Bruce’s Home Page. Part I. “Malaysia’s Bill Gates”
In the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age archive, every GeoCities page and file is associated with meta data. A small portion is technical (there is not so much that can be said about a singular file apart from its URL, last modified date, and the links it contains), the most interesting and important information are the tags assigned by humans.
The chronologically first page in the archive, Bruce’s Home Page, was tagged with “calvin”, “welcome”, “give me time”, “template”, “portal”, and “interview”. These tags were not assigned at once, but added gradually. Only after seeing other pages it became clear to me that the page was made using a template, and only later research revealed that there could the be possibility for an interview with the person who made it. Well, it’s still a prospect. More on that in Part I of this series on Bruce’s Home Page.
“Give me time” is my tag for pages that are freshly born, or rather conceived and immediately abandoned, but their author leaves a promise to finish the page very soon, when school starts or ends, when summer starts or is over, or as in Bruce’s case “after my exams”.
The tag “calvin” was the first one I gave to this page, assuming that the graphic on the top means that the person was a fan of the comic strip series Calvin and Hobbes, and the future page was ment to be about it in the future. There are a lot of pages I misinterpreted like that.
A short lyric digression: when I started to go through the archive chronologically, I was actually surprised about two things, or rather two phenomena contradicted my own memories of the web of 1995: the magnitude of Sailor Moon fandom, and the popularity of Calvin and Hobbes among the first users of the web.
The former kept me busy all these years, one decade later I still discover new facets and subcultures within the anime universe. The latter was cleared up quite soon.
In close succession very similar looking pages filled the One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age timeline. They all had Calvin on the top, “Under Construction” and “Cool Links” ribbons down the page, and the red bullet opening the “Links to other sites on the web” section. Some other horizontal bars and user pics would appear from time to time, but their dimensions and the structure of the pages stayed the same.
Obviously all these pages were children of a template and not a conscious aesthetic choice. Many of them contain the comment “<!–Created by BHI’s Home Page Generator –>” in their HTML source code. The interface of the “Page Generator” didn’t make it into the archive and is remembered neither by GeoCities founders, nor by early web design manuals, which are usually my most reliable source of information and illustrations about things no one cared about 25 years ago. It was too early, and too “beta” for any type of documentation. BHI (Beverly Hills Internet) became GeoCities very fast.
In an unpublished conversation I had with BHI/GeoCities co-founder David Bonett in February 2019, he described the generator as rather a sample page, that one could edit in browser, by filling in text into the forms and by choosing icons, rulers and bullets from the menus.
On May 15, 1995 Bohnett sent an email to 15 of his friends and colleagues inviting them to be the first BHI users to try out the tool that would allow them to create their “Personal Home Page in less than 10 minutes!!” This is how efficient the generator was supposed to be
The sample page gave access to two lists of images users could pick to include in their first pages. Since these images were used on so many pages, they were picked up as part of the archive and are known to reside under
www.geocities.com/pictures/icons/lines/ — 85 horizontal bars, all 640px width, among them legendary ones like
www.geocities.com/pictures/icons/flags. — This was where one was supposed to pick up an avatar. The folder is called flags, because 203 of 224 files it contains are national flags. The 21 exceptions are
Bohnett recalled that all the images in both folders are the result of him surfing the web and saving items that would in his opinion match the expectations of the first webmasters. What he couldn’t remember anymore is if Calvin (cv.gif) was the default image of the sample page he coded and designed .
That there should be a link section as a part of the template was also his decision. I would say a significant one. One could easily remove this part of the code, but I don’t remember seeing an early GeoCities page without “Links to other sites on the Web”. This is how the web was weaved.
This first GeoCities template survived till the very end of days of the First Free Web Hosting Service. Of course people didn’t create new pages using it in 2006 (this is where I am now in the archive), not even in the second part of 1996. But the pages made with it were already out there, and since the codes and graphics were copy pasted from old pages to new ones, it echoes in much younger pages. Also people were updating and actualizing their own old pages but kept the elements and code initially coming from BHI Page Generator.
To be fair, until this moment I indeed found three web pages whose authors went beyond cv.gif and used the comic as motive for their pages structure or actually created a Calvin and Hobbes fan page.
Very often today we hear the expression “GeoCities style”, “GeoCities like page”, “as if on Geocities”. In the end of “GeoCities’ Afterlife and Web History” I tried to explain that the GeoCities style is not in fact GeoCities’s style and that if we really want to show the authentic “look and feel” of this particular platform (which shouldn’t be equated with the early web at large), the best would be to turn to those very simple pages based on pictures from the “lines” and “flags” folders and Bohnett’s HTML.