My name is Flash and I am a dog. . . . To be more precise, I am a Boxer. . . . With time I’ll make this page more colourful (who said we see in B&W!!??) and interesting.
—Flash, a Boxer, June 19, 1999, Heartland/Pointe/9855/
As media scholar Ethan Zuckerman pinned it in 2008: “Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers. Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.”1
Zuckerman is not only a scholar and activist but also an entrepreneur who built one of the first free web hosting services, Tripod. So he could be the first one to testify that the web, which we retroactively call Web 1.0, was re-purposed very, very early; even physicists themselves started to use Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to not only to reference or edit each other papers, but also to make personal web pages, to share their passions and lives with the world out there. That world was getting bigger at an unprecedented pace, sucking more and more people into a whirlwind of “welcome to my page,” “under construction,” and “sign my guestbook.”
What is indeed stunning is the fact that cats, which later became a front-running symbol of the online world, played only a small role in early web culture.
There was a gif of Felix the Cat walking back and forth in the bottom of many pages. There was “paper cat” coming out from the inner side of the browser2. There were decorative kitten graphics. There were pages that people made about their cats, sure, but you simply cannot compare it with the amount and quality of pages made for dogs.
At this moment there are 451 pages in GeoCities archive3 that I’ve tagged “dog.”4 While some of them are pages of breeders and dog rescue organizations, the majority are the websites made by happy owners of little pupppies; by proud friends of big and small, well- educated and spoiled- rotten Pugs, Retrievers, Beagles, Vizslas, and so on…; and by inconsolable families of dogs that have passed away. I collect tThe most spectacular ones I collected into a constantly updated series called On the Internet Everybody Knows You Had a Dog.5
While working on this series, analyzing and admiring the skills and ambitions of old-school webmasters, I noticed that not all of them were human. If we take welcoming words and introductions seriously, fifty of them, or every seventh page, was made by the dog itself:
Hi! My name is Can. CH. Woodhaven’s Emma of Windmere, WC, CGC, JH, CD! You can call me “Emma.” I’m a black Labrador Retriever. This is my page. Oh, I’ll share it with my daughter Sophie, my new “sister” Madelyn and my mom Lorry, but its mine. (Heartland/3537/)
Hello! I’m Lancelot, the Golden Retriever! Welcome to MY page! (Heartland/Meadows/6422/)
Hi, my name is Kimberly de la Montagne, but my friends call me Kim. When Caro is at school, I’m making my web page. (Hollywood/Derby/1947/)
Hi! My name is Brandy and this is my very own website! :) I will be 4 years old on May 25th, 1998. (Heartland/Flats/5880/)
Pugs, Beagles, Collies, Sheepdogs, Pitbulls, Terriers, Pekingese, but most of all Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds—all showed off their web design skills, sometimes mentioning a little help that they got from their “moms” and “dads”:
Hi! I am Rascal a Labrador Retriever crossed with a German Shepherd! . . . Well this is my own webpage! I made it all by myself, (With a little help from my owner of course!) Well, my site isn’t too big because it’s a very new page, but I’m working on it! (Petsburgh/4890/)
Hi, my name is Linmar’s Bronze Talisman. I’m a VIZSLA. . . . I get my nails cut—Mom uses a paint program and get those nails right off so no one can see how long there really are in the pictures. (Petsburgh/3441/)
Hi, my name is Jasper and I’m a Shih Tzu. Mom says I should tell you a little bit about myself. (Petsburgh/Fair/6975/)
In case you haven’t already noticed, my name is Arnold. . . . I’m a German Sheppherd/Black Lab mix. This is my owner’s first Web Page, and it is in it’s very early stages, but hopefully one day it will be as good as ME!!! (Petsburgh/Haven/3851/)
As you read this, now, the chances that you’ve ever heard about Web 1.0 are getting smaller every month. The chances your dog, cat, or hamster doesn’t need you to share its pictures and sounds online are getting higher every day. I’m sure that if you return to this text ten years from now and see the screenshots illustrating it or read the quotes above, you won’t be surprised by dogs showing off their pages or posts. Theoretically some sort of Alexa would be able to do it already today, automatically photographing your pet, streaming it live, translating its barking into words and whatever.
This is the reason I am writing here, descendants: to tell you that these dogs were not dogs but people who spent a few weekends learning how to make a webpage, and it was so exciting and so fun that they also made them for their dogs. People, not dogs, not AI, were making decisions about URLs, links, navigation, layouts, color pallets, and content. In the beginning of the third millennium, things got more complicated. To make, update, and keep a webpage online became unafordable for non-professionals. People had to decide between having a dog (a family, a job, a real life) and having a web page. The decision was painful, traumatic.
Being unable to make pages for their own dogs, webmasters found solace in sharing pics of someone else’s cats.
- Ethan Zuckerman, “The Cute Cat Theory Talk at Etech,” . . . My heart’s in Accra (blog), March 8, 2008 [↩]
- an example of performative restoration by Tara Donovan-Achi, in 2016 a student of my course Traditions and Revoluions in Web Design at Merz Akademie [↩]
- The GeoCities archive, also known as One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age, is a copy of roughly 382,000 home pages that a group called Archive Team rescued in a quickly coordinated initiative in 2009, just before Yahoo! removed all of GeoCities from the web. This 1TB data dump was distributed via the piracy site The Pirate Bay. In 2013, my partner Dragan Espenschied and I finished the restoration of the site. See Dragan Espenschied, “A City Rebuilt,” April 6, 2013, [↩]
- I wrote this in September 2017 after looking at 110,000 GeoCities home pages in chronological order of their last update, reaching as far as July 25, 2001. As of 21st of September 2019 there are 742 dog pages. [↩]
- The title is an allusion to Peter Steiner’s famous cartoon published in The New Yorker on the July 5, 1993, captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” [↩]