New sites, old browser: How do they look?

This is Facebook. Really. Trust me.

I got a real kick out of a humor site that showed videos of how our most popular Internet stops would look in another era.

Like picture Facebook done up in all its Windows 95 glory, or Twitter as little more than a BBS — that’s a bulletin board service for those who aren’t old enough to remember those things, which seems to be a vast majority of Web users.

Just for fun I plugged a few sites into my own personal wayback machine just to see how they’d look, and leaked some results to a few social media friends.

Backgrounder

My first halting miles on the old Information Superhighway were in early 1995, when Windows 3.1 was the top-of-the-line operating system and version 95 was still a rumor. But my computer wasn’t even that advanced. I had an old 8088 processor with Hercules graphic card and 2400-baud modem, all running DOS 5, and dialup was the way to go.

I dialed in to a service provider using the now-defunct Procomm, and the service provider hooked me up with Lynx, a text-only browser developed by the University of Kansas. Images were easy to pick out on the Web pages; they were the things that said [IMAGE].

What’s so cool is that Lynx is still around, and it has a small but rabid following. I have it on my Linux computer, and I find it great for speed-surfing when I’m dealing mostly with text. I generally like a small, fast browser — Opera is my usual — but Lynx is faster. Name your favorite fast browser and Lynx will still probably leave it in the dust.

Debian GNU/Linux junkies among you can grab Lynx easily in a root command shell by typing:

apt-get install lynx

and you’re in the candy store. Lynx runs in a command shell, so already you know it’s going to be lightweight. But it’ll also show what I saw online back in those days, provided those sites (hint: none of them) actually existed in 1995.

It took some gymnastics and a lot of cookie crunching, but I got to Gmail. Don't read it, it's private.

Let’s have some fun

Facebook is by far the most popular website, but in my Lynx browser it sure looks different.

By default, when you pull up a website Lynx will ask if you want to accept cookies — those little text files a website installs on your hard drive. These cookies help the site remember you, but they’re also tracking you. So if you’re paranoid this might actually make you want to hurl. Or at the very least you’ll want to put on your tinfoil beanie when you go online.

Reading email is a breeze once you get to it.

Lynx stopped me several times while loading Facebook for a cookie check — would I accept? I didn’t count, but Facebook loads close to five cookies while you wait.

But looking at Facebook, nearly everything was there. I could tell who had a birthday that day, and my timeline was as it should be. Different type colors show who posted what, and the links were just as clickable as ever. To move around from link to link you use your tab key (shift-tab to move backwards) and your right arrow key to activate a link. You don’t even really need a mouse, though your mouse wheel will speed-scroll through the site.

I was surprised how good Twitter looked.Twitter’s not as graphics-heavy as Facebook, so the Lynx interface is much cleaner. It also loaded a handful of cookies onto my hard drive (get used to it, my paranoid friends), but in all it’s a site that would acquit itself well in any era. Even on a BBS.

My Gmail site was a tough one. It uses a lot of Javascript, which all but the most advanced browsers would puke up on. But getting to the puking-up point I counted 11 cookies before I ran out of appendages, and then the whole thing stopped. But I opted for the HTML-only Gmail, it tossed me a bunch more cookies, and finally went into the site.

Again with Gmail, you can speed-scroll with the mouse wheel and move around with the Tab key through your list of mail. Opening up individual pieces of mail you can do all the Gmail things: Reply, archive, delete, mark it with a star.

Easy, fast-loading ... what could be better?

My main blog The Column renders pretty well in Lynx. Part of it may be because of the WordPress infrastructure, but mostly because I like to keep things relatively simple. To me a well-designed site is easy on the gingerbread and shiny objects, heavy on the good content, and built to load quickly.

Always thinking of you ... no cookies or nefarious code on my website.

My business website, also designed for simplicity and fast loading, rendered just super in Lynx. And say hey and by the way, no cookies involved with either of my sites, so you can surf without worry of being tracked. There are enough creepazoid sites out there already, thank you.

Google Plus is just plain hard to look at on Lynx.

Of the other sites I tested, Wikipedia didn’t look half bad while Google+ was about as hard to look at as Facebook in Lynx. So they probably wouldn’t have done so hot in the early 1990s.

But then again, would anyone have cared at that point? On dialup the loading times would have been ridiculous anyway. While you’re waiting for those to load, might as well wait for an operating system or browser that could handle the flashiness and bloat of those sites.

Here's the Wikipedia page about Lynx, on Lynx.

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