Web Culture

7 Ancient Internet Trends That Affect the Web Today

Joel Lee 26-03-2015

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Today’s web might not look or feel like the web of the 1990s, but you’d be surprised by how much of it is actually the same when you dive beneath the surface. As they say, a Whopper in shiny wrapper is still a Whopper.

Here are some of the oldest Internet trends, concepts, and memes that still dictate how we use the web in this modern era. Before continuing on, prepare yourself for a heavy dose of nostalgia. We’re going way back.

GIFs: Animating Everything Since 1987

Imagine an Internet without any animated images. It’d be a boring, dreadful place, wouldn’t it? How fortunate we are that CompuServe developed the GIF GIF - The Final Word On How To Pronounce It With the resurgence of the Graphics Interchange Format in its animated incarnation, the HOT debate about how to pronounce that gem of an acronym has also come to the front again. There are two fighters... Read More , which has been a staple of the web for decades now.

My colleague Mihir recently explored the advent and history of the GIF GIFs, The Language Of The Web: Their History, Culture, and Future Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of GIFs, how they've evolved, and their cultural impact and significance. Read More , not only delving into its technical aspects but also the culture surrounding the format and why it came to be so popular over the years. One thing is true: GIFs have changed the way we use the web.


The progress of animated web media started with the GIF and smoothly transitioned into Flash some time around 1996. Though Flash has started to make an exit thanks to the development of HTML5 videos What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously,... Read More , GIFs are still going strong. But for how much longer?

The first YouTube video hit the Internet in 2005. While video sharing and GIF sharing tend to fulfill two different social needs, the GIF may soon be retired in favor of a GIF-video hybrid format called GIFV, which is based on WebM. Essentially, it’s a soundless, looping video that loads faster and plays back smoother than traditional GIFs.

Regardless of the actual format, it’s undeniable that GIF culture is here to stay. Nothing else on the web compares to the succinct simplicity of a seconds-long looping clip that can be shared effortlessly.

Godwin’s Law: As True Today as 1990

Also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies, this has been a defining trait of Internet arguments for as long as Internet arguments have been around. The law itself is simple:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

The fact that this observation held true way back in 1990 and continues to hold true in 2015 is amazing. When did the world decide that Hitler was the most evil villain of all history? And why is he the de facto standard when it comes to discrediting an opponent’s argument? Will it ever end?

Who knows.

But what’s more interesting is this trend of turning generalized social observations into Internet laws. For example, consider Poe’s Law – first defined in 2005:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

In other words: it’s impossible to distinguish between an extreme viewpoint and a parody of that extreme viewpoint.

There are many so-called Internet commandments 5 Internet Commandments To Live By Or Incur The Wrath Of The Web (And A Note On Porn) The Internet is a somewhat lawless place. Sure, there are various legalities concerning the posting and viewing of certain content -- including pornography and copyrighted material -- but generally speaking the rules that govern the... Read More that attempt to describe human behavior on the web and most of them are surprisingly accurate to this day. How freaky.

Geocities: Build Your Own Website, Back in 1994

Just the mention of the word “Geocities” brings a smile to my face. In the mid-90’s, Geocities was the only way for a non-technical user to create a personal webpage. There was no Facebook, MySpace, or WordPress. Geocities was it. Geocities was life.

Not long after, copycats and imitators sprung up all over the place. In 1995, Tripod opened its doors. A year later, Angelfire began hosting simple webpages, and a year after that, FortuneCity. It wasn’t until 2001, when Freewebs joined the party, that common pagehosting grew to include more advanced features and freedom.


All of this to say: people have always been itching to make their mark on the Internet. Geocities was the precursor to the modern-day blog. Today, users can have a new website set up in mere minutes with hosts like Blogger, WordPress, and Weebly. Even if the blog concept were to die, people would find other avenues of expression. That’s just who we are.

Want to take a trip down memory lane? Check out these free Geocities archives 3 Archives That Will Bring You Back Into The Days Of GeoCities Today, free web hosting is a thing of the past. Major search engines like the aforementioned Yahoo! and Google weren't such monsters yet, either. You could search for popular keywords and some of the first... Read More to see what the web was like back then.

ICQ: Popularized Instant Messaging in 1996

I have to admit that I’ve never used ICQ, but I can certainly appreciate how it revolutionized Internet communications. While ICQ wasn’t the first to implement an instant messaging protocol, it was the first to make one popular on such a wide scale.

Following in its footsteps, we got developments like AOL Instant Messenger in 1997, Yahoo Messenger in 1998, and MSN Messenger in 1999. We’ve all used one or more of these during their peak years, haven’t we? Maybe some of us still use them. That’s the influence of ICQ.


How does that reach over into today?

Well, instant messages live on in a million different forms. SMS text messages are a big one, especially with the widespread adoption of unlimited mobile texting plans. We also have free mobile messaging apps 5 Best Free Messaging Apps for Android Need a free way to send messages to friends and family with your phone for free? Check out these apps. Read More like WhatsApp, Viber, and LINE.

