What are some slang terms or buzzwords of 90s era dotcom culture?
February 15, 2017 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a piece referencing 90s era dotcom culture and I didn't mix in those circles back in the day, so I'm struggling with authentic-sounding dialogue. Any kind of buzzwords at all that evoke dotcom culture, especially first wave, would be most appreciated. I don't even need to be saying something in particular, just classic buzzwords I can throw in there. I tried clicking on Askmes/posts that were about this general subject but most of the links were long-dead and/or were post-mortems.

I'm especially looking for one that is synonymous with 'synergy' or did they say synergy back then? Also looking for some marketing-speak. I don't know it well enough to do it convincingly.

Also any little details that scream 90s dotcom (I know a few things but I never worked at one) would be awesome.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis to Society & Culture (118 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you have time to do research, Wired Magazine will cover you pretty well. 2600 is a good primary source for hacker jargon. You can probably also pick up some interesting stuff from Usenet / mailing list culture. I'd look on Google Groups for alt.hackers and maybe the Cypherunks archives. Cyborganic is also a possible touchstone. Wired is the only one of those that's going to have business lingo like "synergy"; the rest are more tech sources. Back in the 90s the marketing bros hadn't arrived yet and the tech folks had no clue about business.

If you just want us free associate, I offer "k-k00l" and "krad", from IRC culture. l33t lingo for "cool" and "rad" respectively, and now fallen out of use (in my experience). I only ever saw those terms being used ironically.
posted by Nelson at 5:14 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I don't remember the specific words, but some startups proclaimed that profit didn't matter, only market share was important. (Then they ran out of money...)

An idea or product was promoted in terms of its "value proposition".

The use of capital (meaning loans) was described in terms of "burn rate."

Programming was, and still is, talked about as "enterprise solutions".
posted by SemiSalt at 5:15 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


Yes on "synergy." Also "paradigm."
posted by snowmentality at 5:15 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


I'd say the "hella" and "420" really came into the mainstream during that time. There's the whole tribal Y2K style as well.
posted by humboldt32 at 5:15 PM on February 15


My vague recollections (I worked briefly in the 90s dotcom epicenter south of market) --

- every rando who could write some html, even the most rudimentary, was all of a sudden a "web developer" and given a fancy salary. A friend of mine who had never done it before was given a budget to buy books on how to do it, and hired to do "web design," for one of the biggest banks in the country which I will not name here;

- ping pong and foosball tables in the common area

- I don't remember food brought in like there is now in fancy startups; but there were definitely red bulls and other drinks available in fridges; it was the beginning of the perkfull workplace.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:17 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I was doing public securities issuance in the 90s and one thing you might bear in mind is that the understanding of what would happen to computers on 12/31/99 wasn't just on the level of gossip or Y2K fear-mongering -- prospectuses filed with the SEC were required to include a description of what precautions were being taken with respect to computer failures in the section known as "Risk Factors." I also had the experience of having my credit card declined because the expiration date was post 1999.
posted by janey47 at 5:20 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Conceptually similar to synergy, there was great interest in "leverage" as in using database information to leverage sales in some way, due to the internet's inherent ability to create databases of information.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:22 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Read some Douglas Coupland, specifically Microserfs.
posted by cakelite at 5:24 PM on February 15 [21 favorites]


Cool guys! I got foosball, but I forgot all about paradigms and the ever-shifting paradigm thing that was always happening. And holy hell how could I have forgotten Y2K?! I set this in 97 so that's perfect.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 5:25 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


FWIW, the first Windows operating system that was fit to use in a commercial setting was Windows 3, introduced in 1990. It took a couple years after that before the CPUs got fast enough to really make it work. There is a basic difference between writing software for Windows compared writing for MS-DOS. Windows is "event driven" meaning something happens when you click on something. MS-DOS was "procedural" and mostly stuff happened when you hit the return key. As a result, a whole new round of programming tools came on the scene. The first one I used was named Power Builder.

The fact that PCs had access to a database over a network (and later the internet) enabled a huge increase in productivity.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:29 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


I think the Information Superhighway was still a thing.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 5:30 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


"surfing the web" or "net"
posted by thelonius at 5:35 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


1997 was in the middle of the era when every one had a personal web site. Many servers that would be private today were still completely open. For example, my son was in college then, and a Yahoo search on his name would bring up some of his computer science homework.

Which brings up the question of search engines. You want to figure out what was current. Yahoo, for sure. Alta Vista?
posted by SemiSalt at 5:37 PM on February 15


"clicks and mortar"
posted by lakeroon at 5:39 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Cyberspace.
The 'Net, with the apostrophe.
The World Wide Web, all three words, title case.
E-mail, with a hyphen.
Web site, two words, with Web capped.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:39 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


There was a documentary called startup.com about a startup in the late 90s that documents the company as it falls apart in the dot com bust. Also I was talking to a friend about stunts that people would do where they'd hole up in an empty apartment or something and only live off things they could order off the Internet.
posted by mattholomew at 5:39 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Everything was all about multimedia in 1997. Yes, surfing the 'net, indeed. The most animated, interactive stuff was released on CD-rom. Altavista, Hotbot, Excite, Netscape, and Encarta were popular. Flash was called Future Splash. People didn't usually ask PC or Mac, they would just assume PC.
posted by oxisos at 5:41 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


Back in the 90s the marketing bros hadn't arrived yet and the tech folks had no clue about business.

Oh, by the late 90s they'd arrived: Business 2.0, Fast Company, etc. But there was a divide between old-school hacker culture (2600), web-driven geek culture (Slashdot and everything that came in its wake), and the fake-it-till-you-make-it of dot-com culture, which did its best to impersonate web-based business practices into existence.

They said synergy. They actioned themselves some nouns into verbs. The money guys invest, you vest, everybody divests. The archives of WIRED magazine and Suck.com are good here, Po Bronson's The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest is also good, and if I could find working archives of Carl Steadman's columns for The Industry Standard, I'd link to them.
posted by holgate at 5:41 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Which brings up the question of search engines. You want to figure out what was current. Yahoo, for sure. Alta Vista?

Northern Lights was another. Ask Jeeves, maybe?
posted by thelonius at 5:43 PM on February 15


PC, (politically correct) began common use around early 90s
posted by artdrectr at 5:44 PM on February 15


Hotbot!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:44 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


This was before Scott Adams went insane, and Dilbert was actually a major cultural touchstone in that world. The Dilbert web site lists strips by year. Unfortunately I couldn't find archives of the DNRC newsletter but this is pretty representative. Oh, and User Friendly was another comic strip that captured the feel of that time.

It was rare to go out to eat without discussing the font used on the restaurant menu.

Copy shops were still a thing. Software had manuals, great honking manuals, and you would just have shelves full of them.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:44 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


oh yeah! Font talk. Gotta have that!
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 5:47 PM on February 15


Those ubiquitous AOL CDs. Hell, any software came with like 19 CDs in it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:48 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Search in 97 was "nothing works, everything's been spammed silly, try all of them." Northern Light launched in mid-97, so in early 97 I'd have been bumping between AltaVista and HotBot, but mostly following links from home pages. The difference between institutional networking speeds and home dial-up was profound: it might be faster to drive to a college computer room/lab to download something onto floppies, then drive back, than to attempt it over a phone connection.
posted by holgate at 5:53 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


In 97 we used Metacrawler to search because it supposedly aggregated results and seemed to offer more relevant results. Just to chime in on the search engine talk. Chat was big and having a Geocities page to link people to was handy.
posted by annathea at 5:59 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


service bureau
webmaster
resumable downloads
join my webring

Kibo's .sig is pretty much an encyclopedia of 90s internet.
posted by rhizome at 6:05 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


I feel like the multimedia CD-ROM thing was more Pentium-era, while the Pentium 2 era was all about AGP 3D acceleration, broadband, and CD burners (at least on the consumer side). Also I believe 1997 is around when webmail and free e-mail addresses became much more common.

