It was the 1990's. Homes had dial-up internet. Yahoo! was the internet search engine of choice. There were no such things as blogs or Tweets and your best way to meet people online was through America Online, not Facebook or MySpace. Instead of YouTube videos, you had hand-drawn Flash animations.
These early days of the world wide web gave us trends that were the precursor to the modern internet "meme." Because of slow connection speeds and a still-growing infrastructure of broadband technology, people had to be creative, but the fascination with the odd and humorous was no different from today.
Hair Balls is nostalgic for the early days of the internet when we used to troll the hook up old school telephone modems to our Commodore 64's War Games-style. Our sentimentality led us to write about the nine web memes of the `90's that paved the way for the internet today.
Mahir Cagri What It Led to: The Blog
Everyone wanted a personal page in the 1990's. The now defunct site Geocities and the surprisingly still alive Tripod.com from Lycos, helped anyone with a tiny knowledge of HTML and a dream to host a website filled with crazy backgrounds, bad photos and ramblings about everything from food and family to music and politics. Sound familiar?
But, no one's personal page compared to Mahir Cagri. The Turkish man became famous in the late `90's for his crazy website populated with broken English and the phrase "I KISS YOU!!!" Cagri's similarity to the fictional character Borat was eerie and it is unclear whether Borat pre-dated Cagri's website. As you might imagine, lawsuits have been threatened and apologies demanded. He wouldn't be Mahir Cagri if they hadn't.
Thousands of people like Cagri (ok, not entirely like that guy) began using the internet in the `90's to share their personal thoughts through websites like his. Today, most people use blogs, but the concept of sharing information hasn't changed. So, we bid a fond thank you to the early adopters of Geocities and, in particular, the fabulous Mahir Cagri.
Bulletin Boards What It Led to: Twitter
The first communities on the browser-based world of the internet revolved around bulletin boards where users from all walks of life could post messages to one another. The very first boards existed before there was an organized web as we know it today in stand-alone form on networks that required you dial into them directly. The Usenet was essentially the internet's first bulletin board system, but that's for a different bedtime story.
BBSes, as they were called, were and are still available for virtually every topic. 4chan's /b/ became the most infamous of all the BBSes, generating admiration, loathing and a not unhealthy dose of fear given the power and activism of its participants.
While bulletin boards still exist and, in some cases, thrive, there is no question social networking sites like Twitter have become the modern day versions of these BBSes and further the development of online communities around the world.
Dancing Baby What It Led to: Flash Animation
The animated GIF image is a series of usually small images placed in a particular order and embedded like any graphic image on a web page to create a looped animation. These animations not only led to all sorts of silliness, but also to seizure-inducing banner advertisements and really slow page loads on MySpace.
One of the earliest, most famous and certainly creepiest examples of this type of graphic was the Dancing Baby, which went on to fame on the television series Ally McBeal.
The fun of looping a bunch of images together just because never seems to lose its charm and there are still thousands of examples online, but as the need grew for more sophisticated options, Flash animations began to take over for animated GIF's to the point where the only real use for the outdated image format is funny monkey drumming, and that's fine with us. Ate My Balls What It Led to: LOLCats
If you think there are a lot of funny (and not-so funny) versions of LOLCat images out there, you can thank a strange `90's internet phenomenon that employed the simple phrase "ate my balls" as in "Homer Simpson ate my balls."
Much the same way LOLCats are strewn about the internet like fuzzy play toys, "ate my balls" spawned countless websites dedicated to proving that everyone from the Amish to Yoko Ono did indeed eat our balls. We know that 4Chan was the origin for LOLCats, but we like to think that someone on /b/ was inspired by a whole lot of eating of balls.
Bert is Evil What It Led to: Photoshopping
Before the Tourist Guy stared down death at the top of the World Trade Center, Hugh Jackman could ride anything and sad Yao Ming was sad, there was Bert is Evil because, apparently, nothing says "evil" like a muppet with a furrowed brow. At a time when Photoshopping was a pretty damn complicated process, far more creative people than us started placing Sesame Street's Bert in all sorts of photos in an effort to prove he was evil. From Hitler and Jack the Ripper to strip clubs and Jerry Springer, Bert did and saw it all and these photos are our evidence.
In 2002, Worth1000.com opened and began taking Photoshopping to a whole new level. Today, there are countless examples of manipulated images all over the internet from fake celebrity nudes to re-imagined movie posters and, like many things in life, we have Sesame Street to thank.
RateMyFace.com What It Led to: Facebook
A Harvard Business School study released last year found that most men who visit Facebook do so for two reasons: to look at pictures of women they know or to look at pictures of women they don't know. Nowhere is that more evident than on hotness rating websites like RateMyFace.com, where visitors can rank people based on how they look in photos submitted to the site.
It's a deceptively simple idea that gave perverts a chance to peer at strange women and rank them according to their own narcissistic whims.
RateMyFace was the predecessor to the even more successful HotorNot.com, but we doubt either of their creators had any idea what their sites would spawn. In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg got his start by creating Facemash, a site similar to HotorNot but for Harvard students. His initial inspiration would lead him to create Facebook and now he's Time's Person of the Year. All that just because dudes wanted to rate pictures of hot chicks. Trojan Room Coffee Pot What It Led to: Video Chat
Long before Face Time, Chat Roulette and Skype video chat, there was the Trojan Room Coffee Pot web cam, because nothing says excitement like a coffee pot in the computer lab at Cambridge University, in 1991 anyway.
This inspiration for the world's first webcam demonstrates clearly just how far nerds will go to entertain themselves. The computer lab students actually devised software to run the camera before webcam software (or webcams!) was invented. Like most geek internet inventions, it was eventually used to show porn, zoo animals and fish tanks, not at the same time as far as we know.
Peanut Butter Jelly Time What It Led to: YouTube
Before video existed in any legitimate form on the web, there were Flash animations, most of them hand drawn and hilarious. Easily the most well known of those was Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
The silly animation of a cartoon banana dancing around to the equally bizarre song "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" by the Buckwheat Boyz became a staple early internet meme. It inspired countless other Flash animations, many set to music. The logical outgrowth of all those animations was video. YouTube sensations like the Star Wars Kid and Dramatic Chipmunk owe their existence to a dancing banana and we should all be thankful for such blessed time wasters.
Hamster Dance What It Led to: ?
We honestly have no idea what this most awesome of early internet memes led to, but whatever it is, it's most definitely awesome!