Fifteen years ago today, on Jan. 22, 1996, The New York Times -- which already had a news service behind a paywall on AOL -- started its free Web site, jolting newspaper publishers and editors across the land to follow suit. A happy birthday tweet prompted me to go on a memory-jogging journey with the Wayback Machine looking for another newspaper site born that month. Back then, I was working for The York Daily Record in southcentral Pennsylvania. The existential headline on this blog post is from an article I wrote for that paper in December 1995, part of a five-day series explaining the Internet. (I had been a computer dabbler since I was a teenager.) The article is reprinted below, with permission (My favorite line: "Some people believe the Web or some future souped-up version of it will transform society. Others think the accent in 'hypertext' should be on 'hype.'") The series was later archived on the paper's rudimentary Web site (logo at above left), a precursor to the now-thriving YDR.com. That site was pushed into the world a bit early, thanks to some bad weather. Design of the York Digital Record had been proceeding with slow deliberation around the time the series was written. Then, on Jan. 9, 1996, a blizzard paralyzed the region, and The Daily Record couldn't deliver papers (the state ordered all vehicles off the highways and local roads were impassable). I rushed the "York Digital Record" online with summaries of snow emergency information. A week later, the snow melted and ice blocked the Susquehanna River. which overflowed its banks. We posted flood updates online too. Traffic was in the high three figures, and we were pleased. We began publishing a daily headline and selected articles. I would update the site at midnight at the end of my shift as night city editor, after we put the print edition to bed.
The following year, in early 1997, The Times hired me as a print copy editor. I was disappointed that the Web operation was separate, in another building, with almost no regular contact with the newspaper staff. That has changed considerably, thank goodness.
In York, thanks to the march of progress and efforts of smarter people with design ability who came after me, YDR.com is a lot prettier and newsier. The hideous original (oh, those frames!) is partly preserved by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. If you click around in "Our Back Pages," you can find reports on the 1996 blizzard and flood, articles about the local band Live and the archive of our explanatory series "Untangling the Web" from December 1995. Here's part one, presented for your historical amusement.
What Is This Thing Called the Web?
Once on line, it's easy for Internet travelers to enter this growing cyberspace neighborhood and find York County connections
By Patrick LaForge Daily Record staff
A year ago, most people unfamiliar with computers had never heard of the World Wide Web. Something to do with the Internet, whatever that is, right?
Now TV commercials sport Web addresses, and mainstream magazines review new sites. Students use the Web for homework, and job hunters scan ads on it. Politicians use it to campaign for president, and Congress spends hours debating whether it poses a threat to children.
Some people believe the Web or some future souped-up version of it will transform society. Others think the accent in "hypertext" should be on "hype." Over the next several days, the Daily Record will offer a guide to this high-tech world, with a look at some places of special interest to York County.
One Web site in particular has put York on computer screens around the world, with some help from the city's chart-topping rock band.
Last year, Jimmy Lang noticed one of his favorite bands didn't have a place on the Web where fans could go for information.
The 24-year-old network engineer for Cerfnet, a San Diego-based Internet provider, happened to have a friend who worked for Live's booking agent.
He struck a deal with the boys from York -- he would set up a Live site in return for free concert tickets. He and his girlfriend, Meg Jahnke, a 24-year-old Cerfnet network specialist, set it up in their spare time. More than a year later, Lang has been to 19 Live shows across the country, and the band's site (http://live.cerf.net) has taken off in popularity.
The site features interviews, lyrics, photographs, sound and video samples, tour dates and more. Band members even answer fan questions through an e-mail newsletter, Straight Out of York.
"A lot of fans do not get a chance to go to shows or go backstage or talk to them directly," Lang said. This gives them a chance to do that. "People who don't know the band can go to the site and get a sound sample."
The growth of the Live site has paralleled the growth on the Web. In October 1994, when the page went up, 904 people visited it. At the peak of the 1995 Live tour a year later, Lang said, as many as 10,000 people were hitting the page each month.
Read the FAQ
Like many Web sites, the Live page has a file called a FAQ that contains answers to "frequently asked questions" about the band.
The Web itself has many FAQs and guides that offer more details once you're on line. One of the best is a student guide kept at Penn State's Smeal College of Business Administration. Some basic information from that and similar documents follows.
The Web is part of a network of computer networks called the Internet that links 20 million to 39 million computer users in 50 countries.
People use the Internet to send and receive electronic mail, chat or post messages to each other, access archives and transfer software and other files. Most people access the Internet through local or national services, called providers. Most services range from $10 to $20 per month.
In mid-1989, CERN, a European particle-physics laboratory, started the World Wide Web to transfer multimedia information text, graphics, sound and primitive video to the international research community.
Average computer owners didn't start getting on the Web until commercial software for using it became widely available during the past two years.
The Web consists of computers called servers that store documents called pages. At a site, the "home page" is the first document you see. It connects you to other pages.
Storing information are more than 135,000 servers operated by universities, research centers, major corporations, individuals and kitchen-table businesses.
Each server has a specific Internet address. Users navigate the Web with software called browsers, chief among them Netscape and Mosaic. The programs use a computer's modem to connect with the Internet through a telephone line.
Surf and crawl In a world where many people still can't program a VCR, the Web still isn't a user-friendly paradise. You need to know the basics: How to set up a modem, how to operate basic computer software like Windows or the MacIntosh desktop, and how to work a mouse.
Once you are on line, navigation is pretty simple. You can bring files to your screen in two ways:
--By typing the Universal Resource Locator. Every Web page has a unique URL that starts with the letters "http://" that's short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Browsers can also view documents that do not use hypertext.
--By clicking with the computer mouse on a link in a Web page that points to the address of another document.
--Web pages are written in Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, which allows text to appear in various colors and sizes. The language can also be used to embed graphics or sound and video files in the page.
The browser also stores the links you've hit, leaving a trail of electronic bread crumbs that you can follow back and forth from each page you visit (It's common for users to find themselves flying off on tangents from link to link.)
Wait a minute, or two
Even with a powerful computer, a fast modem, up-to-date software and a first-rate Internet provider, connections to other servers and pages can be slow, especially if they have a lot of pictures and graphics.
Lang, the designer of the Live site, said the biggest problem is that some providers simply do not have enough telephone lines for the amount of information going back and forth. This capacity is called "bandwidth."
"If you're a user on one of these providers, you'll notice a lot of sluggishness. Things are slow, they don't work," Lang said. "That's because they're selling four or five on-ramps a week, and it's only a 10-lane freeway. You're just going to have a big parking lot, really. You have to stay ahead of the people who are coming on line."
Adam Viener, a partner in Cyberia Communications Inc., a York County provider of direct Internet access, agreed that's part of the problem.
"We're adding about five lines a month to keep up with it," he said.
Viener said things could speed up quite a bit next year when GTE begins offering Integrated Services Digital Network lines. For now, York County lags behind other parts of the country.
Better hardware and a good Internet connection can only do so much, though. Often the problem is with the site a user is trying to reach, he said.
The server at the other end may be down for maintenance, which could leave you waiting for an answer, or it might have inadequate lines or hardware.
Home pages -- particularly those put up by hobbyists -- suffer from programming problems or go off line without warning. And sometimes a site's popularity spells its doom: Servers have been known to shut down pages that get too much traffic and interfere with other operations.
Viener predicted these problems would be solved as the Web matures. The sites that are going to be successful are the ones that run properly and quickly, he said.
[Copyright 1995 by The York Daily Record. Used with permission.]