Excavating my former homepages

Someone, a long time ago came up with the thought that whatever is put on the internet, it'll be there forever. Well, it's wrong. The old versions of my own website, including their design, was long gone, so I decided to put the Indiana Jones hat on, and started digging.

It's early 1999. I'm 13 years old, just entered high school1. Altavista is still a decent search engine. At this point I've been using the web for years, but never really participated in making it yet, and it was about to change. The idea of having a homepage stuck with me: I could make my own design, my own little world, without limits, with any kind of content I want to, without anyone supervising. This was such an exciting prospect that it had to be done. Plus: it was open for anyone, like instantly hanging your work in an art gallery!

Long story short, I did that website. And the next one, and the next one... and I kept going till this very day. The tragedy of it is that due to multiple reasons, the first two iterations and designs of my site are now completely lost.

Back in those days my English skills or my "programming" skills were quite lacking. I never heard the idea of version controlling, digital archiving, snapshots - these came so much later. Hungary tends to teach foreign languages with an overwhelming amount of grammar, resulting in a nice, but unusable skill when someone wants to explore the internet.

Put these and the options on the mid 90s web together - generic Hungary is always around 5 years behind the English speaking world in internet trends. My first sites were made with Microsoft FrontPage 98, FTP-d directly into "production", always overwriting the tiny, free space on free homepage providers, hopping from one to another, because the new one offered 5MB for free, not just 1.

1999 - 2003 - the FrontPage years

When I decided to go after the old versions of my gazillion URLs, I first turned to archive.org, like everyone would. For my gigantic surprise, after remembering that the provider extra.hu had subfolders, and not sub-domains, I found a version from May 2001! A year earlier than my earliest archive! Sadly, it was the already on it's third design, and because archive.org didn't have the images from back then, it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

The good news was that my site at this point was static HTML, so "recovering" it was simply opening the files. Did you know web browsers still support frames?

I went through this version quite a few times lately, and I alway overlooked a section, in which I had a review of an Ericsson T29s - including notes on how to hack a data cable for it, downloadable programs, full eeprom and flash binaries, and a fascinating note of:

I'm utterly tired that there are only ads on every page, and no real stuff, so I thought I'll put some here, based on my own experience

Again, this is roughly 2002. It's good to be reminded by my own words, that the internet had this problem for a very long time by now.

I decided put the review back up - look under the IT tab -, even though chances that someone is looking for these is converging to 0.

2002 design - tables, absolutely no accessibility, but hey, the content was already about tinkering with phones, and the colour palette looked very similar to my current dark theme.
2002 design - tables, absolutely no accessibility, but hey, the content was already about tinkering with phones, and the colour palette looked very similar to my current dark theme.

2004 - the PHP4 years

To access the 2004 version, magic has to be called upon - also knowns as virtual machines. I had to spin up a Debian Sarge2, because I needed PHP4 - immeasurable kudos for the Debian archives3 for still having install CDs, and working software repositories! The only trick is that during the install the apt mirror needs to be set to archive.debian.org.

I barely remembered this version. It also made me realize that I was microblogging, before it even became a term - although as Kevin Marks4 pointed it out on the indieweb-chat channel on Freenode, everyone was microblogging at first: the idea of one page per entry came later.

After not too much digging I found two more phone reviews, also with a lot of background content - in case you're after an 50KB mobile Java email application, I have one for you.

2004 - the layout probably worked in IE5 and nothing else
2004 - the layout probably worked in IE5 and nothing else

Instead of webrings, in Hungary, we regularly exchanged banners with eachother: small images, that linked to another site; sort of a graphical blogroll. Contrary to mathematical probability, I found a banner that is still alive! 16 years and still strong: the Hungarian Stargate fan site5 deserves some attribution for that banner6

2007 - 2009 - the custom CMS with friends years

2007 brought a massive change: I wanted to make the site tiny a community site, a place to where my close friends could also upload photos, short stories, art.

3 years meant PHP5, so I spun a Debian Etch7 up. These were the days when I had my custom, PHP-based CMS, of which if I looked at the code of; it's proper nightmare material.

The relevation of the 2007 version was the amount of photos I sort of accidentally removed from my site. In the coming years my site slowly morphed into a portfolio for my photos and my sysadmining skills. When I finally reverted, and swapped from curated, small galleries to a stream of individual images, I never put the old portfolio back. This will need to be addressed.

Related to this, I came across Ana's "Blogging and me" post at https://ohhelloana.blog/blogging-and-me/ . She went through very similar cycles as I did: a website first, blogging of anything, that gradually became a hyper-focused, work-only site, which then got neglected, because it wasn't fun any more. Read it. If you didn't (yet) had these cycles, or if you already did; in both cases, it's a fantastic piece.

Such design, much images. Also, curves! Curves everywhere! Regardless, I believe this was a pleasent to look at design and colour combination, plus those photos are all missing from my site at the moment o.O
Such design, much images. Also, curves! Curves everywhere! Regardless, I believe this was a pleasent to look at design and colour combination, plus those photos are all missing from my site at the moment o.O

2008 - 2013 - the portfolio years

Parallel to th community site idea, I wanted to have a portfolio site; one that is professional content only. At that point, I still believed my life will have something to do with photography, so I made a photo portfolio site under the new domain petermolnar.eu. My name is quite a common one in Hungary, but the .eu domains were new, and I grabbed it immediately.

During these years I actively participated in an alternative community in Hungary. I wrote some articles to their site, which are still up, to this very day, but the idea to put those on my own site (as well) didn't occur to me.

In 2010 , the limitations of my CMS collided with the fact that I lost touch with most people who had some content on that community site. I decided to close it, and turn my full attention towards a personal site - by switching it to WordPress.