Another search engine: Lycos
posted by clorox at 6:10 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Aeron chairs. E-commerce. Mosaic browser. Fucked Company. Pets.com. If you were a Mac person (probably on the creative side) then Macster was your Napster. Limewire. Fetch.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:11 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


"The impossible is unknown at Zombocom."
posted by kevinbelt at 6:21 PM on February 15


"Push" technology - as in "we'll push news to your phone!" vs you looking it up. This on phones with teeny tiny screens. Yeah.
posted by dbmcd at 6:21 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I just had a /. flashback... Hot grits. Beowulf cluster. And a particular actress, can't remember which one, maybe from Star Wars?

Also, this was the bailiwick, the wheelhouse, the stomping grounds, the purblind host of ichneumenoid Suck.com, q.v.
posted by clew at 6:21 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


97 was Usenet and sigs and killfiles. Flamewars and plonk!. Also, it was after the eternal September, which meant those Clinton Death Count emails with 87 FW: on them were common. Spam was a growing issue which the clients of the time (CC:Mail, Windows Mail) and so on were ill-equipped to handle. It was common to get a voicemail telling you to check your email.

Laptops might have a PCMCIA modem card that as often as not required reseating to work correctly. Cell phones were stupid expensive and only the corporate and rich had them, most techs on call had pagers - I at one point had 5 pagers on my belt on any given day. Text pagers were becoming more common, but implementations varied. Servers had integrated hardware to page if certain conditions were met. Also, servers were pets back then, they all had cute names like Muppets or constellations and were cared for individually. Getting all the applications to play nicely on a server could be a major headache.

97 also saw the first hardware 3d cards - GLquake and Descent were all the rage. It was common to get game updates by touching .plan files. John Carmack was notorious for this. MMOs existed, and in 1997 finally went from hourly rates to monthly, though call and ISP charges were still hourly in many cases.

BBSes were still popular, but waning. 3Com had a support BBS with a forum and firmware updates long before they had a website. In 1997, you got the updates by calling their 800 number at 9600 baud, 8n1. It supported Zmodem and Kermit for downloads.

Config.sys and autoexec.bat optimizations were still very big - and any gamer/hacker was proficient in using memaker or some other utility to get the mouse driver to play well with the blaster.exe.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:25 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]


Intelligent eBusiness Solutions

Everything was a Solution.
posted by matildaben at 6:26 PM on February 15


I remember in around 2000 that the most fashionable and tech-savvy people had teeny tiny cell phones. Like, how did they use them, they were so small. And when you switched to a new phone you could leave your old one at the store and they'd transfer the contacts over for you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:30 PM on February 15


Any issue of Wired from this era will have so many of the words you seek.
posted by zippy at 6:30 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


Companies were always wanting to create "web portals," which were just pages full of links organized by subject. Your portal to the web!

There was no reliable video viewing format, so we had things like Real Video Player that just showed up blank half the time. I worked in online gaming and we talked about things like "matchmaking" which was where you found other gamers to play with.

All production graphics were either 8 bit GIFs with dithering or JPEGs. We used an inscrutable utility called Debabelizer to pump out batch graphics. The "websafe" font Verdana just came out and everyone started using it everywhere just to do something different than Arial or Times. We also had to worry about websafe colors. Just because your logo was a certain color didn't mean a web browser would render the color smoothly. You saw dithering everywhere you went. In addition, font smoothing was still several years away so all typography was "jaggy" unless you made the text into a graphic (probably our fault as designers for getting the clients' hopes up with slick photoshop comps)
posted by oxisos at 6:30 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


I haven't read it since it came out, but I feel like Microserfs by Douglas Coupland would be a repository of this kind of stuff.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:31 PM on February 15


I was involved in a startup in the mid 90's, and we'd get endless calls from outfits wanting to get in to the action. They'd go something like this:

Caller: Hi, we'd like to join forces with your company, because [buzzword, buzzword buzzword].

Me: Do you have any expertise in X, Y or Z?

Caller: But... synergy!

Me: Click!

Later on, after the dotcom companies that hadn't worked out where their income was going to come from were fizzing out, there was a brief period when everyone and their dog was veering away from massive consumer-facing moneypits and was talking about "B2B".
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:32 PM on February 15


1997 was in the middle of the era when every one had a personal web site

And noobs would call a web site a "home page".

Cell phones were stupid expensive and only the corporate and rich had them

sounds more like '87 than '97
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:37 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Have you tried browsing Metafilter from its earliest days onward? Follow along as Matt discovers things like WiFi, Microsoft Messenger, fark, Mozilla, Asperger's. etc. and shares them with a very quiet audience of Ur-mefites. This is mid-1999 stuff, so it'll provide something of a terminus ante quem for your 1997 world.

In 1997, folks were still pushing a www == spiderweb metaphor. Spiderweb icons and spidery imagery weren't uncommon.
posted by mumkin at 6:37 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]


visit archive.org, set the date for 1997, 1998, or 1999, and ask for famous (and infamous) dot coms of this era: SGI, Kozmo, Webvan, Hotwired, Pets.com, and check their about us pages.
posted by zippy at 6:37 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Cell phones were stupid expensive and only the corporate and rich had them
sounds more like '87 than '97


Not really. I made a decentish salary and cell phone would have been an extravagence. It wasn't until closer to 2000/01 that they became really widespread as prices started falling. Few of the execs I worked for at my Fortune 50 company had them in 1997. This changed quickly, though. I got my first corporate cell phone in 1999 - until that point, it was pagers, pagers, pagers. I didn't get my own cell until 2002 and even then, it wasn't a bargain. Bigger cities were more widespread and cheaper perhaps, but even at that, coverage was terrible and battery life really sucked.

Pets.com didnt even exist until late 98 (Wikipedia says August 1998, so yay me!). The web in 1997 was still something of a curiosity. Soledad Obrien had a tech show in those days, and it was... well, innovative for the time, lets say.

It was a time of macro viruses and McAfee and Norton starting making their names as virus scanners. Norton Utilties even had a hex editor, which you could use to recover a corrupted boot partition - MBR viruses that spread via floppy were pretty common.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:51 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


HACK THE PLANET!
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:51 PM on February 15


May be too late-90's for what you're doing, but for a brief, shining moment kozmo.com was everything people loved about the 90s tech boom at once - go online and get a pint of Ben and Jerry's and a DVD delivered to your door by bike messenger! For not much more than doing it yourself! Of course it was completely unsustainable, but while it was a thing, it was glorious.

The other thing I remember was day trading was suddenly a thing. Sites like E-Trade came up and because of the tech stock boom, you could sit at work and watch stocks shoot up over the course of a day. You would camp out and wait for IPOs. People really thought that they could quit their jobs and just ride the market up and down for a living.
posted by Mchelly at 7:04 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Don't take this TOO seriously, but there might be some truth hidden in this gem.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:04 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Netscape... was a thing. I forget what they did but I had friends working there, mid-90s. Alta Vista was the only decent search engine pre-Google.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:08 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Macromedia Shockwave Player
posted by davebush at 7:22 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


I remember being irritated by "thinking outside of the box" and "on so many levels" in the late 90s.
posted by Stonkle at 7:41 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]


One comment I remember particularly from the mid-90s: "Oh no, our company doesn't use xxx, it's not strategic." With emphasis on the last word. She hadn't the faintest clue what a computer did, let alone how it worked. Suddenly everything had to be "strategic", and no-one really cared whether it did the job it was designed for or not...
posted by tillsbury at 7:56 PM on February 15


The 90s bubble startup I worked for was practically wallpapered in Dilbert cartoons. We all had Palm Pilots (with some Newtons scattered about) and most of us had at least one pager that did text messaging.
posted by xyzzy at 8:00 PM on February 15


Wasn't dogpile a decent search engine for a minute? I remember liking askjeeves because it supported Boolean searches which were more my speed.
posted by janey47 at 8:10 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


T9
posted by rhizome at 8:11 PM on February 15


That was also the era of insane advertising for dot coms, especially on the Super Bowl. The E-Trade chimp. Outpost.com shooting gerbils out of a cannon and tattooing babies. The Pets.com puppet. Because no one knew what would stick, anything for attention seemed to be the rule.
posted by Mchelly at 8:11 PM on February 15



Which brings up the question of search engines.


