Dearest internet-denizens. Today, allow me to take you on a trip. A trip to a simpler, but not easier time. An era filled with gifs, flash and quicktime. A period of history when just about everyone on the block had the web, but you all commiserated en masse about just how long things took to load. A time before 2005, when former Paypal employees would finally create that media sharing device we all cried out for. Before there was one spot- and only one spot- where we could all go for amusing, inane videos and meme fodder.
A time before Youtube.
No. no. Not before Youtube became a subsidiary of Google in 2006. Not before people started blogging about how it changed the world and shrank our social circles. Not before the absurdists and unmedicated ADDers came up with “Youtube Poop”.
Before it existed.
Do you remember that time, dear interwebz?
Back in the early days, you had to know what page you wanted. You had to know where the funny or the entertaining or the weird was. You had to type web-addresses.
And once you did know, you desperately wanted to share.
In future Before Youtube posts, I’m going to take us all down a little side road I like to call nostalgia and bring up a few videos you may or may not have seen along with some history on when and where they spawned.
To kickstart our little journey, let’s talk dancing hampsters. You remember that, right? You typed in ‘www.hampsterdance.com’ and you got a simple page filled with spinning, bouncing gifs set to the tune of ‘The Whistle Stop’? That damnable, un-unhearable, catchy as hell tune from Disney’s “Robin Hood”, but all sped up just to make it even more of an ear-worm? That melody that you catch yourself whistling despite yourself even now?
Even if there wasn’t a photo above, you could still see the hampsters…couldn’t you?
It was 1998, and a Canadian art student named Deidre LaCarte engaged in a friendly competition with two other young women to see who among them could generate the most traffic. (I’d assume it fair to say that LaCarte won. Hopefully she enjoyed her hockey tickets and bottles of maple syrup. (That’s currency up there, right?)) Her inspiration came from her hampster and the end result was a page filled with his likeness along with several other bobbing, animated gifs of creatures she would later dub Dixie, Hado, and Fuzzy. One might argue that it wasn’t exactly an artistic concept, but here’s the interesting part—
1998 to 1999? 800 visits. Maybe four a day if that.
Suddenly in 1999, the number of visits per day skyrocketed to an astonishing 15,000…per day! 15,000 views per day was not something a random Geocities page did! (Sleep well sweet pagehoster, btw…)
Maybe it was the catchy music. Maybe it was the origin of the internet and adorable furry animals playing well together. Maybe it was the fact that if you set a co-worker or a friend or a parent’s homepage to this looping 9-second loop of sped-up, high pitched music hilarity ensued. Maybe it was the fact that this particular facet of HampsterDance brought some mainstream televised attention to the site.
….Either way you cut it though, it was clearly magic.
I remember at least one entrancing afternoon spent watching the hammies boogie until they went out of sync. If you’d like to relive that magic, just click below: