I recently watched the 1999 documentary film Home Page, which looked at the personal homepage scene of the late 90s.
It took me back, man. Because I was right in there, doing all that stuff too. Just well away from the on-fire Silicon Valley scene.
Justin Hall, the focus of the documentary, was an inspiration for my website back then. He was the person who was doing it really well. His website was alive with a mad energy and he wanted everyone else to drink the Kool-Aid and get on board with this personal webpage experience.
And it was fun! There were so many other interesting personal webpages out there.
Because this was a time before Google and web search wasn’t always helpful, the best way to find other webpages was through links — essentially friends of friends. It meant there was kind of a scene, interesting people writing about interesting things on their webpages.
That in itself feels like such an ancient artefact now. Back then, people wrote and wrote and wrote on their webpages. Daily! Even multiple times a day.
I wrote about the shitty customers who used to ring up the helpdesk at work and didn’t have to worry about my boss reading it or those customers reading it because how would they have even found it?
The decline of personal webpages didn’t happen overnight. Ten years ago, I had a discussion at a Wellington web event, wondering if personal webpages were dying.
It’s death by a thousand cuts. Google makes it easier for everyone to find pages, so bloggers realise they can’t say everything about everyone (something Justin Hall later had to deal with). If people write about highly personal stuff, it’s in a more private place – a little twitter, a finsta, or a locked-down Facebook post.
More people get online and open blogs and it starts getting crowded. Social media came along and provided outlets for individual expression. Why go to the effort of writing a 300-word post when you can get your point across in a little tweet that’ll be seen by more people?
I tried to find 90s-style personal webpages. It’s impossible to google. Doing so brings up pages with loathsome titles like “Things entrepreneurs can learn from 1990s webpage design”.
There’s still personal writing, but it’s gathered on places like Medium or is published on a commercial site, where it takes on a different feeling.
And like the past, the web of the 1990s can never be revisited. Oh sure, a lot of those pages have been archived, but the intangible experience of surfing the net can’t be archived.
And archive can’t capture the feeling of seeing that one of our favourite website writers has updated their homepage with some new writing. It can’t archive the feeling of scandal when you noticed that person A has removed a link to person B’s website from their Hot Linkz list.
The 90s web only exists as an aesthetic, part of the vaporwave style, along with Roman busts, palm trees and Windows 95 screensavers.
Feeling nostalgic for this makes me feel like a Baby Boomer in the 1980s, who won’t stop going on about classic rock ‘n’ roll from the ’50s and ’60s. Except there’s no reissued CD. The old web is barely a memory.
So do personal webpages even exist anymore really for real? Well, I still have this.
I last updated this website in 2016, writing about the first series of Stranger Things. We’re now up to the third series (which I haven’t even watched, let alone had thoughts about the soundtrack).
Sometimes it feels like the most engagement I have with this blog is via the WordPress updates screen — because there’s always something that needs to be updated.
Maybe I should update not just the plugins, but the content as well. Then maybe the entrepreneurs will learn something from me.