“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.”


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Since GeoCities—as a stand-in for the past web, a representative for a certain visual style, or simply as a digital artifact and data set—becomes increasingly popular in mass culture and academia, and we at One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age feel partly responsible for it, there are four statements I’d like to make. Some more obvious than others, but all of them made in oder to restore historical justice.

 

1. GeoCities ≠ Web 1.0

Geocities is not a synonym for the web of the 1990’s. It was a big, well-known, important free hosting service, but it was not the only one. There were Tripod, Angelfire, Homestead, and others. But more importantly there were web sites outside of GeoCities (as well outside of other hosting services). I will not exaggerate and say now that GeoCities was a drop in the ocean, but let’s compare it with a lake in relation to the ocean of personal websites hosted elsewhere.

This fact maybe obvious for my generation and even for millennials, but Generation Z is at stake. They get to know about bright, crazy, cool GeoCities, as something like an app where people were active before Facebook or Instagram. But the point about the web before social networks or before Web 2.0 is not that you had a profile on GeoCities, but that you had a chance to build your cyber home outside of it, you could exist and grow outside of a centralized service.

Today many think that the Internat is the same as the WWW, and the WWW is equal to Facebook services. Critical digital culture circles make quite an effort to fight this delusion. Explaining that web history is more than the history of one company taking the place of another can help too.

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For everyone who wonders what are the most popular screenshots on One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age tumblr after six years of posting, we made a list of eighty one posts with 1000+ notes as on 29th of March 2019.
Your interpretations are welcome!

“It was more than just a collection of my writing, more than just another fanpage…and much more than just another lousy webpage from the 1990s. It was who I was 12 years ago. The places I linked…the places that linked to me, it’s all old history. But it’s my history…a piece of me.”
Keikimo’s Notes, April 24, 2009

“Some say they took a gamble and lost. In my humble opinion they didn’t lose. Nope, they’re still here while it’s we small web pagers who’ve lost the most.”
Sir Pippen, April 25, 2009

“So.Yahoo pulls the plug on geocities after paying paper billions for it. Good job, yahoo, good job. Still, I’ve had this free space for a solid decade so no complaints here! Thanks guys!”
James Larkin, April 25,2009

“YAHOO CAN EAT A BIG FAT DICK!”
Fester Blatz, October, 25th, 2009

Today 10 years ago, on the 23rd of April 2009 Yahoo! announced “closing GeoCities later this year.” I’ve looked through the pages that were last updated on the 23rd-25th of April to see some first reactions. I post here some of them. There are more to come.


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There is nothing I would care to rescue from my Google+ account. I think last time I logged in years ago. Still I followed the link in Gooogle’s “hurry up and download” email, but only to play one last time with the circles… and found out that they are only a metaphor now. This very special, very Andy Hertzfeld interface of dragging and dropping your contacts into actual circles is gone. And as my quick YouTube search “How to make Google+ circles” showed that they have been removed a long time ago.

At this moment Google+ users are getting their data back, Archive Team is doing what they can, but they can’t resurrect that user interface. Internet Archive is also of no help. The interface itself could only be seen if you were logged in, so crawlers could not get there. The demo page was captured, but won’t work now, because the JavaScript was too complex for a crawler to understand; oldweb.today which usually works better for such cases is also helpless, since it has to rely on resources the crawlers weren’t able to catch.

So what is left is a “learn more” video on the Google+ intro page captured on the 22nd of August 2011 and early tutorials on Youtube.


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“I had a dream about Titanic last night. It was very romantic and heartwrenching. But I know the magical rule that dreams are only interesting to those who had the dream so I decided to do the next best thing, update my webpage. It was truly a calling. I’m sure all my loyal fans were aching for more!”

 

In Early November 2018 I stumbled upon a very expressive page in our archive. Someone informed the world that their page no longer existed. The message was placed on a star background and underlined with a burning divider. I had already labeled the page with “this page is no more” and “universe” to later research it in the contexts of abandoned sites and pages making use of the outer space motive, when I read the title “Star Wars vs. Titanic.”

Immediately intrigued I started to look if there was anything else inside the folder Hollywood/Theater/5049/, but the index.html and these two images was all that was included in the Archive Team torrent.

Fortunately, the Internet Archive has captured the site when it was still alive and keeps different versions of it, starting from 20th of February 1999. This is where I got immersed in the world of Jennifer who loves Star Wars, hates Titanic and makes a web site to convert more people to her side by ridiculing Jake and Rose, and Celine Dion; by comparing Imperial Star Destroyer with R.M.S Titanic, counting great things one could do instead of watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s bad acting, suggesting to watch it on video to “rewind it and watch Jack die over and over”, and a lot more.

 

It also appeared that Jennifer was a “ringmaster” of the Anti-Titanic web ring, the logo of which I saw on some pages before. Now I really wanted to get in touch with her. But how to find somebody when only knowing her first name and dead email address boycott_titanic@hotmail.com? I made a call on the GeoCities research blog and tweeted my plea. Despite the conventional wisdom that a tweet lives for just 18 minutes, four months later Gavin Rymill saw it  and connected me with Jennifer.

