A Power Macintosh 6500 series, photographed in 1997AP

People of the Internet, join me, as we travel back to the year 1997. It was an era of yowling modems, AOL chatrooms, and websites under construction.

And you knew they were under construction because they told you. With GIFs. Glorious, blinking, yellow-and-black GIFS.

Like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And, well, you get the idea. If the mere glimpse of those things gives you twinges of longing, you remember a time when they were everywhere. The web was littered with them. Simple as they may appear, seeing those “under construction” GIFs in 2015 underscores a profound shift in the way people think about the web.

“It represents this utterly different philosophy that you need to know that this site is under construction, it's not done yet,” said Jason Scott, a historian at the Internet Archive. “Now, we know all sites are not done. If your site is done, something is wrong. It’s bad. You’re either out of money or you’re boring.”

Scott has given this matter a good deal of thought, in part because he’s spent time collecting these lost GIFs from across the web, saving them from total obscurity. “It's a ridiculously massive collection,” he said. And it’s worth perusing his page devoted to “under construction” GIFs, in all their frenetic 1990s glory, for yourself. (The dizzying effect you get when the page is loading was intended.)

These animations may look simple—janky, even—but it’s important to remember the web environment in which they emerged. The amount of data a website could handle was minuscule compared with today. “People might have had only three megabytes of space,” Scott said. “So they had to make their decisions.”

Today designers are making more complicated decisions, and deploying changes constantly. The web has always been under construction, but that no longer needs to be said. “The web is becoming less permanent,” Scott said, “And more of a dynamic, shifting thing.”

This story is part of an occasional series about abandoned Internet imagery. Related stories here and here.

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