I don’t remember the exact day when I first created ZedneWeb, but my oldest files are dated 22 January 1996. That’s five years ago today.
I have trouble comprehending this. To me, the web still feels like something new and secret, but that hasn’t been true for a while. I remember driving into Pennsylvania years ago and seeing their URL on the welcome signs and thinking how strange it was to see the web mentioned on a road sign. I remember my reluctance to use Netscape’s non-standard background and text color attributes. (Eventually, they became the standard and I used them, although I have since switched to style sheets for easier maintenance.)
I mentioned “oldest files” a while back, and it wasn’t just idle chatter. Curious to see what ZedneWeb was like way back when? I’m posting three early versions of the site from 1996. All three were from the time when ZedneWeb was hosted at Penn State’s Computer Science and Engineering server. (I later switched to Penn State’s student web hosting service, which I used until I graduated and moved to the Eyrie.)
The oldest describes itself as a beta version of ZedneWeb. At the time I didn’t have much material, so it’s an annotated list of links. In the interest of being historical and not having to do too much work, I’m not bothering to edit the text or fix the links, even if that means exposing my old love of Robert Jordan’s increasingly-endless Wheel of Time series.
Next we have what was probably my first “official” version of the site. It’s an actual site now, with multiple pages and hierarchy and everything. I’m still in the stuff-a-lot-of-stuff-on-the-front-page school of web design, though. (Notice how several of the pages are stuff that was originally on one page but was broken apart by topic. It’s a pattern that will repeat itself as ZedneWeb matures.)
Last, we have the second version of ZedneWeb. It’s about half a year later, but in that time I’ve written eleven Starcruiser Anonymous episodes. (Granted, the episodes were much shorter back then, but it saddens me to compare it with my current rate.) I’m still referring to myself in the third person (everyone gets a few quirks), but the home page has become much more streamlined, which set the tone for subsequent versions of the site until I started putting the last five entries on the front page.
I think the site’s gotten less silly since then. While it’s possible that this is because I’ve gotten less silly over the years, I think ZedneWeb has also changed direction somewhat since then. My change log slowly grew and devoured most of the site. Instead of having pages devoted to books I liked reading or TV shows I enjoyed writing, it became an irregular serial publication. This makes it a lot harder to find information on a specific topic, but the freedom it gives me has greatly increased my output. My entries from the year 1999 total 32 kilobytes, while my 2000 archive is 125. I already have almost three thousand words for 2001, and I’ve only done three entries. (Maybe that explains why I’m having so much trouble with my fiction projects. Oh well.)
Five years. That’s a good chunk of time. A sizeable portion of my life. An eternity on the web. But the internet predates the web, and much of its past is still alive. (Heck, Sfstory is thirteen years old in February, and it’s still somewhat alive.)
But at the same time, five years is very little. Consider the The Long Now Foundation, home of the Clock of the Long Now (which sounds like the title of a Gene Wolfe novel) and various archiving projects intended to preserve information for millennia. That may seem silly, but the mindset is valuable. The internet may have spawned a sense of time where five years ago is the ancient past, but civilizations are still measured in centuries. Your magnetic disks and CD-ROMs from today will be unreadable in two decades or less, and even if your archiving system keeps refreshing the media, will you still be able to read the files? Even ASCII isn’t forever.