“BTW — That house in the “HOME” button below really *is* my house!”
There are several reasons why you read an interview with Mike Gates.
First: his page attracted my attention when on the 1st of August 2019 its screenshot appeared in the 1Tb of Kb Age timeline. Its design is a great example of an amateur webmaster making a step in the direction of the professionally looking web: less eclectic, more homogeneous appearance; less HTML, more Photoshop.
Second: I got charmed by the comment Mike Gates left in the bottom of the About Me page. It became the epigraph for this interview.
Third: Mike revealed his real name and the place he lives, I could find him.
And last but not least: Mike agreed to talk to me! That’s not always the case, since people were made believe that making a home page is something they should rather be ashamed of. One of the goals of this interview series is to change the situation. I think Mike’s memories and thoughts about his web past and present can help a lot in understanding what a great role making a web page can have in one’s life.
Our conversation took place on the 3rd of August 2019 via appear.in, with some corrections added in the following days via email and Google Docs.
Olia Lialina: Mike, thank you for agreeing to talk to me. My first question is: the 2nd of February 1999 is the first snapshot of your page in the Internet Archive. Do you think it’s any close to the time when you started your page?
Mike Gates: It’s probably pretty close, it might be just a little bit earlier than that, but that’s pretty damn close.
OL: The early version of your page as in the archive is almost unreadable. Neon green text is put over white background. Probably there was a wallpaper that is missing now, right?
MG: Sure. There must have been a background on there…
OL: But you don’t remember what was it?
MG: No, I don’t recall it.
OL: Did you ever make a copy, an archive of your home page?
MG: No, I never did. I should have had as my daughters would enjoy the look into my past. My youngest will be visiting in a couple of weeks, and I’ll definitely share with her the archive that you showed me….
OL: Why did you decide to make a web page in the first place? What events preceded February 1999?
MG: Well, locally here in Ketchikan, I ran a BBS. People would call up and connect to play online games, download files, chat via RelayNet and so on. I had four dedicated phone lines coming into the house and a network of computers to handle the calls.
The internet existed and was available here in Ketchikan by dialup, but there wasn’t much more than a blinking cursor on the screen, and you had to have knowledge of Unix commands to use it.
But about 1997 a couple things happened.
Internet-wise, a local internet carrier set up shop, and suddenly there was the WEB. My computer BBS, which was my creative project, suddenly went from over a hundred calls from users each day to maybe a dozen or so. Big changes for me personally, and big changes for me as an online presence. My BBS users had migrated almost en-masse to the Internet, and I guess I followed the herd.
For me, personally, in 1997 my marriage of several years came crashing down and I became a single dad to two young daughters. I was a lot on ICQ. I decided since I wasn’t doing my Bulletin Board anymore, I’d start up a web page so people could see who I was. It was just a form of expression.
OL: Sorry to interrupt you, would it be correct to say that the main reason for your web page was to introduce yourself to people you met on ICQ?
MG: Absolutely! I was an insomniac, so I was up till the wee hours every morning looking at pages or whatever and yes, ICQ is always running so if anyone asked who I am I could send them off to GeoCities to look at my page: “I don’t have any secrets! Just me and my kids.”