I was so much younger then…

screenshot of Writer's World from 1999 After I got my new hard drive, I set about doing some things that I had put off for a while, such as organizing my images (strewn across 4 hard drives, 7 partitions and countless different folders), and culling the vast number of ‘backup disks’ that had accumulated over time.  Some were interesting “Wow, my old college lab reports”) – and some were destined to be trashed (“Hmmm, a Photoshop 5 LE disc.  That’s old – and in the way”).  But one thing that I discovered (multiple copies of) was the first website that I ever designed – and I use that term loosely – and ran, way back in 1995.

Yep, that was when I first learned how to program for the web, learning HTML 3 (soon after, HTML 4), and using advanced tools like HTMLDog, Microsoft Image Creator and Frontpage 3 – and liked it.  It was the salad days of web design – you were designing for competing browsers, which had different standards, and fighting to ensure that all of the newest technologies worked with those browsers and the web in general.  Of course, then it was newcomer Internet Explorer vs. giant Netscape, and the ‘new technologies’ were things like JavaScript 1.0, CGI scripts and that new .jpg format thing (ask Van about that one sometime).

What was Writer’s World?

Writer’s World was an attempt by my buddy Mike E. and I to take over the world of writing and writing help on the web.  It was a noble attempt – we put up articles, offered links to others, accepted short story and article submissions, and more.  We were ahead of our time – but also very much out of our minds.  It was a lot of work to run a website back then, particularly one that you offered a subscription to.  Taking payments was a very manual process and I think it probably cost us more to take them than we were charging (okay, maybe it just seemed that way).  And it was a LOT of work to write all of the articles we were coming up with on a monthly basis.  Sure, we got some help at the end, but we were trying to do it mostly ourselves on top of working real jobs that were bringing in the money.  So, it was a noble effort, as I said, but one that was struggling before I came back east.  After that, it was pretty much doomed – the internet was in no way the quick communicator it was then, and trying to send large files back and forth was a nightmare.

Admire that (lack of) Design

Look closely at this prime example of 1999 programming (especially using FrontPage – although I think it was increasing frustration with this site that started me hand-coding nearly everything). The elegant use of tables (AND borders), the exquisite combination of ridiculous font colors (with their associated <font> tags), and that wonderful use of images to create a multitude of banner-like calls-to-action throughout the site. Marvel at the overwhelming use of banners at the base of the page – one of the hallmarks of 1999 programming, including all of those awards for being such a cool site at the time — never mind that we were probably 1 of 1,307 sites on the web of more than one, long scrolling page.

But all was not bad design. There were some nice features on the site (which I hope to resurrect, if for nothing else but it’s amusement value) – we had some pretty nice biographies (Samuel Beckett here, Philip K. Dick and Edgar Allen Poe other months), and if you notice, you’ll see a link for an interview with Hard Sci-Fi master Greg Bear. We also had a feature – “Interview from the Grave” – which was our take of an interview from a long-dead author brought to the modern day. Okay, Richard Pryor we were not, but we thought it amusing at the time.

Still, I have fond memories of it – writing, editing, learning how to do HTML and work with the new image software (instead of pen, pencil and paper). Looking back, those tools were … well, they weren’t very good, as the backlash on Frontpage would later reveal. But it was an eye-opening experience, and one that started me on the long and winding path to where I am today.


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