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Browsing like it’s 1999.
For most, the days of dial-up Internet access are long gone. Now that we’ve clawed our way past the era of AOL Internet CDs and photos loading pixel by pixel, we can look back at them with fondness. Enter oldweb.today, the Web’s newest nostalgia-inducing time machine.
Developed by Ilya Kreymer and Dragan Espenschied for the non-profit new media art foundation Rhizome.org, oldweb.today acts as an emulator for the Internet of old. Instead of simply archiving web pages and freezing them in time to be revisited, the project instead focuses on recreating the experience of going to those sites for the very first time.
“Those [archived] web pages were created for a certain environment which was mostly defined by the browsers users had at a certain time. We wanted to put emulation of legacy systems and together to re-stage the old material in a way that it is better understandable,” Dragan Espenschied explained to the Daily Dot.
To make it work, Espenschied, the leader of the digital preservation program at Rhizome, and Kreymer created simulated version of legacy browsers that have gone the way of the digital dodo. From Netscape Navigator to long-outdated versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, oldweb.today creates the closest approximation of the programs we all once counted on to take us around the web.
The old browsers run on-demand from an Amazon Cloud infrastructure. This is a necessity for the creators, as they’re paying for the bandwidth to access it. Espenschied described the system as “Skyping with an old computer,” allowing users to can see the screen of that machine and send commands to it.
The limited access also adds to the old school charm of the service; there’s a wait time to get onto the service and once you’re on, there’s a countdown until your session expires. It’s a race against time, like trying to finish up a chat session before your parents kicked you off the computer because they need the phone line back.
To create the most accurate recreation of the web as possible, Rhizome’s team built oldweb.today to tap into a variety of archiving services. The program queries archiving services like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, web archives from Stanford and Library of Congress, and others to piece together the most complete version possible of a desired web page.
We may have long abandoned the version of the Web that oldweb.today taps into, but Espenschied believes there’s plenty of value to be excavated from the ruins. He described digital culture as being ahistorical, making it difficult to place the past in context to see where the trends of today originated from. The aim of oldweb.today is to change that by “showing the rich and diverse history of the web, all its weirdness and beauty.”
“The web is presented to users of today as the perpetual new. The same things and activities are constantly re-packaged and re-designed, and there is not even time to reflect on this or compare something new with something old, since it is blasted out of view so quickly,” Espenschied explained. “To be able to see classic services, amateur sites and art is required for the discourse around digital culture to improve and to be able to reflect on what is going on more profoundly.”
If you feel like taking a trip down memory lane to see the Internet as it once was, oldweb.today is the most realistic reimagining that you’ll come across. The frustration of waiting for your site to load might cause flashbacks that will make you hear the static, beeping cry of a modem ringing in your ear, but it’s worth it to see the old iterations of your favorite sites on the web—and what was being talked about back in the day.
H/T Rhizome | Screencap via Oldweb.today
AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.