Infoseek was the best, the most serious one. Then there was one called Dogpile. Really.

AOL Keywords were advertised the way websites would be in advertising today.

People actually were called not webmaster, but webmeister as their actual formal job title. No kidding.

In September or October 1996, Roll Call reported that Capitol Hill staffers were getting email addresses and "beginning" to have their email addresses on their business cards.

During the same year, I answered press calls on how many members of congress had their very own web site. (It was not a thing yet, shall we say.)

And yes, taking one baby HTML class and knowing things like what URL stood for had people thinking you were Very Knowledgeable and Cutting Edge and so forth. I milked it.
posted by jgirl at 8:16 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


"Push" technology

Yes! With Pointcast, the news would appear on my screensaver! I still miss that.

Web addresses were always printed or announced on radio/TV with the full http://www.foo.com. Now we've moved from www.foo.com to just foo.com.

I remember all of this stuff like it was yesterday.
posted by jgirl at 8:22 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


1997 I joined match.com. Yep. That match.com. No photos but lots of "new media" savvy New Yorkers tried it. I wish I could reuse that username but my cutting edge user-friendly free E-mail at hotmail.com no longer exists.

I was a 1995 hire at Disney Online in NYC. Our massive office was once a famous Madison Ave dept store turned into an industrial space with exposed brick and massive windows and people wearing jeans!

Phrases like "content is King" and "brick and mortar" and "Proprietary" were used in all meetings.
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 8:24 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


In terms of jargon - Novell Netware was the 800lb gorilla in the networking space. It wouldn't be uncommon to find a token ring IPX/SPX network running on 10base2 thinnet or 10base5/10 thicknet(coaxial wires). Ethernet was emerging as the new standard, but was far from universal, but could support speeds upto 100 MB/s. 3Com 3c509 and 3c905 cards were REALLY common. You might find boards from Realtek or Intel, but 3Com ruled the roost.

NT4 had only just come out, and it was a true 32 bit Windows. Windows95 was a still very much a 32bit shell over 16bit dos. Most places, if they had windows servers at all, were runing NT 3 or NT3.5. Clients were, often as not, still Windows 3.1 or 3.11 on some version of DOS. Windows 95 uptake was still limited, but growing.

Windows 95 didn't ship with a networking stack - you had to install one. Novell and Microsoft had theirs, but there were several competitors. Windows95b had a Microsoft TCP/IP stack built in finally, but it wasn't enabled by default. USB didn't exist yet. Very few games at the time supported TCP/IP matchmaking - most of it was nullmodem or IPX/SPX. NetBeui support was common(ish) but not totally widespread - many(most) networks ran TCP/IP co-mingled with IPX/SPX.

DSL didn't really exist, but many businesses had a T1/T3 or fractional T1/T3 with a Mux/Demux box somewhere near the PBX. Network switches were expensive, routers even more so. Much more common to have hubs and concentrators and repeaters. There were lots of small ISPs - anyone with a bunch of phone lines and a bank of modems could be an ISP, and many who used to run BBSes transitioned to this. ISDN was faster than modems, but stupid expensive and uncommon. Zoom and USRobotics were the big names in Modems.

The Pentium II (slot configuration) had just come out, at speeds of 233-300 MHz. Up until this, all processors were Socket 7, and you could by x86 clones from Cyrix or AMD or Evergreen as well as Intel. Serious high end workstations were DEC Alpha machines or SGI irix running Unix of some flavor. The PII/Pentium Pro and Windows NT was just starting to make inroads into this market. Intel's shift from Socket7 meant competitors were locked out of using Intel motherboards for their chips. This was disastrous for them, and they had to rely on third party support which was... lets say lacking.

Linux was just starting to emerge as a response to aggressiveness from the Windows/Intel (wintel) coalition. It was still very rudimentary as this point, but RedHat 4.0+ was out and was gaining mindshare. 1997 was the year I started playing with it.

Email was starting shift workflows, and this didn't go over very well with older types - one guy I worked with had thrown his computer out a window because they were sending shipping requests via email instead of fax and he was never ever going to "turn that damned satan computer" on. One secretary I worked with would cut the cables on her computer and claim they must have gotten caught on something. Intranets were a huge buzzword at this time, and I worked for a short time with a company that deployed an "intranet in a box" solution for small businesses.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:25 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


I was a web developer during this era...here are the little details that you might find helpful:

- energetic young people...crazy enthusiasm
- lots of people in the office dated each other
- staying up until 4am working on spec websites
- authoring pages in HomeSite
- noodling around with Shockwave and Flash
- Java applets, then JSP
- the designers and project managers were mostly women, the developers mostly men in my office
- chatting on ICQ all day and all night
- working all day then freelancing all night
- 360 degree movies were totally trendy
- playing Doom after work
- our IT guy was a sullen dude who rarely spoke a word
- quality assurance testing on all the different browsers was brutal
- employee funded MP3 server, woo!
- company summer camping trip
- the most senior developer had the biggest monitor
- free pop in the photocopier room and free catered breakfast
- everyone built their own IKEA desk when they started, although my desk buddy built mine
- the exposed brick wall cliché was totally a thing

20 years was a long time ago, whew!
posted by Calzephyr at 8:35 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


Few of the execs I worked for at my Fortune 50 company had them in 1997. This changed quickly, though. I got my first corporate cell phone in 1999 - until that point, it was pagers, pagers, pagers.

Ok, this ask made me go through my old files and archives and such - so I promise I'll shut up now.

But the thing about 1997 as opposed to 1999 was how quickly things changed. 1997 was really the last year of the old Pre-Internet world. Pets.com and superbowl ads were a 1998/1999/2000 thing, but in 1997 most people hadn't even heard of a .com address or knew what it meant. By 1999, that had totally changed.

Things had been building for a while, sure. Amazon started in 1994 - right after Sears divested its countrywide warehouse and distribution network - but 1997 feels like the last year that you could be totally ignorant of the internet and email and go on about your life. After that, the change was immense and radical and rapid. It's hard to really explain how just how much changed from 1997 to 2000. But in three years, it all did. It was really exciting, at the time.

I mean.... I've had the same processor in this computer for years. From 1997-2000, I had .... 17 processors I think. hard to remember, but it was a lot. Same with video cards. Hard drives. Accounts on websites - I had a sub 25k user account on slashot. I had a 3 letter hotmail address, before the MS buyout. I remember being agog when AOL bought ICQ for 120 million in 1998- which was insane money then. Everything was new and exciting and had so much promise.

Point is, 1997 was very different from the years that followed. It's really the last year that things were sane and it all got really stupid crazy weird after that. 1997 had all this potential and things were just coming to a head. 1998 saw the crest of the wave and the following years saw it break on the beach. It was a neat thing to see.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:59 PM on February 15 [12 favorites]


My friends and I used to refer to ourselves as the Digerati, the builders of the Internet, the dot commers.

We didn't turn out to be as important as we thought. But that time I asked a 65yo founder how critical mass works without profit turned out to be spot on.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:16 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Particular pet peeve, surprised nobody else here caught it: Every piece of software -- most particularly anything related to database software -- every piece of software in every damn software ad was "robust." Really annoying. Comical, but annoying, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:27 PM on February 15 [6 favorites]


Ok so I went to college in the Bay Area, I went to my first dotcom retirement party in 99 maybe? and I worked for a web store (that's what they were called) for a few years before I ran away screaming. I wasn't ever in the bog VC scene thank god. But I remember that era well. Couple things, you didn't so much search in the 90s as you followed links. I remember following torturous fucking trails of links though endless pages trying to find a site I'd seen before. All the pages were either pink or purple. There were these big linking rings you had to get our site linked to by other popular sites or you were dead in the water. I think it was called Ring of the Web or Ring of Links or something? I've blocked it from my memory.

