It’s said that everyone at some point get 15 minutes of fame. Mine did last a bit longer. It’s time to rewind all the way back to 1995.
Word of warning: My memory isn’t all that good, so some details might be slightly off.
Recently we’d discovered this fancy new thing called the World Wide Web. We’d all been on the internet since we started at UiT.no in August 1994, but between various Usenet and FTP sites it wasn’t all that exciting. Until someone installed the Mosaic web browser on our university machines.
All of a sudden there was a lot of information available, and some entertaining pages. Hours were lost browsing the Yahoo web index. We also got the ability to create our own web pages on our university Unix accounts. So we did.
Pages and documents could be created using this new fancy
HTML mark up. These
were personal pages where we presented ourselves, showcased projects and
maintained our “Hotlists” – pages with links to other pages we’d discovered and
We were not allowed to run server side scripts, and modern things like client side image maps did not exist at the time. Styling of page items was also not defined in HTML at the time (there was no such thing as CSS) so all images had an implicit border. I got the idea that this side effect could be used as an effect on it’s own, and created a front page consisting entirely of images, laid out in a brick wall like fashion. Nicely decorated using the spray can effect in Paint. High class.
The effect was something like this (thank you Placekitten):
Going out to the world
Of course no one but ourselves were visiting these pages, so one late afternoon in March we decided to list our pages on the Yahoo web index, and see who got the most traffic. I think this was a thursday or friday.
When I arrived at the university the next monday, I got a stern notice that I needed to go visit TK (Teknisk Kompetansegruppe), the sysadmins for the CS department. There I was met by the approximate question “What have you done?”
Over the weekend, traffic to the page had spiked to the point where it almost
took down the web server. Thankfully, TK had recently transitioned to the new
httpd variant named
Apache which was capable of handling the
traffic. They also directed responses to my page to a dedicated machine, and we
could literally watch the traffic log flow quickly in a terminal.
It turned out that most of the traffic was coming from this new browser called Netscape. We didn’t really know this browser, as we did not have access to it on our machines. Netscape had a set of standard menu items, “What’s new” and “What’s cool” menus. These were curated with pages someone in Netscape found interesting, and that someone had apparently picked up my fancy hack and found it interesting enough to list there.
The result was a traffic volume that would spike my page to a level that the largest norwegian online newspaper (VG) would not reach until more than a year later. IIRC there were >1M requests during that week alone, and the traffic stayed high for a long time after that. Granted, one reason for the high amount of requests, was that the images on the page caused some (15?) additional requests after the initial HTML.
The HTML files
There was one section on The Wall that contained some actual content: The HTML files. This was a collection of various text files that I’d found around the internet and BBSes, and converted into this new fancy HTML format, including a complete version of the Devil’s Dictionary. I’ve found an old backup, and you can now find The HTML files here.
I’ve left out the Devil’s Dictionary this time though, as there are several entries that will be considered sexist or plain racist. Even though the intention from the author even back around 1900 probably was to provoke, I don’t feel the need to fuel it further.
I haven’t massaged the rest of the files either, which means among other things that there has been some sort of encoding glitch on the scandinavian texts.