It’s hard to imagine a world without these kind of quick one-off messages, isn’t it? Thank you, ICQ.

JenniCam: Live Streaming Back in 1996

Reality television, which is probably better described as unscripted television, began all the way back in the 1940s. It’s not a new phenomenon, though it has certainly seen a huge surge in popularity over the past decade or so.

But Jennifer Ringley was the first to bring reality television to the web, with JenniCam. Though it hasn’t been running since 2003, it was such an influential bit of Internet history that CNET named JenniCam one of the greatest defunct websites in history.


For those who don’t know, JenniCam was an always-on video stream that documented Ringley’s life at home. It was entirely unfiltered and uncensored — she kept it running even in her most private moments – even the ones you’re thinking of.

At her best, she pulled in over 100 million weekly visitors.

While few have successfully replicated the same kind of experiment, JenniCam did pave the way for public livestreaming on the web. For a while the most popular way to do it was through Justin.TV, but that service came to an end in 2014. Now the most popular choices are Livestream, Ustream, and Twitch TV How To Stream Live Video to Your Twitch.TV Channel Launched in June of last year, the world of online gaming needed a portal to livestream events and Justin.TV's secondary niche website, Twitch.TV, serves today as just that. What if you're just a guy sitting... Read More .

Demotivational Posters: 1998’s Precursor to the Image Macro

In 1998, a company called Despair, Inc. began producing a series of posters that parodied the motivational posters plastered all over corporate offices. Can you guess the name of these parodies? Wait for it… demotivational posters!

Though these demotivationals were printed and distributed physically, what’s fascinating is that they took on a separate life and energy on the Internet. Users began creating their own demotivationals for any and all kinds of situations (and many of them were quite humorous).


Do you see the demotivational’s resemblance to another Internet fad? If you thought “image macro A Brief Overview of Internet Memes & How You Can Quickly Create Your Own Read More “, then you were correct!

One of the staples of modern web culture revolves around this idea of taking an image and stamping it with a few choice words that, when combined, produce anything from a thin smile to a belly laugh. I don’t know how long this trend will stick around, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to die any time soon.

Napster: File Sharing Like It’s 1999

When Napster first hit the scene in 1999, I was just a teenager still learning the ropes of the Internet. Dialup speeds made Napster a pain to use, but the concept was amazing. Free music downloads? It was like magic. (Back then, I had no idea — nor would I probably have cared — that it was piracy).

Napster’s innovation turned a lot of heads. It didn’t take long for an imitator to enter the ring, which is exactly what happened with LimeWire’s arrival in 2000. Then one year later, we got that wonderful program called Kazaa.


Napster shut down in 2001 due to legal issues, LimeWire shut down in 2011 due to legal issues, and Kazaa ceased active development in 2012.

However, we still have the BitTorrent protocol The Torrent Guide for Everyone This beginner's guide is a great introduction to peer-to-peer file sharing with BitTorrent. Get started with torrent downloading in a safe and responsible way with our tips here. Read More , which could be argued as a spiritual successor of the Napster/LimeWire/Kazaa trifecta. And no matter how you feel about the problem of piracy 4 Ways Internet Piracy Can Be a Good Thing Let’s open up a can of worms and think about this for a minute: is online piracy really that bad? Read More , nobody can deny that torrenting is one of the most popular activities on the web today.

And There’s So Much More!

In the decades since the Internet’s inception, nothing but a few critical innovations have really changed the game. As it is, most of what was around back then are still around today — they just look and feel different.

If you’re itching for some more nostalgia, check out these websites that’ll take you back to the 1990s 6 Websites That Will Bring You Back To The '90s Oh, man. I may have a biased opinion, being born in '89, but were the '90s not incredible? Nostalgia just drives me nuts and the '90s felt like the peak of music, movies, gaming, and... Read More . And if that’s not enough to satisfy the itch, hop over to these websites for sharing nostalgia 7 Websites For Sharing Your Nostalgic Memories Of Days Gone By Nostalgia may be bittersweet, but the mere thought of the past ties us all together socially. We share our best and worst memories. This is where the Web comes in as the great watering hole. Read More .

Which Internet trends were most memorable to you? What other trends did I miss? Tell us about the ones you love and the ones you hate in the comments below!

Image Credits: Geocities Via Webmonkey, ICQ Via SurveilStar, JenniCam Via The Big Internet Museum

Related topics: GIF, Instant Messaging, Meme.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Yochanon
    March 31, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    "Imagine an Internet without any animated images. It’d be a boring, dreadful place, wouldn’t it?" You've got to be joking. Only those with low IQ's have to be excited about seeing shiny, flashy things and animated tiny little pictures.

    Poe's Law - For the retards who couldn't get through 3rd grade (and beyond) reading and comprehension and were only passed out of pity of the idiot.

