Australia

All of Australia’s 'daggy' websites from the 90s are now preserved online

The SBS News Website in 1997. Trove allows users to look back through time to see how websites once looked. Source: National Library of Australia

These web pages from 1996 onward offer a walk down the digital memory lane - showing how the internet has changed.

Want to know what your digital presence looked like in 1996? Or what was hot on the web during the mid-2000s? A team of researchers from the National Library of Australia have been collecting snapshots of the internet since  1996 and it's now on show.

Australian web pages from the past 20 years have been saved in Trove, the library's digital archives, and can be easily accessible for browsing through a keyword search.  

Alison Dellit, senior executive in charge of the National Library’s online portal said the archives were an important part of Australia's cultural and literary heritage

“We took one copy of [the web] at a moment in time from 1996 onwards,” Ms Dellit told SBS.

“Plus much more detailed and frequent shots of sites that we thought were particularly important, which for example includes SBS’s site which we have much more frequent copies of.”

The Wiggles were early adopters of the web.
The Wiggles were early adopters of the web.
National Library of Australia

A static version of countless available websites provide a keyhole into the beginnings of the internet, she said.

And not even, your own news provider is spared:

“The earliest from [SBS] that I can find is 21st of October 1997,” Ms Dellit said.

“It’s a little daggy  - (but) it’s not as daggy as some of the website of the time."

Ms Dellit says the archive not only documents shifts in society and culture but also the evolution of web design.

“Back in the 90s, we really did think that the best way to make something prominent was to make it as bright and colourful as possible…[there was] also a huge fondness for rotating GIFS .”

The SBS News homepage in 2004. Still looking daggy.
The SBS News homepage in 2004. Still looking daggy.
National Library of Australia

So, what are the stand outs? Bec and Lleyton Hewitt, according to Ms Dellit.

“When they got married, they set up a site called ‘Bec and Lleyton Hewitt’ which is a real classic piece of 90’s design... Lots of colour, lots of different images that come at you and quite small images in those days because we didn’t have the capacity to deliver the resolution," she said.

Lleyton and Bec Hewitt's first website in 2008.
Lleyton and Bec Hewitt's first website in 2008.
National Library of Australia

The Wiggles with their bright yellow background is also a favourite for Ms Dellit, along with early Mardi Gras homepages.

Mardi Gras Netcast webpage circa 1998.
Mardi Gras Netcast webpage circa 1998.
National Library of Australia

With the internet constantly changing, the capture process of these web pages is a calculated process for the National Library team.

“We have to take a sense when something is going to change or go away very quickly [online],” Ms Dellit said.

“If there is a change of government we have to move very quickly to make sure we have a copy of all the websites of the previous government before new policies come in and those websites disappear - or if there is a particular moment in time – a cultural nexus, a big sporting event that we want to capture.”

Former Prime Minster John Howard's website in 1998.
Former Prime Minster John Howard's website in 1998.
National Library of Australia

And the first thing most people do is - search for themselves.

“You can absolutely punch your name in and see where you appeared on the web in the last 20 years and what record of your life might actually be there," Ms Dellit said.

A testament to the permanency of a digital footprint, Ms Dellit said the archive offers many a blast from the past.

“We’ve got a lot of staffers [at the library] for whom ‘Dolly’ was a really big part of their lives … for a lot of people that brings back a big part of their youth.

"Without being able to capture the publication of the web there are whole aspects of Australian culture we would have lost, a whole section of our history disappears.

Dolly Magazine's website in 2006.
Dolly Magazine's website featuring Dolly Doctor in 2006.
National Library of Australia

“The earliest snapshot we have of Rendezvous.com goes back to the late 90's when it had something like 2000 members across Australia [in comparison] to now, where internet dating [can be] a huge part of most people’s lives.

"[Through the archive], you can see its growth from what was once considered an unusual kind of activity, something that was a bit suss or a bit difficult, through to the current [perception]."

Rendezvous Dating Website in 2005.
Rendezvous Dating Website in 2005.
National Library of Australia

But this archive also marks another milestone.

“It is about a library moving into the digital age,” Ms Dellit said.

“This is us creating a research collection … a record of Australian life that is a very modern reflection and not simply the way people perceive [libraries] where we have collections of precious manuscripts and letters. The internet really is those collections of the 21st century.”

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