What Came Before Social Media?

(or, Social Media circa 1994)

(or, Happy 20th Birthday, My Home Page!)

Thanks to the rigorous use of backups, I’ve just noticed that it is the twentieth anniversary of my personal home page. In the spirit of commemoration, I’ve uploaded the original version (c. 1994). For reasons I don’t remember now, I named it “booger.html.” A screenshot:

booger.html screenshot

I stumbled upon this file while looking through my backups for something else. I also found all kinds of other interesting stuff. For example, I found my personal list of “hotlinks” (as we called them then).

It’s very hard to reconstruct what the Web was like then. The Internet Archive had not begun operation yet. All of my old links to things are now dead, but it’s still interesting to try to remember how we were social with computers. Yes, there were “social media.” I’ll explain:

  • Apparently I was in a Webring.
  • I found my PGP Public Key. (No idea where the private key is.) I made my PGP public key available so people could send me a PGP encrypted message at any time. However, in ten years no one ever sent me a PGP encrypted message. But I was ready. (Take that NSA.) As long as I could find my PGP private key and remember the password from ten years ago, that is.
  • My preferred search engine was Web Crawler.
  • Later in the year I was very excited about Hot Wired, the first commercial magazine on the Web (an online version of Wired Magazine). It had its own URL then, which still works: http://www.hotwired.com  Everything was prefaced with “hot” back then. That is a hotlink to HotWired.
  • I spent a lot of time doing ytalk with my friends. Screenshot (found on the Internet — not mine):


  • I exhorted people to look me up on whois and to “finger me.” I regularly updated my .plan and .project files, which were status updates. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg basically ripped off the finger protocol from 1971, then added a facility to help Harvard men look at Harvard women (the “Facebook”) and “poke” them. Great job. Here’s an example finger query (not mine, found on the Web):

finger protocol

A lot of being on the Web in 1994 seems to be about just being on the Web at all. For instance:

  • I used the HotDog Web Editor for my HTML. Apparently because the logo was so cool. (I don’t think I used it for my first Web page — booger.html though because the HTML is terrible.)


  • I appear to have been on an obsessive search for new “icons.” I bookmarked a bunch of icon sharing sites, all now defunct.
  • I was very interested in how to interlace GIFs.
  • Does anyone else remember Carlos’s Forms Tutorial at NCSA? I spent a huge amount of time there and looking at the CGI documentation on a server named hoohoo (the link is a capture from 1996). I spent so much time on it that I memorized the URL, and we didn’t believe in short URLs then. UIUC loomed large in my imagination purely because of its Web stuff. Little did I know I would go on to work there and genuflect at the monument to the Web Browser every single day.

The ephemera above remind me that the Web was so exciting that a friend went to the DMV and got the California personalized license plate “IDOWWW“. I thought this might be the coolest thing anyone had ever done. In fact, I still think it is.

It’s hard to believe twenty years have passed since booger.html. I want to keep the nostalgia going. Does anyone else remember anything about social media in 1994?

11 thoughts on “What Came Before Social Media?

  1. I remember the anticipation I felt when I first downloaded Mosaic and my disappointment when it didn’t install successfully. Then later, my satisfaction and amazement when Netscape installed seamlessly. Even after getting on the Web I continued to spend a lot of time on listservs and email and negotiating the proper etiquette for navigating those respective spaces. We worry a lot about trolling these days. But back then the worry was about flame wars. Those wars, while cantankerous, in many ways were much more social then the types of online interactions I have these days. Which suggests that there’s something a little misleading in the term “social media.” Social media has existed for a very long time and it predates the internet. And while we like to say that so called 21st Century social media is more social than the media of the 20th century that’s a debatable proposition. There are plenty of instances where modern social media isn’t social and where the so called broadcast media of the 20th century was actually quite social. Maybe nothing came before social media because social media has always been with us.

  2. Al

    In 1994 a group of students at my high school were doing ‘AP English’ after school. We had no such class during school hours so this was a kind of afternoon nerdclub where we read books and talked about them. One day the ‘AP English’ crew were driven over to the vice-principal’s house to see the future of scholarship. In his front room was a computer with a Mosaic browser, and we looked at some web pages (maybe yours!).

    Later that year we got a computer at home that connected to Compuserve and I tried to find interesting things in the forums. Once I got to university I used ‘finger’ to stalk exes, and ‘gopher’ to find their email addresses.

  3. For me social media was in the form of newsgroups such as alt.music.rock etc etc! That’s where we all got together on the net. Happy days.

  4. Christian Sandvig

    OK my query for 1994 Web pages is harder than I thought. Someone emailed me and pointed out that according to Matthew Gray’s Internet statistics, in mid-1994 there were only 2738 Web sites in existence in the world. If you had a Web site then you were 0.03% of the entire Web!

  5. Pingback: What Came Before Social Media? | Social Media Collective – Anthony Trimble

  6. In 1994 I made one of the first magazine websites in the UK and started a Yahoo-like “Best of British” website (because I could). When shortly thereafter I left my job, they wouldn’t let me keep it and they didn’t keep it going themselves. If they had, it might have ended up being worth more than the entire publishing company!

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