In 1996, the Internet Archive began archiving the web for a service called the Wayback Machine. They’ve now archived 55 billion web pages. That’s enough web pages that if you were to print them all out using your roommate’s printer while he was at class and tape them end-to-end, you could reach the moon and back 28 trillion times.
I decided to peruse the Wayback Machine’s earliest archives to see what the internet looked like in 1996, when I was 14 and evidently had much less free time than I do now. Much to my chagrin, few websites from these early years have been successfully archived, and many of the best preserved ones were created by fast food and soft drink corporations because they were some of the earliest adapters of the internet. They viewed the medium as a chance for inexpensive advertising and invested dozens upon dozens of dollars into it. The results are tremendously humiliating.
In their defense, the technology was different in 1996. Although Internet Explorer 3.0 could run Java applets and inline media, Netscape Navigator could not, and in any case nobody felt comfortable doing anything more complicated than making a few animated GIFs. Additionally, very few web designers had even the most rudimentary of aesthetic sensibilities, and nearly half of them were clinically retarded. The internet in 1996 looks like it had been created in its entirety by a panel of 13-year-olds with Geocities accounts who had about half an hour to spare each night before bedtime.
To prove my case, I took some screenshots after cordially adjusting my monitor resolution to 1024*768. I tried 1996’s recommended 800*600, but at that resolution a single word took up my entire field of vision. If you would like to visit these archived websites yourself, please click on the screenshots. In some cases you can then navigate parts of the website exactly as one would have in 1996, but do not do this. There is nothing interesting to find and you would do well to avoid prolonged exposure to this heinous baby of an internet. In fact, I can’t in good conscience even recommend you read this article.
This is the front page of McDonald’s, or as the company is more commonly known, “Your Dalmatian Location.” There’s not much of a point to this page other than to ask one very salient question: Did you know … more than 11 miles of thread holds the giant Arch Deluxe burger in place. (The web designer was unable to locate the question mark key.) No indication is given as to what a “giant Arch Deluxe burger” is, but it sounds pretty appetizing as long as you pick around all the thread. I am sort of disappointed they didn’t reveal exactly how many miles of ground-up Dalmatians were used to make this delicious treat, or ask a question I knew the answer to, such as one about how many inches of pubic hair are used to make a Big Mac sandwich (two inches).