Our conversation took place on the 8th of March 2019 via appear.in, with some corrections added via email in the following days.

In the end of the interview Jennifer asked me what is it so special about her page that made me look for her. I promised to properly formulate my answer and place it before the protocol of our conversation. Here it comes:

Star Wars vs. Titanic is a document of both pop culture and web culture of the late 90’s. The web site is full of controversy: it is very typical of its genre, but absolutely unique, anonymous and personal at the same time, so 1996 and so 2002. The versions of the site captured over time tell an important story of a web novice’s excitement giving place to boredom.

I wanted to hear from Jennifer how it happened.
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Internet! You are so powerful, so neural and so loooong tail!

? Please help me to find Jennifer! ?

In 1998 she moved in Hollywood/Theater/5049/ In 2002 she moved out. Her email was boycott_titanic@hotmail.com  She loved Star Wars and hated Titanic, she started Anti Titanic Web Ring

That’s all I know…

“Frequently, when I work on my web pages, I have some of my favorite – well, pretty much my only – alcoholic drink, which is cranberry juice mixed with white wine. I usually drink it out of my son’s Tweetie-bird cup, but a friend suggested recently that maybe the Sylvester cup would be more sophisticated. Now I can’t decide. (This text’s font color is cranberry-juice-referential.)”

 

Susansthoughts moved into Heartland/Meadows/1666 in mid-1997 and was last updated in July 1998. It didn’t have a long life and it also didn’t become a comprehensive collection of thoughts or items. It is neither a portal nor a family archive. If it is not the first ever 90’s page you saw it will not blast your mind by its appearance or structure. Still, it is very special website.

“This site is self-referential. So is this sentence.” wrote Susan Schapiro about her own creation. This sentence is in the middle of the home page, so when I arrived to it I already knew that “self-referential” is an understatement. susanthoughts was not only a web page about web page or web pages, it asked existential questions: welcome or not to welcome?! Nudes or not? Anonymous or “Don’t not put your name anywhere on your page “. and 10 9 8 7 reasons to create a web page.

Imagine how lucky I felt when it appeared that Susan still uses the same email address she put on her website in 1997, and when she agreed to talk to me! Our conversation took place on the 14th of October 2018 in appear.in

Olia Lialina: Susan, can you remember why did you choose to be on GeoCities?
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“Geocities is to start charging from April 2, and it encourages users who want to continue using FTP for upload to upgrade to a premium package. Premium users are unaffected by the move,”The Register, 2 March 2002.

“It seems that everything Yahoo! touches ends up dead and burning in hell with Undertaker.” — World of Wonders, 24 April 2002, http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Labyrinth/2003/

As you may remember, Yahoo! not only killed GeoCities. First and foremost Yahoo! has bought it.

It happened in January 1999, but became clear to GeoCities users half a year later, when Yahoo! changed their terms of service. In In Protest of Section 8, published in 2014, I collected reactions and evidence of that user boycott campaign, which some days later forced Yahoo! to take a small step back.

After, things calmed down. Not that users were happy with annoying adds, the malfunctioning PageBuilder editor, traffic restrictions, security holes, etc, but as a frustrated webmaster of TimesSquare/Arena/1256/ nailed it: “all the other online services were either just as bad or go belly-up six months later.”

Full quote from this page, abandoned February 2002:

“Now that I have no need for Geoshities anymore, I have one message for those folks at Yahoo: SUCK IT. SUCK IT HARD. You bastards have caused me and my fellow browsers nothing but trouble for years now, and not just with your webpage services. You sick sons of bitches bought out and ruined Webring.com, one of the greatest services to fandoms all across the net, and for that I will never forgive you. The only reason I haven’t moved earlier was because all the other online services were either just as bad or go belly-up six months later. But now I have my own domain, and I don’t have to put up with you bullshit anymore. So again I say, SUCK IT.”

My collection of “angry” farewell messages was growing steadily but slowly, until I reached April 2002, when the next big move of Yahoo! made users furious and pushed them to look for other hosting services: the shutdown of FTP access for the free home page service.

Here is an official announcement from Yahoo!, Maria Technosux left on her page:


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I’m spending the last hours of 2017 organizing and categorizing pages last updated in the end of 2001. It’s the time when Harry Potter fanfic starts to get illustrated with stills from the film, not pictures from the book; when N’Sync fandom gets more vibrant than Backstreet Boys fandom; when you see a bit more of cat web sites than one year before, but still more dog lovers are out there; when GeoCities users call Yahoo! names for suspending their sites for too much traffic.

However, these are just side notes. The most striking content from 2001 is websites that were made or modified in reaction to September 11. Up until today I looked at 97 of them, and there will be more sad, angry, devastated, patriotic, conspiracy pages appearing in the coming months.

Below is a compilation of 50 screenshots that catch the first days and weeks after the tragedy, and reveal verbal and visual narratives emerging around it.

(Click images to show full screenshots.)

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