When search engines came about, Yahoo was probably the first decent one, we gamed the shit out of them, I recall downloading code right off the search site and one of the programmers taking it apart and then bam, we'd be Number One for 10 minutes. You could only do that for about 6 months but for years you could talk to someone who went to college with someone and change something and you'd be number one again. It wasn't like, a big secret, how they worked.

Most web stuff was in a few countries, it was really universities, weirdos and people in the industry. It was small.

The "WWW" really only became feasible to use in 1996 or 1997 for most people. And it took forever to load any kind of graphics or photos. And it was all purple or pink and had trailing cursors and blinking shit. God, it was hideous.

Netscape. We were so sure Netscape was going to take over the world.

The AOL discs. We used to microwave them, make folk art out of them, mail them back, burn them in fires, you'd see them hung all over people's yards as bird deterrents and set up as targets for shooting. At one point they were mailing them in these really nice metal containers once a month to every man, woman and child in the country.

There was a joke about Amazon that you heard 4 or 5 times a day "Lose a little on every sale and make it up in volume". That was when they only sold books. No one got what they were doing, and if they say they did they're lying.

People were so paranoid about using credit cards online. If it hadn't been for porn that's a mental barrier that might never have been breached. All the good security came from porn actually. Probably most advances. For many years all web stores had to take phone orders too. Because that's so much more secure.

Dave Eggers Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius kind of nails the Bay Area then. People think of it as a golden era but it was fucking hard to find a job that paid you enough and rents weren't that much less. But those were the days when everyone who could write genuinely thought they'd get rich now that the pesky publishing industry was out of the way. See also, graphic designers. It was also much less scene-y. Early web people weren't very cool. At all.

There wasn't much talk like synergy, paradigm shifts etc in the really early days it was more like disrupt, innovate, brainstorm, multi-task, change, passion, vision, create etc. People were on their first company. Companies would try to sell everyone on how they weren't really companies, and the jobs weren't really jobs. Which was often true as they made no money and no one got paid but it was couched as a meaningful vocation. Like a zine. Then corporate came in (because no one was getting paid and there was general insanity) and kept some of that culture, this lead to the unfortunate tradition of needing a fucking "mission statement" for everything. It was the 90s so it was not cool to be enthusiastic, cynical was firmly still in. At the same time it was just taken for granted that the world was changing for the better. The web was going to make us all smarter and nicer. And soon no one would have to work in a soul-crushing cube or for, like, Anderson Consulting. This was the era of Fight Club and Reality Bites. Oh, the irony.

Whenever a new or outside VC dropped a lot of money into a splashy launch people would scoff and predict doom. That's why people still bring up the failure of pets.com, because they enjoyed it so much. Launch parties for websites were huge for a hot minute and a whole tacky ass party industry sprung up in Silicon Valley where it exists to this day.

It was a pretty outdoorsy scene, we did a lot of camping and climbing, kayaking etc. We also spent a fair amount of time photoshopping giant butts onto people and giggling when that became possible. Probably 96 or so. People were young and the world was wide open for a few years there.

Slang terms: saying ok cool, ok cool while nodding your head when not stoned. That was like 90% of communication. Hella was a NorCal thing that unfortunately spread but was widely derided in the early to mid 90s. Other phrases: I'm outtie, "the bomb" (really, everyone said it constantly), Yo, using your area code to say where you lived, calling people ninjas.
posted by fshgrl at 9:32 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]


in 1997 most people hadn't even heard of a .com address or knew what it meant. By 1999, that had totally changed.

Yeah, we actually didn't know if our store should be a .com or a .us there for a while. The idea was supposedly that each country would have its own. I don't know where that went by the wayside.
posted by fshgrl at 9:34 PM on February 15


Slang terms: saying ok cool, ok cool while nodding your head when not stoned. That was like 90% of communication.

That's what makes this thread slightly weird as far as buzzwords go: "I'm ok, you ok? Ok cool, ok," covers a lot of ground.
posted by holgate at 10:07 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


More books to read for the zeitgeist: The Nudist on the Late Shift, and The First Million is the Hardest.

Late 90's dotcom stuff: mp3's were catching on. Computers were slow and disk space was expensive, so early mp3's were ripped at low bit rates and often sounded terrible. Laptops existed but they were costly and had lower performance than desktops, so they were often a secondary luxury computer instead an only computer.

Bandwidth in 1997 was dialup (56k man!), ISDN (64k one channel, or 128k for two channels and a pain to get setup and working). The Holy Grail was to have a T1 (1.5mb). I think the Yahoo home page was still a hierarchy of category links instead of a search engine. I would literally dialup daily just to go see what new things were on the Internet.

Video was incredibly tiny, very bad, and came with correspondingly horrible audio. Real Player was dominant I think, but I think maybe it wasn't a thing just yet in 97. It was really annoying to use, seemingly requiring a software update every time I wanted to use it.

Somewhere around 1995 it became obvious that the Internet is a Thing. By 1997 it was obvious that it was a Big Deal. By 1999 the job market in the Bay Area was insane to the point where recruiters would call every phone number in high tech companies trying to find someone -- anyone -- to jump ship. Everyone with a pulse (even a weak one) had a job at that point. Anyone with any competency could get prospective employers in a bidding war. I was a relatively inexperienced sys admin in late 1998 when I announced I was leaving for another job. I was first offered a 30% pay raise (I expect I could have gotten more out of them). When that didn't work the CEO called me into his office and actually threatened me along the line of "I know lots of people in this business. You won't work around here ever again!" Empty threats.

Corporate speak did indeed include words like synergy. It's something VP level and higher would use in all seriousness while the worker bees (like me) mocked them. "We're going to leverage our core synergies" being the quintessential bullshit. I briefly worked for a company that had an all-hands meeting to berate the staff to "think outside the box". I think they even handed out swag for it. Funny thing was their corporate logo was a TLA with a box around it.

More corporate speak: someone being "properly incentivized" was used to mean giving workers stock options so they'd work harder. "Golden handcuffs" is the standard 4 year stock options grants. The "value proposition" or "value prop" is kind of the selling point of your company ("we'll give away disk space for free!").

Hope this helps!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:21 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Several people have mentioned WIRED magazine's "Jargon Watch," which was a regular feature each week. At one point, it was gathered into a small book. You definitely want it. A lot of the terms didn't catch on, but many did, and even the ridiculous ones might still prove useful to you.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:28 PM on February 15 [8 favorites]


1997 had all this potential and things were just coming to a head. 1998 saw the crest of the wave and the following years saw it break on the beach. It was a neat thing to see.

I think this is key. 1997 is before everything SF got totally crazy. My online touchstones at that time were Suck on Mondays, Michael Sippey's 'Stating the Obvious' whenever he updated (especially 'fitered for purity'), and NTK on Fridays. I don't think I was alone there. And this was a period in which people updated their personal sites maybe once a day but probably more like once a week. Sippey was talking to people in spring '97 about 'push', the idea that WIRED covered (on its cover) and which was imagined a decade earlier than it showed up, and which is now plaguing us. Desktop notifications were crazy beta (Marimba! Kim Polese!) and most people didn't have the connectivity for it.
posted by holgate at 11:43 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Syquest and Zip disks.
Sneaker.net
posted by artdrectr at 11:49 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The phrase "to ping" meaning 'get in touch with or call', as in: "Ping me when you're done with that code and we'll get lunch."

Hacking was just coming into the public eye, and hackers became a new archetype. Also the labels of 'white hat' and 'black hat' hacking for people who used their skills for good or evil.

"Bandwidth" as a way of describing your availability, as in "I don't have the bandwidth for another project right now."
posted by ananci at 11:58 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Even Miriam Webster cites "Synergy" as being an expression that took off in the 1990s - and google n-gram backs that up with a doubling of citations over that decade. In 1990 somebody who talked about synergy was probably using it a scientific - something they could plot on a chart. By the end of the decade it had joined a lot of other words being employed by business types to lend a patina of geek credibility to presentations.
posted by rongorongo at 12:17 AM on February 16


Silos. My boss loved to bang on about Silos. New media agency circa 1998-2000.
posted by Ness at 12:21 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Bit of a ramble, I've been drinking.