Soon after college (2009), I ended up working as a sysadmin; it made sense to start writing my findings, my how-tos (mostly for myself) down.

With that, I've thrown a silly amount of old content away. No thoughts or personal blog entries any more: streamlined photo portfolio, photo equiment review - this one never even took off; the 2 entries I wrote for it are so low quality that they were not worth salvaging -, and a sysadmin blog is the way to go! I should never have done that, but these were the early Facebook years; everyone was doing personal communication in social silos. It seemed like a good idea that time. Mea culpa.

I did try cross-posting and syndicating early on: links to new entries to twitter, to facebook, but soon it looked overwhelming. When the same content goes everywhere, and you happend to have a large cross-section of the same people on each silo, it'll be too much for them.

First iteration of my very own WordPress theme - along with the immeasurable changes of finally moving to my own domain, with only professional-ish content
First iteration of my very own WordPress theme - along with the immeasurable changes of finally moving to my own domain, with only professional-ish content

Slowly, but steadily, topics and sections kept creeping back in. At first, it was merely a photoblog tab, in which I put collection of images grouped by a topic. It took me a while to realize I didn't like it that way: without context, the galleries were distant; they didn't feel like memories, more like and extended, endless portfolio, yet I kept going with it for years.

Second WordPress theme from somewhere in 2011
Second WordPress theme from somewhere in 2011

By the end of 2013, I was back to having a "world view" section that was to become "journal". The trigger for this was our relocation to England: there was an irrepressible urge to write about our new life.

Thankfully the streamlining didn't stick and the site kept getting more content sections back
Thankfully the streamlining didn't stick and the site kept getting more content sections back

2014 - 2017 - The features and contents years

Sometimes in 2014 I stumbled upon the indieweb8 community. With that, my site started to get features - and a lot of them.

2014

See those bubbles? Those were mainly comments, backfilled from Facebook.
See those bubbles? Those were mainly comments, backfilled from Facebook.
Calculated read time; I believe medium.com brought it in.
Calculated read time; I believe medium.com brought it in.
I still had my photo portfolio as well. It was already a responsive design; on mobile, it because a simple list of full-width images.
I still had my photo portfolio as well. It was already a responsive design; on mobile, it because a simple list of full-width images.

Once you read too many studies on the internet you may start questioning your own experiences with certain things. One of these is the "light on dark" vs "dark on light" representation when it comes to computers and the web. To obey this, I started presenting text content in light, photo content with dark background and themeing; a route I should never have taken.

During the 15 years prior to this, my site was dark. This page is supposed to be my home, and it's supposed to represent me on the internet. And I'm not a light background person; I never was. When I still used Window XP it looked like this:

The bottom is a launcher bar, not opened applications.
The bottom is a launcher bar, not opened applications.

Even so, for the coming years, the design went lighter and lighter.

2016

Painfully bright, and never felt like my own. Plus there was a huge stream of content: bookmarks, quotes, twitter reply copies, etc. I turned my site into a stream, and the more content it had, the more distant it felt, the less of a homepage it became.
Painfully bright, and never felt like my own. Plus there was a huge stream of content: bookmarks, quotes, twitter reply copies, etc. I turned my site into a stream, and the more content it had, the more distant it felt, the less of a homepage it became.

2017

In 2017, I found the icons I'm using till this very day, but I still had the dreaded light design. Plus I added even more content, including the idea to backfill EVERYTHING I ever made on the internet. Needless to say this idea was later reveted, though without the journey, I may never have realized why it was bad.
In 2017, I found the icons I'm using till this very day, but I still had the dreaded light design. Plus I added even more content, including the idea to backfill EVERYTHING I ever made on the internet. Needless to say this idea was later reveted, though without the journey, I may never have realized why it was bad.

2018 - back to the roots: dark, static, simple.

Content was dropped, and I again, felt like I have a homepage, and not a one person social media site.

Back to the darkness. Still not the best, but much less strain on my eyes.
Back to the darkness. Still not the best, but much less strain on my eyes.
Turned out the studies were right about a few things, and that for some, light on dark is unreadable. So for everyone to be happy, I added an option to switch between them, making the dark, or the operating system setting the default. I also tried to make it look like some really messed up terminal. It didn't work.
Turned out the studies were right about a few things, and that for some, light on dark is unreadable. So for everyone to be happy, I added an option to switch between them, making the dark, or the operating system setting the default. I also tried to make it look like some really messed up terminal. It didn't work.

And thus we arrived to 2020, and you're looking at the freshest, most current iteration of my website.

Conclusions

I think at the beginning I started to dig my sites up to verify how much have I gone back to my roots. To see how it started, how it done, when it was solely for the fun. Ana's post, which I already mentioned9 was definitely a trigger to take this journey.

I lost the first two designs. I remember the very first vividly, with the water-like repeating background. The second I completely forgot about, and only had some reminders in words, from a microblog entry, from 2001, when I was being happy replacing it with something fresh and new.

My conclusions are simple: your homepage is called that for a reason. It's a poster, a gallery, a window to you, out for anyone to visit, to see. Show everything; show all the topics you're interested in, drag all the posts from decades ago, and only police the ones that are truly outdated - if there are any. It's not a social media profile. It's not a resume. It's you.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Hungary

  2. https://cdimage.debian.org/mirror/cdimage/archive/3.0_r6/i386/iso-cd/

  3. https://cdimage.debian.org/mirror/cdimage/archive/

  4. http://www.kevinmarks.com/

  5. http://www.csillagkapu.hu/

  6. http://www.csillagkapu.hu/img/agbanner.gif

  7. https://cdimage.debian.org/mirror/cdimage/archive/4.0_r0/i386/iso-cd/

  8. https://indieweb.org/

  9. https://ohhelloana.blog/blogging-and-me/