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“I made the first animated ‘under construction’ icon” (metafilter.com)
80 points by robin_reala on Oct 15, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

That's quite a story. It is humorous to think about how someone could have such a huge impact in the early days of the internet.

Now animated GIF's are very passe, and I'm glad. Those old GIF laden sites were worse than modern MySpace.

Those old GIF laden sites were worse than modern MySpace.

I disagree. There was a certain innocence and enthusiasm about them that made them almost charming, or at least quaint. MySpace is just... bad taste.

I guess when you look at it like that I have to agree with you. The quality of those old GIFs might have been bad but at least they were used with fairly good intentions and "innocence" as you put it.

Bah! I love animated GIFs.

This brings back memories of developing websites in the late 90's. Some people would purchase domains and want to setup a website just so they could put this animated construction worker on the site. It was enough for some businesses to look like they were cutting edge.

In 10 years time, I wonder what we'll look back on and see as the equivalent "under construction" for today's internet.

- Any guesses?

That little zoo of "bookmark this" icons that appears next to posts on some blogs. The one with a Digg icon, a Twitter icon, Facebook, StumbleUpon, et cetera, all right next to each other.

Tag clouds.

I'd say those "bookmark this" and "email this" links are getting pretty tired as well...

I find the "email this" link to be extremely useful for when I want to read something, but don't have time to right now.


Flash. Oh please, God, let it be true!

You can use html 5's <canvas> tag on most new browsers today. It's not quite as fast as some of the plugin approaches, but it's getting there.

You need the Google plugin for it to work on IE, but otherwise the newest versions of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera & every browser that uses the rendering engine of one of these (i.e. practically every graphical browser) supports <canvas>.

The "Feedback" tabs.

lame ass "give us your twitter details and we'll abuse you via oauth" pages.

I'm 23 and was just getting started in web development as frames where becoming unpopular. It was amazing to read about a point in time where animated gifs and frames where amazing new technologies that made his life easier.

It helps me to see that maybe the things I find as very important technology-wise, might be just as futile as an animated gif.

I remember thinking frames were the best thing for navigation because you only needed to keep the one file updated, I didnt even know about server side includes back then :) css came a few years later too.

Oh god I loved Server Side Includes. I ran a Tiberian Sun / Red Alert 2 site a years ago and had like 30-ish pages of content. Each had it's own navigation bar. Now imagine the time it took me update if I added a page or changed the navigation.

To make the long story short, I went to IRC (webmaster.com #ra2 - i think), people there introduced me to SSI. Then a few weeks later, they introduced me to Newspro (a few months/years later, it was renamed to Coranto).

Heh, I ran a Red Alert fan page back in the day too! :)

It was a Geocities page and had one of those massive long URL's and may have even used an animated gif or too also!

As did I :) , I also ran a southpark site but stopped updating because I was just linking to other peoples content (with credit). Looking back I wished I added votes, called it an aggregator and gone for the win :D

I remember when all my sites ended with .shtml and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Do you also remember the days before Google? When we had to literally submit our sites to Yahoo's directory, etc.? Good old days :)

I used to think that meant it was secure (like https). I think I even gave a grade-school presentation on that, but no one knew better either.

I'm with you, sounds like the same order of events for me. I am still embarrassed about my heavy abuse of the php include() function.

I ended up doing it my own way using external javascripts :) it's amazing how you approach things when you are completely isolated from what everyone else is doing!

That's nothing. I remember putting webiste into a frameset just to avoid having scrollbar in Netscape 3 \o/.

Makes me nostalgic and depressed at what we thought was cool at that time. In 1996, I made a javascript image slide show hosted on geocities for pictures of me and my girlfriend. She was really impressed at my thoughtfulness and effort. She showed it to so many of her friends...a modern day equivalent of that would be to post a youtube video with annotations on how beautiful she is and do status updates on facebook/twitter about that video 900 times. :)

I used his animated mailbox icon when I was in 5th grade on our elementary school page (http://web.archive.org/web/19971008155351/www.ttsd.k12.or.us...). The internet has certainly become larger and less anonymous feeling.

I'm kinda interested in how they did the server push animations. Does anyone know how exactly this was set up?

I'm struggling to remember now. It was done with MIME, but instead of finishing with an EOF after the boundary, you would start the next image. When it arrived (i.e. reached the next boundary) the browser would replace the image it had with the new one. It was similar in principle to HTTP/1.1 reusing a socket.

It did have one use - if you were doing something "live" on the server, you could generate an image on the fly and send it, e.g. for self-updating graphs without reloading the page. After it fell out of fashion, it wasn't until Java that you could do that again.

What they said already: funky mime types. You'd set auto-refresh for the browser, then push out the next part.

Perl implementation: http://www.radzone.org/tutorials/animatep.html

O'Reilly notes on it from 1996: http://oreilly.com/openbook/cgi/ch06_06.html

Using "Content-type: multipart/x-mixed-replace" and a while(1) on some server-side code pushing the frames out. I think you setup some boundary string that you promise will terminate each part. Heh, it sounds exactly like Comet.

Hah! It still works on Firefox & Mobile Safari!


That's all well and good, but who made the first horizontal rule 'rainbow' GIF, hmm?

I think I remember spiders pick of the day. Crazy.

I made the first animated "under construction" icon! Here it is!

In 1995 I had a site called the "Micro Movie Mini Multiplex" (MMMM). It originated as a collection of push animations. Push animation isn't used anymore, but it involved feeding individual animation frames through "server push", which means that a connection between the server and the client was kept alive while individual frames were fed through the connection. It was resource intensive, but when the site began it was the only way to do animation on the web. I collected every example I could find on the web and built a site that aggregated these animations. I tied the individual animations together through (what I thought was) clever commentary. The site was relatively popular (it was Spider's Pick of the Day, who remembers that?)

In December of 1995 I was searching the web for more push animations when I came across an unusual reference to a new form of animation. Netscape 2.0 was in beta, and it could handle a new form of animation. Someone had hacked the GIF image format, tweaking the interlacing so that individual frames were displayed at regular temporal intervals. There were only a handful of examples, but it was obvious to me that these "animated GIFs" were a major improvement over server push animations; you didn't need to keep a connection alive and, more interestingly, the animations could be treated like any other image... you could save the image and reuse it. I realized that these animated gifs would replace server push animations.

I rebuilt MMMM. I'm not an artist, but I spent several feverish weeks animating. I took icons that were already standard on the web, imported them into Photoshop, then modified them pixel by pixel, frame by frame, until I had a bunch of animated icons. My total output from that time is here. (The rebuilt MMMM used a couple other Netscape 2.0 innovations; frames, image maps, and Javascript.)

And people loved it. They saved the animated icons and put them on their own pages. For a very short time my site was the major supplier of animation for other people's webpages. I had given the GIFs somewhat distinctive names, so I was able to track their dispersal through Altavista searches (Altavista returned pages that contained images with specific filenames) and at one point, estimating the traffic on these pages, it occurred to me that my animations were seen by more people daily than any other animation in history.

I did all this anonymously and without monetary reward (which made sense, somehow, in the early days of the web). Eventually animated GIFs became commonplace, annoying even, and my anonymous 15 minutes of fame faded. But someday I'd like to record the moment for posterity, even if I have to do so in some forgotten thread on some community weblog.

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