I'm pretty sure using "synergy" was pretty close to self-parody by 1999.

I worked for a guy in 1998 - 1999 who talked about dot-com to dot-bomb, "ubiquitous" everything, people in my office argued about whether it was multi-media or multimedia. Or maybe it was rich media.

I worked for the high-tech wing of an otherwise traditional large-scale engineering company (if you were Boeing and you needed someone to engineer a ventilation system for your paint hangar, they're who you'd call). The head of my department was obsessed with the possibilities of the connected world and wanted to get into SaS (Software as (a) Service), but back then it was called ASP (Application Service Provider). He was also really interested in e-compliance especially wrt to pharmaceutical manufacturing and a kind of proto-Internet-of-Things with everything having a Linux box built in with a tiny form-factor.

I started as a "Multi-Media Producer" (I argued for Multimedia Producer but was overruled) but hey, suddenly I became a Y2K Compliance "Engineer." Y2K was everywhere, and even though it was largely anti-climactic, it attracted eyeballs so it got attached to everything in some way or another. Are you compliant? Are you?!?

If you're interested in hardware, I think that was when multimedia instruction sets became a marketing thing in CPUs. IIRC AMD had MME. I can't remember what Intel called their flavor. It was a great time for CPU nerds, AMD and Intel were duking it out. It's easy to forget that there was a time when computers were marketed as multimedia because they could play audio, had a CD drive and could display more than 4-bit color.

I'm not sure, but I think the term e-commerce was becoming cemented around that time.

In fact, just put "e-" in front of anything, it was probably a thing back then.

I remember hearing presentations about DRM-likes, such as Liquid Audio, a proprietary format that included metadata and copy-protection. I wish I remembered more about the presentation, because I recall thinking Liquid Audio was technologically clever, although not necessarily good for culture at large. I'm not sure how widespread awareness of that specific technology was, but clever people were definitely thinking about filesharing and its potential impact on the IP-based economy. Napster became ubiquitous in early 2K if memory serves (not a given).

SGI were still making graphic workstations. Maya was the new hotness for 3D.

RealPlayer was THE thing for media delivery, especially streaming. Streaming media was beginning to be a thing. Wow. RealPlayer. My boss was into indie theater, and he had ambitions to live-stream multiple user-selectable camera angles of live performances. He was a visionary to be sure, but he also lacked focus, funding and staff to realize all his schemes, so sadly none of them came to fruition.

I've had two cocktails and three beers, so let me just say that everyone should listen to the Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack for Star Trek: The Motion Picture with headphones.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:51 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Sleep Camel - was an expression I first heard in this ere.

Serious high end workstations were DEC Alpha machines or SGI irix running Unix of some flavor.
Yes. And if you wanted to show off just how glamorous and well-funded your organisation was, then you had to have a large, purple SGI Onyx RealityEngine 2 sitting in the corner and running its out of the box demonstrations. Clearly Nedry needed one of these to control the doors in Jurassic Park - so it would be on your shopping list too, damn it!
posted by rongorongo at 2:11 AM on February 16


I bought a G3 from Cyberian Outpost (Outpost.com) in 1998. Webcrawler was another search engine. Lycos was the only engine that would have most of what you wanted. It might be on page 7, though.

Fetch. Gopher. Netscape.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:15 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]




Just realized no one mentioned SCSI disks - at least in my industry (advertising) when you needed to transfer large files, you needed a SCSI drive and a disk - they were about 5 inches square and flat. Always pronounced "scuzzy disks." IIRC, they were really expensive - I think my company only had 4 or 5 of them - so people would get super annoyed when they needed one and it wasn't available. Lots of "Where'd my scuzzy go?!" yelled angrily across the studio.
posted by Mchelly at 4:09 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


The Enron boom was happening, and the completely predictable bust happened in '01. They had some weird, zeitgeisty commercials.
posted by workerant at 4:51 AM on February 16


The thing I remember the news droning on and on about was the "dot-com boom" followed by "dot-com bubble" and then of course the dot-com bubble having burst. Ironically, I spent the mid to late 90s working in a fairly "old tech" industrial electronics company, and AFTER the bubble burst I did a brief stint working in a teleconferencing company (still kinda old tech, but telecom got swept along in the madness and a lot of my co-workers were saps who lost their jobs with cell companies after a lot of those companies consolidated)

And as also referenced above, paradigms. Oh lord, paradigms. The word I never heard before the late 90s and could not go a day without hearing for 5 years after. Like a number 1 Debbie Gibson song, this word seemed to go from cool new thing to zeitgeist to self-referential joke in an extreme way.

There have always been people who are tech-savvy and not tech-savvy, and business-savvy and not business-savvy, and a handful of people who are both (along with some poor souls who are neither) but this era of 1995-2001 or so seemed to mark the tipping point or the collision point right in the middle of that X-Y chart.

So the tech people were presumed to be counter-cultural idiot savants, and the business people were presumed to be just regular idiots. This still goes on a bit today, but whereas the "business executive" of 2017 is at least expected to know how to operate a computer and a number of fairly complex apps, there were people in the world of the late 1990s-2000 who were struggling with the basics of email while others were slinging up networks.

All this stuff seemed so marvelous and miraculous that an extremely premature effort was made to launch a lot of eCommerce sites. Kind of like within a few years of doing a moon landing we thought we were going out of the galaxy.

The public was not ready for it nor was the technology (especially the security) mature enough for it. But then as now, the first question (after "how can we watch porn with it?" is always "how can we make money with it?"
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:49 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


One-off jargon/experiences for characters to (ab)use:

"Buffering" (a thousand curses on RealPlayer over dialup)

<frameset> Everywhere with the <frameset>, because there was no such thing as developing for mobile--you tested on Netscape and Internet Explorer, targeting 640x480 resolutions. (800x600, if you were feeling decadent)

Ordering software meant sending a check to a physical mailing address, in return for which thjey would send you an 8-pound package containing between 3 and 30 floppy disks. (I still remember that Office '96 was 26 disks)

Internet usage for lots of people (especially in rural areas where broadband was a distant dream and local ISPs weren't a thing yet) was through AOL, which was still metered in '97--your base plan came with 10 hours a month, so you had to be really efficient with your time.

Speaking of AOL, it was its own kind of toxic cesspool. It was technically a moderated space, so you couldn't swear at someone without risking a permaban (which also meant losing your email address), but chatrooms were full of abuse, and user-friendly versions of hacking software were rampant. Flooding someone with instant messages until their network stack overflowed and crashed the computer was a thing, because of Windows 95's aforementioned lack of native network stack. "Punting" was the term for it.

'97 was the year I bought my first CD recorder, for something obscene like $200 for a 1x drive. Like, to create a single copy of a CD took exactly as long as it took to listen to it. I charged my friends $5 apiece to copy theirs, and then made copies for myself.
posted by Mayor West at 5:54 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Hotline servers.
All Your Base...
posted by porn in the woods at 6:24 AM on February 16


Hyperlink
Hotlink
Convergence
The SoundEdit dog
Lingo
Kai's Power Tools
Global launch parties for things that flopped immediately
posted by tardigrade at 6:26 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


The part about everything being new and exciting is so true OP, and I hope you can bring it out in your piece. All my co-workers were young adults, some had English degrees, some were new art school grads, very few people had actual computer training, but we all grew into the challenge.

