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The good old days of the Internet - Gerry Yandel

I first started dabbling with HTML back in 1995, after I got my first computer for Christmas.

I had been reading about the "information super-highway" for a few months in 1994, and I was taken by the mind-boggling possibilities of such a thing from the minute I first heard about weird-sounding things such as on-ramps, gophering, Veronica, IRC, Usenet and the World Wide Web.

I bought one of the first Pentiums to hit the market, a 60-mhz tower made by Canon that came with Windows 3.1 on it, and, for the next several weeks, I was like a kid having Christmas every day as I spent hours in front of the box, connected by a phone line into all the computers on the Internet.

My wife and I discovered the Compuserve chat rooms almost immediately, and this was certainly the most revolutionary thing we had ever encountered in communication. I recall surly conversations as we bickered over whose turn it was to log-on, like couples fight over the TV remote.

I recall the day that our provider, a company called Ping, just went belly-up one afternoon without any warning. They had been offering unlimited connection time for a flat monthly fee, and we had already gotten the sticker-shock of finding out how much our chatting fetish was costing at Compuserve's pay-by-the-hour charges.

"Were you messing with the computer and the modem again?" my wife asked when she called me at work the day Ping died and she couldn't connect. During the next 24 hours we went through connection withdrawal as we tried to discern what happened. It was an edgy and tense time.

Back then, HTML - which stands for something that isn't important here - was very limited and easy to learn. I played around with Netscape 1.0, which used to have the market share Internet Explorer now has. I remember the big day when one of my friends, who was also HTML-obsessed, told me Netscape had released a new version that allowed Web designers to add color and images to the background of a Web page.

Up to that point, we were limited to different type sizes, the occasional clip-art or picture of the dog and that annoying "blink" command, which has, thankfully, gone far away. The fun, of course, was in the links... coding in the HTML that would make the page in the window change to something else, and which would send someone out into the limitless and vast network of servers around the world.

In those days, the Internet, and people's Web pages, too, seemed to be more directed toward sending visitors careening out into the World Wide Web to see what they could see. Random links generators were fun programs to put on pages, and one of the more popular sites at the time was the "Cool Site of the Day," which became the de rigueur way to begin one's daily Web-surfing routine.

One of the other innovations to hit Web design shortly after the color background was the advent of animated GIFs, one of the image formats that worked in Web pages. Someone had written a program that allowed a designer to layer several pictures into one file, which allowed us to create moving images, much like a flip-book movie. I was working with a bunch of graphic designers who had shown me the intricacies of Photoshop in exchange for my showing them the intricacies of HTML, and one of my better efforts at animated GIFs was a baseball going across a page. I created a curve ball, a fastball and a sinker, and I was so proud of how I had the stitches of the baseball spinning.

Of course, these days GIF images have given way to elaborate and incredible animations done with Java or Flash or any other multitude of software that puts Hollywood-level graphics in the hands of anyone who wants to learn it.

Of course, the World Wide Web, too, has grown way beyond those simple days, when people put things online just for the fun of doing it.

Recently, I sold out my interest in a Web site a I helped create about eight years ago: Cooking Contest Central (recipecontests.com). It was one of those brainstorm ideas that come out of more than a decade of smoke-breaks between a couple of friends. I did the Web design and my partner compiled the content, which was simply a list of currently running cooking contests.

I remember our delight after we were able to show anyone with online access the first crude couple of pages I threw together. In those days it was simple to get listed in Yahoo, which was considered the premier index to the Web, and we were astounded when we had 50 people a day visiting our site within a couple weeks of our listing appearing.

Over time, of course, the site grew and changed a great deal. We added a "Forum" allowing people to post messages, and suddenly people who regularly enter cooking contests found out about each other, creating a unique and wonderful community online.

To me, that was always the most amazing thing about our Web site. Some of the people who met each other through Cooking Contest Central's message board, and who likely would not have met otherwise, have become close and dear friends with each other.

Looking at some of the garbage online today, it just proves that newer is not necessarily always better.

Gerry Yandel is the city editor for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or gyandel@henryherald.com .