked for the Icon Browser site. Believe it or not, it is still here http://www.ibiblio.org/gio/iconbrowser/. Put online in February 1994 and last updated in 1998. 7296 icons for all possible themes and interactions.
Look, the third pic in the 4th row it is the one Steve Kangas used for his crying icon .
The Icon Browser collection is huge and eclectic. You don’t even have to ask if the graphics are original or found. But i contacted their author Gioacchino La Vecchia , early web adopter and founder of the Italian W3C . He confirmed, that all the 7296 GIFs were collected by him, not created. He saw himself as a search engine, as an aggregator:
Icons crawling was manual. Download or extraction adapted case by case […] at that time was not easy to find icons for web sites or applications.
No image search was available (like it is today with Google). So IconBrowser was a primary resource for web and apps developers.
The early web was very eclectic, because web pages were constructed using elements copied from other sites and different collections, from desktop icon collections published on cover CDs, sample files included with graphics or animation software packages, or files that have been popular before the WWW, on BBSes or the UseNet. And, I think now, that Steve’s and Gio’s collection’s were influential because you could find there all kinds of stuff. And I think now that being eclectic by themselves they were advocating and pushing this style.
The next pic is a screen shot from a typical homogeneous clip art collection to be found on CDs attached to web design manuals of that time. Its good that early users did more surfing than reading.