It was so exciting to be on the ground floor making this new world with people your own age. We all came from crappy jobs (I couldn't get more than 15 hours a week at the public library) or saddled with student debt. When I received my first monthly pay check for $800, it was more money than I had ever had at once in my life.
posted by Calzephyr at 6:48 AM on February 16 [5 favorites]


[Adjusts onion on belt]

I don't have much slang to contribute and I don't know how deep in the weeds you might be getting with actual web dev details, but the responses here are dredging up a lot of memories from my experiences from that time, details of which might be useful:

I feel like Geocities hasn't been stressed enough... it was pretty much the name of the game for free personal web hosting (you got what, 1 megabyte?) around 1997; most ISPs would also give you a little bit of hosting space if you knew how to use FTP, but Geocities was the first big "for the masses" service that I can remember. As such it was sort of looked down on by "real" web designers because of the space limitation and (if I recall correctly) the permanently embedded advertising on each page - and eventually that transparent watermark graphic that would auto-scroll to stick at the bottom right corner of every page. (Fixed-positioned, floating graphics are no big deal nowadays, but at the time that watermark was a pretty novel JavaScript hack. When I interviewed at GeoCities in 1998 I met the guy who made it.)

Dial-up has also only gotten a couple of mentions, but I think it's also pretty key to the circa 1997 web experience. Tying up your phone line, the modem connection squeal, dropped connections in the middle of your download (you had to remember to disable call waiting in your connection setup.)

Because download speed was such a prime consideration, optimizing bandwidth became an artform as web design got more graphic-intensive; GIFs with reduced palettes were a preferred technique, and fine-tuning JPEGs to find the best balance between small file size and compression artifacts was a necessary skill - particularly considering that there wasn't really any software optimized for web graphics workflow at the time. Adobe ImageReady and Macromedia Fireworks were a huge deal when they came out, because they automated a lot of the graphics optimization and ridiculous image slicing layout techniques that you previously had to do "by hand."

RE: image slicing, 1997 was also the dark ages as far as CSS and cross-browser compatability were concerned; the CSS 1.0 spec was around but implementations from browser to browser were incomplete, buggy and inconsistent, and so layout and formatting of fancy designs was mostly achieved by taking a source graphic, slicing it up, and using a combination HTML tables and variously sized transparent GIF 1x1 pixel shims to lay it all out, with the <FONT> tag handling text size/font/color variations. HTML had been designed as a language for semantically structuring data, but it quickly got subverted into being used for layout and presentation as well.

Because layout was so closely intertwined with markup, and because web content management systems were basically nonexistent, managing design and architecture changes to large web sites was often a grueling exercise in updating dozens or hundreds of static HTML files "by hand" to change a graphic, font tags, or add a new navigation link; the most sophisticated web software at the time was all about templating; you would still manage all of your site's pages as separate HTML files. When you changed the master template, the software would then attempt to re-render your site's pages. (Macromedia Dreamweaver, which came out around that time, used a specific HTML comment syntax to indicate live content areas.) Then you'd have to FTP the new pages up, and hope that nobody else had changed anything on the live site in the meantime. And hope that you'd remembered to download the latest version of the file before you worked on it.

Much of the blame for that sort of markup abuse can be attributed to David Siegel's book, Creating Killer Websites. Siegel also popularized the awful idea that every hip web site had to have a "splash page" where visitors would first land, basically a stylish and/or cryptic landing page with no content navigation on it, just a [Click here to enter] link. Splash pages were everywhere, and definitely one of those concepts that marketing/upper management would fixate on and absolutely insist were necessary, even though they were useless in terms of search engine results and did nothing but frustrate the user and add friction to their interaction with the site.

Version control systems were not widespread either, which often resulted in your local dev folder being full of variants and backups of the same web page, index.html, index2.html, index_3-last-working-version.html, index-2-16-1997.htm and so on. And lots of overhead around undoing/redoing accidental overwrites of things.

In larger companies, web design was still treated very much like print design; graphic designers would design web pages like any other pamphlet or poster using Illustrator and/or Photoshop, and the layouts would then be given to "integrators" who were in charge of slicing and dicing them into functional collections of HTML and graphics. I distinctly remember there being a certain amount of disdain and/or distrust among a lot of the print designers I worked with; learning how web pages worked was intimidating and/or beneath them, so there was a constant tension and frustration between designers and implementers. ("What do you mean I can't lay this menu out along a sweeping curve? Plain rectangles are boring and dumb!")

On the flip side of the coin, HTML was viewed as very much a computer nerd domain and so marketing/design departments would often dismiss the advice and concern of the web developers out of hand. The idea that someone who knows HTML might also have some design chops was similarly discounted. (I encountered that same attitude at a small company as recently as 2006, where I had to fight to convince my boss that yes, I was capable of designing a couple of layouts based on an existing color scheme.) Because of that print mindset, there was also an unreasonable expectation that every web page should look exactly the same from OS to OS and from browser to browser, down to the pixel... which of course is impossible since most browsers let users adjust text size, etc... but it took a long time to hammer that idea home to marketing/management. It's a pretty stark contrast to the current wisdom, which is that every page should dynamically adapt to the device viewing it.

When WYSIWYG ("What you see is what you get") web design software began popping up (Netscape Navigator 3 Gold, anyone?), it led to further muddying of the waters when people got the idea that making a web page was no different than using Microsoft Word. WYSIWYG tools tended to generate copious amounts of browser-specific, garbage markup behind the scenes, so it was often more work to clean up somebody's FrontPage design than it would have been to convert an Illustrator file.

Speaking of pixels: Because computers were much more expensive at the time, hardware upgrade cycles were a lot longer and there was an obession with backwards compatability; in the late 90's that meant designing web pages to accommodate 640x480 monitor resolutions, even though 800x600 was the state of the art.

For as much grousing as I just did, I do miss those days; when I really reminisce like I've just been doing, I can recapture a bit of that "Holy shit, the web is a big deal and I somehow got in on the ground floor at just the right time" excitement I felt back then. There was definitely a frontier/wild west feel to things because so many best practices were being defined and evolving on the fly.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:28 AM on February 16 [13 favorites]


In 1997 computers were all still running screen savers - a fun place would have some version of After Dark installed - flying toasters and the aquarium were probably the most popular, but there was one with a bouncing ball that zoomed around leaving trails that I think I saw the most because it was less silly and therefore more likely to get a corporate OK. By the late '90s companies also installed ones that had word-of-the-day or inspirational corporate quotes that still moved or bounced around - the idea was that if you left your CRT screen with the same image (or no image) for too long, the pixels would get stuck that way (?).
posted by Mchelly at 7:42 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Business web sites often offered a "virtual tour" of the facility, like you cared, which cost a fortune to make and then stitch together into a QuickTimeVR 360-degree scrollable image.

Another thing was putting such a heavy emphasis on the middle syllable of "in-TRA-net," thereby revealing that whoever taught you the word (probably as much as a week before) had probably taken great pains to differentiate it from Internet, which also wasn't very familiar to you.

And most people still used a modem so "dial-up" wasn't the cutting remark that it would become a few years later. Cries of "put down the phone, I'm online!" were still heard in some homes.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:47 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Oh, here, I found the perfect list of late-90s Internet slang words for you!

Let me just paste it--

Buffering...

Buffering...

Buffering...

Buffering...

posted by wenestvedt at 8:49 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


A/S/L!

Intranets. We talked a lot about intranets. (We sold and built a lot of intranets, actually.)

It was a massive struggle to get companies to stop refering to themselves in the third person.

The Cluetrain Manifesto was a thing. A lot of the language you want for 1997 is what is being reacted against (and name-checked) in that document.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:53 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Definitely l33tspeak for people who fancy themselves hackers.

Also, fancy text-based-graphics in email footers, but those were more early-90s.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:02 AM on February 16


Yes, Dilbert was everywhere and Scott Adams was still funny.

AltaVista was the best search engine before Google hit town.

Everything on CD.

The WAP phone was right at the cutting edge of technology and you could somehow get some sort of Internet on your flip phone if it was WAP-enabled.

The original Hampster Dance (sic) was a thing, and it was glorious.
posted by tel3path at 9:03 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


I was production manager of a large website in the 90s and I think Funeral March of an old jawbone does a great job of describing the inter-department tensions and the production headaches I experienced.

