There is nothing quite like facing a year-by-year, moment-to-moment mirror of who you used to be and what you used to stand for and how you chose to release your aesthetic on the world.

The Interet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a living testimony to the mist of your past and with its bony, pointed finger you are shown What Used To Be and how Ye Shall Discovereth The Truth of Who Ye Are and the horrors of where you’ve been.

Okay, maybe I’m being melodramatic, but if you’ve had a website domain for any amount of time you can travel back in living history via the Wayback Machine and see what you did and maybe even wonder what were you thinking.

Some of the archived domain pages on the Wayback Machine don’t load and sometimes text characters and images are unavailable. The archive still creates an amazing snapshot in time.

November 27, 1996

Let’s start our journey back with my Boles.com website as our exemplar while we “stroll through the years” of my design for that site. Since Boles.com is my main site I have always wanted it to be clean and really fast. I never cared about animation or Flash or any other goo-gahs to make a site jump and sparkle.

“Internet Insider” became “GO INSIDE Magazine” and “Boles: The Mag” was also folded into GO INSIDE Mag. I liked the text link for my “Resume” because it took you to a text page while everyone else at that time was posting Resumes-As-Images. You clicked on the metered stamp to send me email.

I had a sponsored hosting deal with Earthlink and their web servers were quick and super-well connected to the world, which, at that time, was incredibly unique and expensive.

Boles Wayback Machine!

January 30, 1998 Next I decided to abandon my favorite white background for a blue image. I also “internetted” my signature in a messy way so it couldn’t be used as my “real” signature. I was trying to brand my domain with my name.

I had/have sloppy handwriting so that “Signature-As-Brand Signature” lasted less than three weeks because no one could read what I wrote. A good friend asked me, “Why did you draw a mountain at the top of your page?” When I told him that was my “Internet Sig” he just stared at me without hiding his pity.

I created that signature on a Wacom tablet and saved the “signature” as an image and then coded it into my HTML file. I then chose to text link my pages instead of image-linking them because, at that time, people were still using animated GIFs and other silly singsong things that brayed for attention.

I wanted that site to be read on any browser be it Internet Explorer, Mosaic or Netscape. I wasn’t interested in whiz. I only wanted bang. My sponsored hosting deal with Earthlink expired and I moved over to SimpleNet for my next sponsored hosting relationship.

Boles Wayback Machine!

June 17, 2000This is my “White Album” design period. I love a white background. I love text. I’m not big on images yet. I like the plainspoken and the simple-clean.

You can’t argue with a white background on the web as a design choice because our minds are hard-coded to learn hardcopy things on a page with a white background.

Boles Wayback Machine!

September 26, 2002 Now I enter my “White Typewriter” period. There are some images here that are missing from the archive page but you can get a pretty clear idea of the aesthetic I was trying to promote. I decided to rebel a bit here by creating a “text” site with “typewriter font images” so you’d wait for the images to load to find a page that turned out to be typewritten.

I bought a bunch of old typewriter fonts and I called this design my “Retro Web” because people were using movies and flashing things that made sounds and begged for you attention and I thought it was funny to wait for the page to load only to have “text images” replacing plain text. I use some of those fonts today. The font for the “Boxes” link is the original “Urban Semiotic” logo you used to see around here an on my advertising banners.

Boles Wayback Machine!

May 2, 2003

Here is the first appearance of “Me as Mr. Green.” I love that image. It used to be my Avatar here before I created my AdVatar.

Using the huge Mr. Green image encouraged me to change my hotlinks to green.

Boles Wayback Machine!

April 12, 2004

I wish all the images loaded for this archived page but I guess they were not saved. This design was my first movement away from all text to the opposite: All Iconic. This was the first rumbling of a Semiotic Aesthetic. There were no text links on that page. I had only images loading.

The text you see on the archived page are the ALT tags for the images and I’m glad I wrote them because they at least tell you now, years later, what images were marked for loading there. I decided to make my iconic Boles.com Entrepôt into Boles University so the plain and simple Mr. Clean Green look could return to Boles.com.

