So it’s 1997 and you want to create a website
You have several options. How long will they take?
Option 1: Learn on your own…
At the very beginning, the web was based on several technologies. In 1997, there were quite a few technical documents, but to create websites, you had to learn quite a bit.
Perhaps the best option is to start your search at your local bookstore or library. The web was something outlandish then, and digital publishing was far from ideal. Much of the information about the early Internet was distributed through a growing number of books for beginners.
Bebo White began his Internet career at the Stanford SLAC Lab, where he helped build the first website in the US. He joined WWW Wizards at Stanford, a volunteer organization that helps developers through message boards and emails.
White also wrote one of the first books on the theory and practice of creating web pages. In 1996, his work “HTML and the Art of Authoring for the World Wide Web” was published. It was not short, but comprehensive – an excellent guide to learning the basics.
But by 1997, other options emerged—around the same time, Designing for the Web by Jennifer Robbin, Designing Web Graphics by Linda Weinman, and HTML for the World Wide Web by Elizabeth Castro were published. They have technical and practical tips for beginners and detailed guides to creating graphics for websites. Buying any of these copies would put you on the right track.
But the most consistent and prolific publisher was Laura Lemay. Her first introduction to the web was in Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week. The tutorial is written to the point, in simple language, and as a gift there is also a CD with code examples. The manual almost instantly gained popularity among a relatively small number of novice web specialists.
Lemay continued her work, releasing book after book with variations on the same theme. Her publications include “Learn a web technology. Fast.”, “Teach Yourself Java in 21 Days”, “Teach Yourself More Web Publishing With HTML in a Week” and many more.
Lemay’s books blurred the lines between digital and print, but were rarely finished at the time of publication. The author constantly updated the content as the web evolved and offered corrections right on her site.
Lemay’s long series of tutorials, updated editions, and fresh perspectives have become the basics for web enthusiasts. Try and you dive into the basics, and the training will go as it should.
Another option was to search for information on the net. For someone who uses the Internet in 1997, the book may seem a little… the last century. If you already know the basics of the web, why not take a look at some helpful sites.
The developers of the Wired website came up with a project of the same name and launched webmonkey in 1996. WM became one of the first major projects aimed at web designers and programmers. Over time, the site built a roster of experts and they freely shared tips, tricks, and best practices. The Web Monkeys (as they called themselves) were proud of their approach to business.
CNET decided to keep up and launched the website in 1997 builder.com. It was created by Charity Kahn, Dan Schafer, Frederic Pohl and other notables in the nascent field of web design and development. These sites covered a large amount of information and contained many useful tips.
But you want more – something dynamic, elegant and cutting-edge. To do this, you would have to go a level deeper into the Internet. Where amateur teachers and active web developers live, posting textbooks on their personal sites. Good examples of projects are Glen Davis’ Project Cool, Dori Smith’s Backup Brain, and Nick Heinl’s Webcoder. It could be any of the many smaller sites, with great code examples and tips.
So: if you would like to create your site yourself, then learning this technology would require dedication and time, but it is quite doable.
Option 2: Ask for help…
Let’s face it, the web is hard. If you don’t have the time or resources to understand a topic, it’s best to trust the experts.
Maybe you need a simple homepage, a family-meeting newsletter, or a tribute to a pop icon—a few pages, a couple of pictures, and that’s it. In this case, there are plenty of free template options in the public domain if you know where to look. Website Geocities was launched in 1995, and was very popular in its environment, but they were breathed into the back of the head by Tripod and Angelfire. Their offer was quite simple: 15MB and a domain, plus basic tools to get started. The rest is up to you.
In some cases, searches ended with an ISP. Companies like AOL, Netcom, and CompuServe added free web pages to their service packages. They tended to be more powerful and customizable than the average free homepages – a good solution for small businesses when it comes to attracting shoppers online.
Many had integrations with more sophisticated tools such as Microsoft Frontpage. Building websites has become much easier with drag-and-drop builders, even though it cost a pretty penny. So, if you would like to be up a notch in complexity, contacting an ISP is the way to go.
But there is one catch. Some small companies have taken advantage of the rapid growth of the internet, offering generous website building packages, only to collapse within a few months. One day you could have a perfectly functioning site, and tomorrow an error message would appear in its place. But without a regular backup, it is impossible to return content or data. So choose with care.
Another option is to contact a number of freelancers and server admins to provide users with a decent product.
The very origins of web design originated from print and graphic design. As a result, designers often approached designing a website the same way they would design a magazine page or brochure. So when Linda Weinman published her first book, it was all about graphics. Turning a design into a full-fledged web document required some experience, but there should be a lot of people willing to help.
… to agencies
This was not commonplace by 1997, but it was expected that businesses would have at least some presence on the Web, because it provided great opportunities for development. For example, brick and mortar stores operating in small local markets could become famous all over the world overnight.
To fill this gap, some digital agencies have started to help build websites. This was done using frameworks and processes mostly borrowed from the advertising industry.
For those who fell into the small business category, there was an entire networking for amateur web practitioners. They have spent enough time exploring the internet to effectively create websites for small and medium businesses. Most of the pages are the result of personal experiments that individual designers and developers have made it their business.
David Dennis, for example, documented the strange things he found online on his main site. On one of the pages – “The Amazing Creations of the Internet” – he offered his services to clients who want to turn the web game upside down. It was Dennis who created several sites in the early days of the internet.
But you still need to be careful with the choice of agency. By 1997, there were already large “digital media” agencies, such as Razorfish, Agency.com and Organicwhich have begun to gain momentum. They offered more than just a website. In their lofty promotional materials, they offered almost a digital revolution for companies, a wide spread on the Internet that would prepare you for the next millennium. But be careful – the price tag they have is as big as the promises. Running a website would cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
If you wanted a website in 1997, you’d have plenty of ways to make one. But don’t worry, in a couple of years you’d still have to make a new one!