The early internet is breaking—meet the people saving it

The design of the page you’re looking at right now is clean. Neutral. Coherent. Probably not too different from the last website you visited—and the one before that.

That’s because it’s 2019, and today’s internet looks completely different from the World Wide Web of 1999. Back then, the online community GeoCities was the third most popular website in the world, and web page design was a free-for-all. Within GeoCities’ 40 “neighborhoods” like “WestHollywood” and “Area51,” users adorned home pages with “under construction” gifs, guestbooks, and, of course, Comic Sans.

In 1999, Olia Lialina taught web design in Germany. In class, she’d use amateur sites as examples of what not to do. But then, Lialina realized that those pages were disappearing. So she began to collect, and, eventually, study them to understand the values embedded within the early web’s ever-present starry night backgrounds, Mail Me buttons, and welcome signs.

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