I added some text description to the Boles University brand icons for my sites because, I discovered, Google likes pages with text on them and not just images or hotlinks. Adding a bit of descriptive text to the iconic logos helped get a better index match and search return procedure on all the Search Engines. Remember:

Text, Not Design, Rules The Web!

Boles Wayback Machine!

February 13, 2005

Here is my “Image Cross” design. I like the use of pinwheel text links rotating around Mr. Green. Starting this Urban Semiotic blog starring Mr. Green is the only thing that removed the me there to the me here.

Boles Wayback Machine!

Today – September 13, 2006

This is Boles.com today as viewed from any web browser. The pinwheel links are still there with some descriptive text added — remember, Google loves text and not just links and images! — and I even used the “text as image” design idea from years ago to brand my name as a brand name.

Just last week I inserted the giant and generally obnoxious “Boles Stuff” logo just because I liked the color and how it turned out design-wise and how it gives a little bit of a visual punch to what can quickly pass for a too-plain page to younger eyes. The other images on the page are secrets to my INTJ personality type.

If you know the personality, you understand the Semiotic Memes. I also retired my sponsored web hosting deals because I learned if you pay your own way you may go your own way and not worry about shilling
— either silently or publicly or iconically — for any company that is doing you a favor.

There’s no such thing as a free ride and that kind of sponsored shilling loses you favor in the marketplace of unfettered ideas.

Boles Wayback Machine!

November 2, 1996 The Wayback Machine is addictive. I decided to check out a few of my other, older, domains to see how they held up in the machine of timed archives. That want led me to one domain I “let go” years ago.

I didn’t think I needed that domain any longer but it was a fine domain name, it had resonance within me and beyond me, but I thought Boles.com would fulfill all my needs. It is difficult to use the Wayback Machine and find this silly page I created Way Back in 1996 celebrating Janna’s Pepsi Collection and realize the rest of the site pages are lost to the ether.

The entire domain was a send-up of the current web design back then where buttonized images were big along with blinking text and lots of huge images and logos and scrolling things in boxes that you would load several times on the same page to give unity and unison-in-action to your pages. I love that punky picture of Janna acting tough back in Iowa before she learned the real meaning of tough on the Mean Streets of New York City.

It is painful to page through the archive and see how my domain changed hands over the years and withered and was ruined by ugly design attempts and how now it’s basically dead and gone… but still taken. If you want to feel the sting of a decision made in haste, reserve a seat in the Wayback Machine, and don’t blame me when you yelp with yearning.

Boles Wayback Machine!

April 3, 1997

Here is one of the many archived Wayback Machine homepages for GO INSIDE Magazine from 1997! You will immediately notice not one thing has changed in the design since its inception on the web. Not. One. Thing.

I wanted that magazine to be nimble and to load quickly. I used the brand-new Tahoma font as our base font when everyone else was still using Times Roman. I wanted the design to be easy for new writers to master and I wanted the site easy to edit on-the-go. I have had many people offer to re-make the site for me over the years.

I have always declined. I like the cleanliness of the magazine’s look and feel. I have time and millions of readers on my side as a continued and successful proof-of-concept. There is great comfort in maintaining predictability in a philosophy of work, publishing and design.

Boles Wayback Machine!

April 1, 1992

Finally, here’s a quick look back at one of the many homepages for The United Stage from the Wayback archives. The site used to be called “The United Stage of America” because I liked the play on “United Stage of America” and “United States of America.”

I realized on the web you are more international than you are local, so I shortened the name to just “United Stage.” That is a better match all around because it twins the domain name.

I wanted to preserve the red, white and blue design inspiration in the “text as image” links and that design philosophy continues to this day on UnitedStage.com — but with some updated graphics and a keener logo.

Boles Wayback Machine!

I think all of these website designs are interrelated on the levels of spirit and gumption. They all speak in the same aesthetic voice. I couldn’t find any sort of bummer design in the Wayback Archives though many of the archive pages would not load for me and instead returned a database error.

