Cliques, webrings, and blinkies
Recently I revamped my personal website, which was hard, because I’m a web developer by trade, not a web designer. Last time I did it was as a teenager making websites for fun in the early 2000s. I thought I might try to reuse some of that, as some of the trends back then (pixel art! Monospace fonts!) are now trendy again. But I found myself lost on Web Archive for hours, remembering how the internet used to be.
Webrings: Webrings were big across the internet back then, but especially among my friends and I. We had our first webring on the now defunct Expages, which was a site where anyone could make a page. We called our ring the “2000” ring. It was fairly primitive as rings go, we had to add you manually if you wanted to join and then everyone had to update the code on their page. More sophisticated rings you could join using a form and the put code on your site that updated automatically. You could then browse the members in order.
Back then this was pretty exciting because it was often how you discovered new websites.
Table-based Layouts: That’s probably how I encountered my first “layouts” which back then were very sophisticated HTML tables. Of course I got into the trend, my first ones being very tiny tables with a menu and an iframe. Making these layouts was pretty hard until CSS (cascading style sheets) got big because you had to style each and every cell and row manually. I still remember when CSS Zen Garden burst on the scene and changed how everyone made layouts.
Copy-paste code: A lot of how I learned to code was from sites where you could just copy and paste code and add it to your site. The big one I remember was of course Dynamic Drive. Most of them were hideous. But I also learned a lot because if you read the code, you could figure out what different things did and start modifying it.
Cliques: By 2001 or so, webrings were so over. It was now the era of “cliques.” Which were themed groups you’d join and then put the badge on your own site. Some of them you could join simply by having the badge.
Others were more selective and only would allow in the best-looking sites. I got rejected from my fair share of those, which was frankly a huge motivation in getting better at HTML, CSS, and Photoshop.
Pirating: But um yeah, teenage girls by and large cannot afford Photoshop, so almost all of us pirated it. Don’t tell my parents. I got my copy on Warez sites. I also really wanted to learn Illustrator because of Annia.net, one of the clique culture cool girls, who had an amazing portfolio. I was pretty terrible at it, but it’s a skill I still occasionally use.
Adoptables: These were cute pixel art gifs that you could “adopt” by just putting them on your site. Some of them were animated. I was pretty obsessed with these and even made my own.
The best site for them was the “Cutie Factory”, also a fantastic example of a iframe/table-based layout. They had hundreds of options, from owls to mood rings.
BBSs & Blinkies: Bulletin Board Systems were mostly “message boards” by 2000. I hung out a lot at an all girls one called Dodo’s MB which was built with MyBulletinBoard. We’d discuss our lives , post questions about coding, and also participate in various activities. The main one was making and trading cute pixel art avatars and blinkies. Blinkies were animated gifs used as signatures. I still have lots of files full of ones I made for people or people made for me.
Copykats: These were the main enemy of this subculture. They were other girls who copied your code into their own website or stole your pixel art. Or direct linked your images. Ones that got caught might get a bunch of nasty message in their guestbooks, which was fortunately the only kind of harassment I remember at the time.
Guestbooks: How can I forget these! It was basically primitive social media. You’d write in someone’s site guestbook if you visited and liked their site. It was pretty exciting if someone wrote in your guestbook.
Sister Sites: Sister sites were sites that linked to your site, often with a special button. I had a few, mostly blogs, and I cannot for my life remember how I acquired them. But it was significantly cool if you had a lot of them, which I did not.
Hosting: This was a big deal. You were *the coolest* if you had your own domain name, which often involved begging your parents to use their credit card. Then you could host other girls and it was considered a great honor to be hosted. If you weren’t cool there were free hosts out there, like of course Geocities, but at the time I already wanted to be able to run server-side languages for blogging, so the options were more limited. Often they’d close without warning too. I remember I had sites on Virtue.nu and Digitalrice.com.
Hating Netscape: Can you believe that was our big enemy back then? The now defunct browser made our painstakingly crafted layouts look like garbage. A lot of us had “IE only” badges or text on our splash pages. A splash page was a way to display some cool art, your clique badges, and tell people what they needed to view your site properly like frames, pop-ups, or a certain resolution.
I think during all this time, my parents thought I was wasting my time. Little did they know I’d essentially end up doing this for work. Though things have changed, both on the web development side of it, and culturally. A lot of people from the scene did end up becoming professional web developers. I was delighted to find PHP Princess still exists and that she is a web developer.
But most sites I visited now resolve to a “this domain is for sale” page. And I can’t seem to find out what happened to a lot of people. Many didn’t use their real names because they’d get in trouble with their parents if they did.
I have to say I miss a lot of the fun I had in this scene, and haven’t been able to find anything even remotely like it as an adult. Social media didn’t exist back then. It allows us to connect with more people than ever, but it also makes communities like the ones I was part of vulnerable to harassment and the toxic elements that are so deeply embedded in modern tech culture. I do think the culture is shifting back to more private subculture though, for better or worse — Slacks and Facebook groups are the closest things I have now. Now if they’d just let us use blinkies…