The early days of the Internet definitely were like the Wild West and there’s a lot of weird stuff on the Internet you’ve probably forgotten about. For those who never had the joy of waiting several minutes for a webpage to load, these might come as a surprise. For those of us who lived it, it’s just a nice nostalgia trip.
Phone or Internet – Not Both
Remember the good ole days when you had to choose between talking on the phone or using the Internet? No? Phone lines used to be the only way to connect to the Internet. This was also the main way to talk on the phone. So, the landline could only be used for one or the other.
Imagine waiting for an hour to download your favorite song (yes it could take an hour or more) to suddenly be disconnected when someone pick up the phone. Or, maybe you were waiting on an important call only to discover someone was online. It was an adventure which resulted in many homes having two phone lines.
The Dial-Up Tone
Speaking of dial-up, connecting to the web was a sound you absolutely hated. It kind of sounded like a dial tone being murdered. Depending on how long it took to connect, you could be stuck listening to that annoying sound for minutes at a time.
Luckily, there were ways to silence this sound. But, many parents preferred to keep the sound just so they knew when their kids were getting online. Either way, dial-up tones are something we’re happy to forget.
Web Design Didn’t Matter At All
Today, the web design can make or break your site’s success. One of the craziest things on the web was the web design. Imagine visiting a site only to be bombarded with flashing fonts, GIFS everywhere, dozens of clashing colors, and backgrounds that looked like old wallpaper. That was a calm site.
Check out some of the oldest sites on the Internet that you can still visit to get a taste of what the early Internet was like. It really was a free for all with no rules. It didn’t matter what your site looked like or even how long it took to load. After all, everything seemed to take forever to load, but at the time, it still seemed fast.
Also check out some of the oldest forums that still exist today.
The Badger Song
Why did The Badger Song exist? No one really knows. But, it definitely qualifies as weird stuff on the Internet. Since Internet connections weren’t exactly speedy, Flash animation was preferred over other video formats. British animator, Jonti Picking, created a Flash meme of 12 badgers doing calisthenics.
It’s weird, but somehow it fit the time perfectly. Sorry in advance if you watch the video and it becomes an earworm all over again. But, you could always send it to your friends to annoy them too.
The Hamster Dance
Internet entertainment in the late 90s apparently meant hamsters dancing. Hence, the notorious Hamster Dance was created. In 1998, Deidre LaCarte, a Canadian art student, created a GeoCities site during a competition with her friend and sister to gather the most web traffic.
Hampton the Hamster, named after her own hamster, became a viral sensation. Suddenly, everyone was singing, dee dee doo doo doo dee and you couldn’t escape. Among strange things on the Internet, it is kind of cute with all the dancing hamsters. But, it’ll drive you crazy quickly. CNET even named this as the number one Internet fad.
Need more humor in your life? Check out these memes to brighten up your day.
Free AOL or Paying for Every Minute
Sure, people complain now about the high cost of Internet, but imagine having to either gather AOL CDs (or floppies) or paying for every minute you were connected. Turns out, one of the craziest things on the web was actually connecting to it.
It was always exciting to get an AOL (America Online) CD in the mail or get it as a bonus when shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. These contained hundreds of hours of free Internet. But, only if they had a local number. Otherwise, you might still get hit with long-distance charges.
No CDs? You either bought time or paid per minute. Gradually, it was unlimited, but still incredibly slow dial-up.
LimeWire and Napster Downloads
P2P (peer to peer) sharing was the questionable way to share music, videos, and even documents with complete strangers all over the world. While you can stream endless videos and music on YouTube, Spotify, and numerous other services, you couldn’t do that in the early days of the Internet.
Instead, you hopped on LimeWire or Napster. You searched for what you needed, picked a host, and hoped they stayed connected until your download was finished. Of course, many artists hated these sites since they weren’t getting paid for the music, but other artists saw it as free marketing.
Either way, it took anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to download a single song (of 4MB). And, it wasn’t until the download finished that you often discovered skips where someone had ripped the song from a scratched CD. Today, Napster and LimeWire are both legal music sites.
Sophisticated Ask Jeeves
Wish you had a search engine with some sophistication? While anything other than Google might seem like weird stuff on the Internet, Google was far from the first search engine. Google definitely didn’t have the class of Ask Jeeves. Somehow, it felt like asking the friendliest butler questions. You’d even find yourself phrasing searches politely.
Eventually, Ask Jeeves became Ask.com, but it just wasn’t the same without Jeeves standing by the search box ready to find and deliver answers to you.
Carefully Crafted AIM Away Messages
Long before Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, you relied on AIM (America Online Instant Messenger) or chat rooms. While many used IRC, AIM became popular for all the extra features, such as carefully crafting away messages. These would pop up when you weren’t around the keyboard. Remember, smartphones and texting weren’t really a thing then.
Nothing summed up the drama of growing up in the 90s like an away message about how sad you were or how unfair the world was. Of course, to make things really weird, hacking your friends’ away messages became a favorite pastime.
Nothing Tracking You
Of all the weird stuff on the Internet, the strangest of all was that sites and search engines didn’t track you. You either visited a site or you didn’t. You didn’t have to worry about Google tracking every site you visited to send you targeted ads. There weren’t personalized search results that you really don’t want. No social media suggesting random accounts because of that one ad you accidentally clicked on.
While it was a little harder to find things sometimes, you didn’t leave nearly as big of a footprint in the early days of the Internet. It was kind of peaceful in its own way. In fact, even viruses were not discreet. If you had one, you knew it.
Did you think Siri, Cortana, or Alexa were the first AI voices to chat with? Nope. ELIZA was actually created in 1964 at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum. The natural language processing program was designed to provide the illusion of human conversation.
It was one of the earliest chatbots and fairly advanced for the time. Scripts were fed into ELIZA to simulate the best responses. DOCTOR was the most famous, which was based on psychotherapist Carl Rogers. You can test it out for yourself.
It’s not advanced by today’s standards, but it was incredibly weird and impressive back then.
Image credit: Leon Seibert via Unsplash