I am pleased I now have a third party source that will vouch for me when I can no longer speak; with its bony, pointed finger emerging from the mist, the Internet Archives will reach out and forever confirm: “He was here then.”

21 Comments

  1. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the fine comment! It is a strange experience to wander back a decade to be reminded who you were and what you were thinking.
    It’s stranger and less familiar than a scrapbook because the archiving is done invisibly and without warning by a third party.
    Janna is still a lot of fun and she’s still kind even though she’s tougher and wiser.

  2. What a fascinating insight into you and your journey on the web.
    I am suprised by a couple of things ……..
    You did memes?
    It took you so long to find the “web archive tool” (or maybe you had to wait for the right time to use it! ).
    It is stange to look back – and like you I tend to use it as a yardstick for how far I have travelled – and how far I have to travel.

  3. Hi Nicola —
    I am using “meme” in the biological sense:

    an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.

    and not the terrible blogging sense:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/04/27/why-i-skip-thursdays/
    I’ve never been interested in looking back at what was. Only the future of the now holds interest for me.
    Then I read an article the other day about Archive.org and their e-books and how they are concerned with Google’s attempt to monetize books in the public domain.
    I found the Wayback Machine on their site. I’d heard about it many times but never took the time to see how it worked.
    The archive didn’t work reliably for me, but the few glimpses into what used to be from a disinterested recorder of history proved an interesting way to think about the how the past and its signals shape you over time.

  4. I am sure I spotted the “What element are you?” meme in the archive , which is why I commented!
    I have been back to re- read that post on why-i-skip-thursdays ……. I think I caught it first time around when I lurked in the shadows.
    There are now memes for every day of the week. Thursday is a particularly bad day.
    I do like that snapshot in time – if only to see how much better my website is now !
    And “Boles Stuff” is AWESOME!

  5. Hi Nicola —
    The “Ice Element” thing was related to all the INTJ stuff I posted. I guess those are memes but they pre-date the overwash of “I’m Making A List of Things Today Based On Someone Else’s Idea” blog entries that now more commonly define the bland “meme industry.”
    The people who participate in those “Group Think” memes are not really serving their talent. Those lists are evidence of intellectual boredom and an emptiness of creativity. I think it’s better to post nothing than to post nothing in list form.
    Yes! We hope to learn from the past! The very first page design I discuss in the article demonstrates images. Those images were huge in file size and took a long time to load at 56k. There wasn’t DSL yet and you couldn’t reliably compress files without losing a lot of important data. Highly compressed images for the web back then looked chalky and blurry. That page took forever to load and that is what pushed me to not using a background and to not use a lot of images: Let hyperlinks feed the click instead of the pretty.
    Thanks for the “Boles Stuff” feedback! If not for you I wouldn’t have really noticed its possibilities or impending significance!

  6. Hi David,
    I like looking back in time.
    I almost wish that I had put up a webpage or two during the early days of the internet so that I could have made a mark on the electronic frontier in its early days.
    I remember dialing into a BBS run by a shadowy fellow student in my high school back when I first bought a modem.
    When I went to undergrad, the world became available via our VAX system. When I graduated from IU, I subscribed to Delphi for a year until I went back to school. Their system was basically run from VAX during that time.
    I didn’t do anything permanent during my youth, except make some comments in the university’s internal forums and newsgroups for various groups and topics.
    I tried to make a webpage in 1995 — but it was deleted before I could do anything interesting.
    It seems the school’s sys-op wasn’t authorized to give out accounts to people not enrolled in certain programs. I had asked and had received, then had the account revoked. Later on, we obtained access to the “WWW” using the early versions of Netscape — it opened up a new world of information that had been hidden in dusty corners of library microfiche rooms hidden in dungeon-like basements.
    I remember spending hours and hours on IRC — chatting with co-eds across campus — when I should have been studying.
    Unlike today where chatting online could expose one to crazy predators and pervs scratching at the screen door, it was fun to chat with someone, then meet up for lunch the next day at the student union.
    It’s great that you can look back to see what you did back in the early days.
    Like anything, it’s always tough to see how you’ve grown and matured, but it’s also fun.

