It must be hard for anyone who has spent their whole life as a Google-enabled entity to fully wrap their brains around what the early days of the internet were like. Even yours truly, who lived through it all and saw it happen firsthand — I read the book, saw the play, and got the T-Shirt* — find it difficult to remember just how hard things were back then (*I don’t, as yet, flaunt the tattoo). You have to remember that, even when the internet first started to impinge itself on the public consciousness (such as it is) circa 1994, there really wasn’t much of general interest on it. And, just to add to the fun and frivolity, there were no search engines, so there was no way to find out what was there unless someone or something kindly presented you with an appropriate link. Even when the folks at Yahoo hurled themselves into the fray with gusto and abandon circa 1994, they didn’t automatically find and index your website. Instead, you were obliged to go to their site, fight your weary way through their hierarchy, and individually add the URL’s to your web pages to the Yahoo category to which you thought they best belonged.
The awesome homegrown D16/M Minicomputer (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: TimeFracture.org)
To be honest, looking back, it’s amazing we found anything on the internet at all. One mechanism that helped us circumvent the lack of search engines was for like-minded people to join a web ring, which was established and maintained by an enthusiast in that topic. The rational behind the “ring” nomenclature is that each site in the ring had a common navigation bar with links to “Previous” and “Next” sites in the ring. There might even be a “Random” button if you were lucky. I can still recall the rush of endorphins when one clicked such a “Random” button — it was like stepping into Doctor Who’s TARDIS — you had no idea when and where you would emerge. The reason I’m waffling on about this here is that I just experienced a “blast from the past,” as it were (it’s fortunate I was wearing clean undergarments). My chum Peter Traneus Anderson (a.k.a. Traneus Rex) just send me an email containing a list of what he called “interesting-to-me” websites on the basis that’s what’s interesting to him will probably make me sit up and pay attention. You can only imagine my surprise and delight to discover that one of these links was to the Homebrew Computers Web Ring. This is one of those things that I’ve been returning to for decades now. Every now and again, it will impinge itself on my consciousness and I will spend a happy time visiting a few old friends and meeting a few new ones (I’m talking about computers, not people), and then knowledge of the ring will gradually fade from my memory for a few years until the whole cycle starts over — it’s like déjà vu all over again (didn’t somebody just say that?). I really would encourage you to look around this ring and bask in the presence of the marvels you will discover there. While I’m thinking about it, I need to tell my chums Nick Bild (with his 8-bit Vectron 64 breadboard computer) and Richard Grafton (with his 4-bit Cambridge-1 breadboard computer) that they too should join this venerable web ring, which gamely presents a puddle of tranquility while the tumultuous internet ocean ebbs and flows around it. Meanwhile, I would be interested to hear which of the bodacious beauties on the Homebrew Computers Web Ring is your favorite…