It was not uncommon to put entire web sites on CD-Roms. One of my first big projects was creating a web site that was a resource for the entertainment industry. And even though there was buy-in from all the major studios, we burned tons of CDs to distribute to users because, even as late as the late 90s, the major studios were not wired for internet. (I think there was just a handful of people on the Fox lot who had special permission to have AOL accounts set up.)

For the second time in a week I am invoking the name Zeldman and A List Apart.

More search engines: WebCrawler, Archie for FTP.

Hotwired

Banner ads!

There was no reliable video viewing format, so we had things like Real Video Player that just showed up blank half the time.

I am still a little unenthusiastic about the medium because it was so frustrating,
posted by Room 641-A at 9:09 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Oh wait; this bad boy from 1994 as reminds me of a few more things. We definitely capitalised Net and called it "the Net" out loud. Cyberspace was a real place. I am dubious that I personally ever "jacked in" but that was a thing people did.

We had CD-ROMs. A lot of CD-ROMs. MSN and AOL and Prodigy or something were all still in full flow, both as IPSs and as content providers within their walled gardens. E-commerce was written as E-commerce and it is hard to remember this but there were actually very few places you could spend money. Amazon and JT's Stockroom are the only ones I can remember. PayPal was not a thing. People paid their Ebay fees by check.

The internet messenger service of the day was ICQ.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:13 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


And! Software companies that actually had a real product and real business model - companies with long established track records - went down in the dot-com crash because investors couldn't tell them apart from vaporware companies.
posted by tel3path at 9:19 AM on February 16


tel3path: The original Hampster Dance (sic) was a thing, and it was glorious.

At my nine-year old's birthday party a week or two ago, someone gave her one of those fancy-pants seven-dollar greeting cards. When you open it up, a cardboard rodent on a wire spins around through a hole in the cover and it plays "Hamster Dance 2.0" until you close the card again. She loves it and I...don't.

badger, badger, badger.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


badger, badger, badger.

1997 was also right about the sweet spot for Jared, Butcher of Song.
posted by Mchelly at 10:26 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]


All my authentic-sounding '90s dialogue consisted of me saying, "It's 'loser', not 'looser', ya numbnut!" and getting nothing but unkind epithets in return for my troubles.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:39 AM on February 16


A favourite: I was solicited for a job at a dot-com SF around the late 90s. I went to meet with the person who'd first approached me. And spoke with the higher-up. And spoke to the first person again. What did I think?

"Honestly, I have pretty much no idea what she was trying to say," I said. "She just blithered on about opportunities without actually saying a thing about the work at hand."

"Oh, yes, she's unintelligible. She's got an MBA. People with MBAs no longer speak English."
posted by kmennie at 11:52 AM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I worked as a mainframe programmer for a state govt regulatory agency through mid-97; we had email for at *least* 2 years before I left them, off to save the world from Y2K. News of that cool free email thing -- Hotmail -- swept through our IT dept, most everybody in that shop signed up for one. I still have and use that same Hotmail address I signed up for one afternoon 20 years ago. When Hotmail started, 10 meg of data could be left on their server -- who could ever need more?

People joke about Y2K, that it was all just a sham, a chimera, a bunch of Poindexter propeller-heads wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth and pulling the wool over everyone's eyes so nobody would call them Poindexter propeller-heads anymore. Wrong. Y2K was a real thing. The reason it was avoided is because of a massive effort, huge amounts of cash thrown at it, thousands of people working their ass off, many of them tons of overtime hours, too. I met some of the smartest ppl I have ever known, so many Indian and Philippine and a spattering of Chinese programmers -- we had the cream of their intellect over here banging away at old mainframe code, some of that code literally written when Lyndon Johnson was president, some of the ugliest, nastiest, non-structured, undocumented code you can possibly imagine, the biggest, steamingest pile of dogshit on the planet. Each and every one of those programs read files and just what files did it read, and what files fed those files, and where were the date fields and how were they structured and how to re-code it and then (attempting to) test it under live-fire conditions. Y2K was a real deal. Smart data shops were elbow deep in it by 1997; if you were just starting in 1997 you were starting late. If you had mainframe chops behind you -- or any puter chops at all, and were willing/able to learn -- you could make a few bucks.

Beavis and Butthead. They were still a thing in 97, revered as gods by lots of IT guys.

Gates killed Netscape by giving away IE. I am one of the 14 people that actually *paid* for Netscape, 30 bucks, because I hoped to see them thrive. Gates really was the anti-christ, never an original thought in his head, bought out or crushed ppl who *did* have original ideas. Gates was killing Netscape in 97 and likely killing fourteen other outfits, too.

Steve Jobs got up and went to work quietly every day at NEXT. Apple was reeling, rudderless, clueless. We know today how that story ended, but all we knew in 97 is that Steve Jobs got up and went to work quietly every day at NEXT.

Alta Vista was presumed to be the best search engine but only if you really know how to structure your query. ICQ was big for me, friends down the hall and new friends from around the globe. (What I personally loved about ICQ is that you could actually see peoples thought process as they typed, you could watch what they typed, then backed over or totally deleted and then wrote again, you could see how they came to what they came to before they'd hit "Enter" to send to you.) Chat communities already forming online, based upon love of cat pictures or hatred or love of any conceivable topic.....
posted by dancestoblue at 12:12 PM on February 16 [6 favorites]


The Net became the Web in 1996 as I recall. I was still using dial up as late as 2003 and outside major cities so were lots of people.

Y2K was huge. I quit in 1998 but a lot of people I knew worked on that very hard for years. You needed real programming chops to do it too l, not html, so it was very well paid. Lots and lots of money. No one was sure what would break on midnight but not much did in the end.

Webrings were what I was thinking of in my first post. Before search engines that's how you found stuff. You shared a common navigation bar. They were really important for small stores and businesses as well as schools and anyone searching or organizing around a theme. They were incorporated into early search engines pretty heavily as I recall and the important bit was not to be a static link.

You could also often click around elements on an html page and find a "secret" admin login, which were called backdoors as I recall.
posted by fshgrl at 12:33 PM on February 16


Dreamweaver

Also Adobe PageMill. As mentioned, it was just easier to code the page by hand.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:28 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Companies had actual Technical Writers, and we wrote Help (embedded into the App), usually in RoboHelp. Also, a lot of software shipped with physical manuals, printed on a printing press, bound and everything.
One of the last things I did at my first TW jobs was get the camera-ready art and manuscript (with all the markup for page size, footer, page numbers, TOC, and Index) out to the publisher, proofed and shipped! I still have a copy.
I was the lead author on it as well (but no credit in the actual book).
Good times.
posted by dbmcd at 1:48 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Wanted to add The Cluetrain Manifesto, but someone beat me to it upthread. I read that while in business school, and wow! the old stuffed shirts were not ready for that one!

Also, Lockergnome was a weekly email newsletter at the time, tipping us onto all sorts of freeware and gadgets. Freeware, was definitely a late 90's thing.

Also, intranets.
posted by bluejayway at 2:20 PM on February 16


Seconding portals. There were still walled-garden ISPs and portals were a way to emulate that by keeping things in-house. Home pages also often had portal-esque qualities. Pingdom has some good screencaps from that era, reminding me of UBL and also of guitar tab/lyrics sites, both web-based and FTP.
posted by holgate at 2:40 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


As noted by Mayor West, above, CD burners were just sick expensive; like Mayor West my first one was a 1x. Scanners were sick expensive, too -- what's comical to me now is that you get a combo printer/copier/scanner when you buy a box of cereal.

Dancing baby, I can't believe no one has mentioned that stupid dancing baby that every moron you know would email to you, sometimes email it to you seventeen times. Gawd...

nonags.com, the shareware site which had no shareware on it if it contained a nag file to continually pop into your face and tell you to buy it; at first you had to buy a subscription to nonags but eventually it was free, likely ad-supported.