  7. Hi Chris!
    I love you history of pre-WWW technology! In many ways we were all pioneers much in the same way the “horse and buggy crowd” were awed and humbled by the steam engine and the automobile. We were witnesses to history and the world will never be the same again.
    Unless the world blows up we won’t have another generation that isn’t born into a high-speed wireless world. What an amazing thing to know virtual people from around the world because of the blessings of technology.
    I wonder if the ISP-hosted pages from, say, Mindspring and DeltaNet and Bell Atlantic and SpryNet were saved in the Wayback archive? I had personal sites on all of them but I cannot remember the URLs to check the archive!

  8. The reason I recognised the meme as such was because I have done it too – on my stagnant Live journal. One of the reasons for that stagnation was the proliferation of such space fillers.
    Purple is important when you work with elementals – you have red for fire, green for earth, blue for water, white for air and PURPLE for the spirit – or the whole. It is also of course the *royal* colour – chuckles ………. 😉

  9. I haven’t checked the Wayback Machine for anything from Delphi.
    When I was using it, it was a text based system — pretty much like the system I was used to using at Indiana University.
    Delphi was a pioneer in allowing people to directly connect to the Internet.
    That’s why I signed up, instead of going with AOL or some other service. I was addicted to IRC and wanted to be able to chat.
    From Wikipedia:

    Delphi was an early U.S. Internet service provider that started as a nationwide dialup service in 1983, and in 1992 became the first national commercial service to offer access to the Internet.
    Delphi, like ISPs GEnie and CompuServe, was never able to cope with the switch to graphic interface adopted by AOL, which swept past it in the late 1980s. It exists today only as Delphi Forums with access through the Internet. …
    Delphi provided national consumer access to the internet in 1992 Features included Email (July 1992), FTP, Telnet, Usenet, text-based web access (November 1992), MUDs, Finger protocol, Gopher protocol.
    In 1993 Delphi was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. It had 125,000 text based customers in 1995, but by 1996 was down to less than 5,000 by some accounts, 50,000 by others.

    I signed up in 1992 when I graduated from IU and lost internet access and bailed out in 1993 when I started VU and regained university internet access.
    I remember using the “WWW” when I was a temp working at IU after graduation and connecting to CERN’s hypertext links using the primative Lynx text browser. I thought the system was dead and gone, but I see there’s a Lynx plug-in for Firefox available.

  10. Hi Nicola,
    I used to use IRC when I was in school, but stopped in the late ’90s after graduating from school and switching to AOL (ugh) because I couldn’t find the servers with all of the college people I was used to chatting with on IRC.
    It was too weird going someplace and not being able to become an “op” and have people know you, etc.
    I used AOL’s internal chat for a while and Yahoo, but I haven’t chatted online using any of those services for a couple of years.
    I’m somewhat sad about Yahoo chat because I’m not sure if there are any living people there anymore — it’s completely spammed with bots.

  11. Hi Chris!
    I remember Delphi well. I didn’t use it but a lot of my friends did. It was so hard to get online way back then because it cost you a per-minute fee on services like CompuServe.
    A lot of the WordPress programmers live on IRC. They do tech support and Bug Hunt and just chat with each other all day and all night. It’s like a lounge that never closes and I guess IRC is better than a web-based forum for speed and platform neutrality.

  12. Hi Nicola,
    I never answered regarding usenet. I “lurked” in usenet. It was a great place to get information about all sorts of topics.
    Hi David,
    If I would have been able to find a community of like-minded folks, I probably would have gotten into IRC after graduating. Around that same time, I got married and we had our first kid, so chat time was limited and discouraged.
    Blogging is nice because it is asynchronous. I can work, check in, do something else for work, check in, and not have to mind the screen the whole time. Chat demands too much attention, unfortunately.