    Another thing the internet still has today as it did back in the mid 90's - Websites take far too long to load (no matter what connection speed one has). The reason is the builder(s) have to put in every known gadget, animated googah, shiny object and ultra-large file size picture they can on it. The builders today have no thought to the term 'considerate' when it comes to building a website that works well for *ALL* connection speeds, *ALL* browsers and *ALL* OS's. Just like back in the 90's the morons are too stupid or too inconsiderate or too infatuated with 'I-learned-on-M$-so-that's-all-there-is-and-I'm-too-stupid-to-learn-anything-different'. I mean, how pathetic is it that we still find many, many sites that pop up little windows or whatever telling you that you're using a browser it doesn't support (yet there you are seeing that pathetic excuse of a website with that "unsupported" browser!), ad nausea.

    Go to a website, download all the pictures (non-animated) to a new directory, then check the size of those pictures combined. Then, if you have the app on Winblows, compress each of those pictures at 60%, and look at the combined size of the directory. It's scary how many people out there create websites thinking they got some kind of adumacashun in some college somewhere and now think they're the bees knees and can't even perform the simplest of tasks to make their shiny site actually work *FAST* and still look just as good.

    I've always said that it'd be nothing but a Good Thing??? if site builders would pull their heads out and did just these few 'fixes' - compress *all* the pics on the site (even the background can be compressed!); stop the animations that just absolutely aren't actually necessary; quit forcing youtube/any videos on us that automatically start the moment you arrive on the page. Not only is this forcing us to turn them off if we don't want to see or hear them, but for those on satellite connections (for example) it automatically starts to add to the amount they're allowed to use each month and thus can quickly and severely threaten their alloted amount.

    In other words, how bad can it be that a site loads twenty times faster and easier for *ANY* internet connection speed?

  2. random observer
    March 30, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    The words "ancient" and "internet" in the same sentence. That's funny. The Internet is still brand new.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      You're right. However, within the newness of the Internet, these are relatively ancient. ;)

  3. Tom
    March 27, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Geocities Quake page. Check. ICQ number that was only 6 digits long. Check. Napster. Check. Upset that I missed JenniCam when my 16 year old self would have killed to see those "private moments"... check. :-( (sad face, check.)

    Side note... Remember Morpheus? My current job is right down the street from a building that has their sign on it... I didn't even know they still existed.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      Haha, you've hit all the big ones. I didn't know Morpheus was still around, though it seems like their business model has undergone big changes.

  4. CJ
    March 26, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Good God, I miss GeoCities. I miss it so much.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Brings back a lot of good (and by good, I mean bad) memories, doesn't it? ;)

  5. DonGateley
    March 26, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9) "

    This principle ran through most cultures on the earth in the past and still does in some isolated ones today. It must have been interesting in its own way to live in such a culture where, with few exceptions, you could expect things in your sphere of awareness to be pretty much exactly the same when you died as when you were born with only the minutia in flux.

    It's my theory that mankind was essentially static through most of it conscious history because the very concept of "change" as we understand it did not exist conceptually. It was the invention and acceptance of the concept itself that caused the explosive growth in knowledge, invention and technology we are now so familiar with.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      That's an interesting theory, though not sure if I'd personally agree with it without significant anthropological evidence. "Everything changes" and "nothing changes" seem like two concepts that have always existed side by side.

    • DonGateley
      April 17, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      @Joel: I think you are right but what is very different between today and the far yesterday is the scope and scale of the concept of change. That trope meant something quite different to the ancients than it does to us or even to those present during the enlightenment. Enough so that the meanings seem like fundamentally different concepts to me.

      I'm not sure what kind of archeological evidence could possibly exist from a preliterate culture or even from a literate one that lacks the modern concept. Does scripture, for example, contain notions anything like the current ones. This might be a case where absence of evidence is in fact evidence of absence.

      Anyway, I think the idea is worthy of much deeper thought and development than I'm capable of. :-)

  6. Phids
    March 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    "Godwin’s Law" is kind of stupid so long as people think that it applies to *any* discussion of Hitler/Nazism in a heated debate on political/philosophical/religious ideas, and therefore dismiss the point. In truth, using Hitler/Nazism as a point of reference is both convenient and legitimate because their beliefs and practices are almost universally recognized as representing serious moral deficiencies. In debates over good vs. evil, law vs. morality, etc., establishing a common ground of belief is important, so Hitler and Nazi references are completely appropriate. Calling someone a Nazi-lover, however, is another story.

    • dragonmouth
      March 28, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Hitler/Nazis have nothing on Stalin and Pol Pot and the communists, but Stalin/Pol Pot and communists are rarely used in comparisons.

    • Joel Lee
      April 17, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Yeah, there are appropriate times to bring up Hitler and Nazism in a conversation. Godwin's Law just brings to light how quickly and often people will jump to a Nazi comparison in a fallacious way.