And at home I had dial-up, and this one dope I knew casually got his first digital camera, and he would email **HUGE** goddamn image files, like 1 meg, I'd check my email and then could not use it at all while it downloaded this monster piece of garbage file he sent, maybe of a flower or the inside of his nostril who knows who cares, he was in the math dept at UT and had a FAST line; I asked him at least five times to cut it out, to take me off his mailing list, no more images, but they kept on coming. Finally, I got him to quit by sending him back his image file, like about 16 times one Saturday afternoon, each time telling him to knock it the hell off, each time I'd send it my dial-up was choked dead for at least 35 minutes; I think he got reamed out by someone in his department, and I hope so, I know for sure that he finally quit sending me those stupid image files. I wish him ill.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:41 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Hotline had just come out for the Mac. That's the P2P dial up world where you could get all kinds of software, music etc. by logging onto mysterious servers and clicking around to connect to lists of files. Many of these files were bogus, but if you were persistent and followed these strange link trails, which sometimes involved clicking on porn links, you could get a fully functional version of Photoshop 5, Aldus or Macromedia Freehand, Macromedia Director 6, and any font you needed. We saved these files to Zip disk for safekeeping.

Also, I'm recalling that around 1997, nobody wanted to use their real name in their email address. Unless it was for work, many people's email addresses were cryptic and usually felt embarrassing to give out just five years later.
posted by oxisos at 3:16 PM on February 16


Dogpile was a search engine aggregator (still might be, come to think of it).

Also, using CDs for decoration. Not just AOL... I worked in a law firm before the turn of the century, and when Westlaw updated their CDs, the law librarian would make mobiles from them and hang them from the ceiling.

Librarians (including, but not limited to, law librarians) were the gods and godesses of search back then. A lot of older workers (or lawyers) were far more clueless about tech than they are even now. I knew of partners having their secretaries print their email for them to read, celebrating when they wrote their first emails, and insisting early versions of voice control software be able to replace their Dictaphones.

Hardware was definitely a status symbol. In my law firm we made partners buy their own PCs, while associates and staff got firm-owned machines. I remember one Christmas party where the male partners kept trying to one-up each other with their chosen processor speed, RAM, hard drive size, etc. It was almost as bad as a locker room.
posted by lhauser at 4:40 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Team OS/2!

Windows' dominion over the desktop was probably a forgone conclusion by '97, but some of us weren't admitting that to ourselves yet...

In the late '80s, OS/2 was going to be "a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows," and eventually it was, if you could afford the RAM, until Microsoft moved the goalposts by making Windows 95 software incompatible with older versions of Windows and therefore OS/2. Whether Big Blue could've won the OS war by encouraging folks to write actual OS/2 software instead of trying to be "a better Windows than Windows" is one for the history books, but OS/2 Warp ("your on-ramp to the information superhighway" - yes, it said that on the box) just couldn't take on the juggernaut that was Microsoft's OEM licensing racket - a juggernaut of IBM's own making, incidentally - not to mention the epic Chicago vaporware campaign.

Oh, yeah, vaporware, there's a buzzword nobody's mentioned yet!
posted by MoTLD at 5:04 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Zip disks, and their click of Death.

Mac clones.

Professional drum scanner + Photoshop + large-format printer = silly fun.

(Man, working at a service bureau in the 90s was great sometimes.)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:07 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Oh, yeah, vaporware, there's a buzzword nobody's mentioned yet!

Vaporware is still a thing. We just call it Kickstarter now.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:39 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Alexa.
Meaningless page counters for everyone!
Yahoo Site of the Day.
Good fonts were like gold in the Usenet (and I'd forgotten about hotline!) software world.

I had a tricked-out Newton with some kind of internet connectivity. There wasn't really anything to connect to.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:17 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


good stuff. Oh and I forgot about the cds as decoration thing. especially AOL disks
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:12 PM on February 16


Point is, 1997 was very different from the years that followed. It's really the last year that things were sane and it all got really stupid crazy weird after that. 1997 had all this potential and things were just coming to a head. 1998 saw the crest of the wave and the following years saw it break on the beach. It was a neat thing to see.

Thanks for saying that, Pogo. I sort of picked 97 out of a hat but I wanted it to be a time of the beginning of a big shift, so it looks like I chanced on the right time.

Also, yes how could I have forgotten 'robust' and people having enough bandwidth.

Thanks also for the cellphone things because I have a character who's a poor creative trying to fit in to the new culture and buys a cellphone on credit; I recall them still being a signifier of wealth at that time and still prohibitively expensive for someone like me, but my 90s recollections are fuzzy at best.

I knew you guys would be a goldmine.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:45 PM on February 16


I think 1997 was when my family went from paying by the minute for AOL dialup, to paying by the month. LIFECHANGING. My modem kicked me off the internet when my friend called to tell me Princess Di had passed away, which is a very 1997 tale.

AIM, AOL Instant Messenger, launched in 97 and was instantly must-have software for anyone in my middle school who wasn't on AOL already. Having chat that was interoperable between ISPs and easy to use was huge. For some reason ICQ never caught on with my crowd but having a cool "screen name" on AIM was very crucial.

GeoCities was called that because it was divided into "neighborhoods" based on subject matter, which you chose when you created your account. My X-Files fansite was in Area51.

Everyone had a favorite search engine, there were dozens and they all were terrible. Google took the world by storm when it came out because none of the ones before it worked worth a damn.
posted by potrzebie at 12:34 AM on February 17


It was after 97 but b4 Y2K I think that Joe Frank was referenced in a piece on Salon (which had Garrison Keillor writing an advice column at that time, and regular contributions by Anne LaMott, also -- it was a nice period for Salon readers) and I found a lot of Frank's shows streaming on KCRW and then found a guy who had just about all of Frank's shows as .mp3 files on a Hotline server and lo, it was good.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:53 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Swatch Internet Time sticks out as being something tied to precisely the late '90s. Whilst clearly somewhat of a marketing gimmick by a watch company, it demonstrates the exuberance of the time to think that the Internet, and consequent globalisation of human interaction, made it both necessary and possible to sweep away the system of timekeeping that had suited us well for the last few hundred years. I certainly remember this being taken at least vaguely seriously for a while by some people.
posted by Jabberwocky at 9:36 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Some culture sources:

The webcomic Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet
Fake period piece by Neil Cicierega and friends: It's the World Wide Web
The humor site Brunching Shuttlecocks (sadly no longer around, check the Internet Archive)
Mahir! I kiss you!!!
posted by cadge at 11:07 AM on February 17


"Netsurfer Digest" ('More signal - less noise') was a weekly email/website posting that attempted to summarise all that was going on in the world of the internet. From 1994 onwards it was, to me, like a protean version of Metafilter (and both sites shared a predilection for text as a delivery mechanism). Here is an example issue from September 1997. It is interesting because you can see exactly what people were getting excited about at that instant (the link is via Archive.or which means that at least the first level links for that particular week are also live)
posted by rongorongo at 12:54 AM on February 19


Something just knocked loose another memory from the era, it was 1996 but things were still moving slowly enough then that it's relevant to 1997: There was a photojournalism project called "24 Hours in Cyberspace: Painting on the Walls of the Digital Cave" which was novel and Cutting Edge at the time because it had both a web site and a coffee table book. (Remember coffee table books?) I remember thinking it was a valiant, but sort of foolhardy effort to document anything as vast and fluid as the web/internet already was even then. It probably did capture a pretty good zeitgeist of what the web looked like and how people were thinking about it at the time, though.

A couple of friends of mine were contributors and the photos/essay they worked on were about a guy who was the founder (I think) of a luddite society who pledged that they would never ever use e-mail for correspondence... yet the society had a web site.

The day captured was February 8, 1996 and the book wasn't published until that October, which just seems so quaint now. Sadly, there don't seem to be any functional mirrors of the original website out there. One of the partial wayback machine pages says, "Please direct all inquiries to: cyber24rs@aol.com", which is a good reminder that it was possible to be on the cutting edge with an aol e-mail address.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:35 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


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