Twenty years ago, back when the internet was in its wide-eyed childhood, before Google, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest scrubbed and scoured the humanity out of the web and turned it into a trillion-dollar digital strip mine, I had a homepage.
You may not remember that, in the late nineties, many tech startups imagined that their road to internet riches lay in enticing ordinary people to create shrines to themselves on the web. Sites like Angelfire, GeoCities, Go.Com and Tripod offered free homepages for that purpose. Naturally, I took the dive. The thought of having one’s own address on the WORLD WIDE WEB (!) was irresistible to anyone with an outsized sense of identity and correspondingly few friends.
I thought that my homepage (and those of others) might be a way to make connections, maybe even friendships, with like-minded people without geographic limitations. One of the popular ways to interact in the homepage era was via a site’s guestbook. People who visited your website might leave a comment in your guestbook, just to let you know they were there. The remarks were friendly, never snarky, as that would not only be rude but would be sure to deprive oneself of a nice comment in return.
I happened to stumble upon my old guestbook while searching the Wayback Machine for fragments of my tbns.net homepage, CHCollins on the Web. I decided to share it (below) as a reminder of how life used to be, not only on the web but in the real world. I’d prefer that you view its length not as an indulgence but as an illustration of how charitable and generous folks could be.
The first line of each entry lists the visitor’s screen name, their website (if they had one) and the date of their visit. Some of these screen names are so poignantly 1990s. I never knew the real identities of many of them, i.e., those I played hearts with on Yahoo Games. The visitors who used real names were either the folks that I “met” on photo-sharing sites (PhotoCritique, ShutterCity) or other homepagers who were in the same “web ring” as me.
Three of the comments in this guestbook archive happen to be from current subscribers!
Jeanie | 02/Jul/1999:16:41:40
You have some interesting personalities on your web page. I guess that makes you an interesting person also. Thanks
toes | My Romantic Hideaway | 14/Aug/1999:22:32:49
I’ve really enjoyed visiting your page, you have alot of good content, I look forward to viewing your next update : ) Toes
shirley2716 | 17/Aug/1999:01:04:10
you have avery lovely website. I enjoyed the artwork. keep it up, I look froward to seeing more.
bovineboss | 26/Sep/1999:16:21:38
mary m | 27/Sep/1999:20:16:37
Craig, loved your site! I started with watercolors and then people. Where do you keep the originals (art, that is)? They are beautiful. I really liked the avacado and bananas. I am working on a web site for our department. Can we talk? Would you share some tips? Love, mary
Em | 06/Oct/1999:10:46:37
Somehow, this web-page is cooler than I would have imagined! Nice work Dad! I will continue to browse around after classes. I will recommend this to my friends, they would be amused at what a cool dad I have!
Kim Adams | Kim’s World of Photography | 16/Oct/1999:13:31:43
Craig, you are so talented. This is a great site. I look forward to seeing more of your nice photos on Photocritique. Best Wishes.
Green I´s | 06/Nov/1999:04:20:44
Craig – somehow I just knew you had to be a crazy man. Love your homepage. :) Christel PS: Nice to see a fellow Kodak and Corel user.
Gary Martin | 09/Dec/1999:16:03:19
Criag, great web page…. I like your design a lot! You’re inspiring me to get off of my tail and get a web page put together… something that I need to do, but which I keep defering until “later” because I’ve been having too much fun with my photography! Best regards, Gary
rosewood36 | 16/Dec/1999:23:56:01
Hugs to you!!!!!!!! I like your web site it is real nice. Yust a note to let you know that we are at 6 weeks and counting…*G*….both me and the twins are fine. I will let you know when they are born…..till then, don’t do anything that I wouldn’t…..LMAO
Jim Gatschene | 19/Dec/1999:22:34:22
Great Home page Craig. I’ve been trying to get my son to help me set up a similar web page. I admire your work. I have put a few of my albums on Zing but I believe it is hard for people to see them unless they sign up too. (No cost) Keep up the good work!!
Kim Adams | 02/Jan/19100:16:26:55
Craig, My second visit to your page. I love it. Interesting section about your life and family. I also remember playing Atari. I enjoy your commentaries on photocritique. My brother Bradley is now in jail for being a smart***:) Happy 2000 to you and your family. Thanks for your helpful insight on my photos.
Terry | R.S.V.P. | 14/Mar/2000:18:30:50
I certainly have enjoyed visiting your site! “Midnight Express” is the most intense film I recall seeing.
Paul Bracey | Stream of Consiousness | 14/Mar/2000:23:15:14
Today – photocritique.net, Tomorrow – The Louvre! Keep on posting!
Ruth | The Wildwood Cottage | 20/Mar/2000:20:07:38
Great site..thanks for sharing a bit of yourself with the world!
John Sidlo | 26/Mar/2000:22:36:46
Although I’m “in the biz” and have had a website (offering software) since 1996 (recently dismantled) I have yet to make my own “home page”. It’s on my list of tasks for this millennium! And when I do, I’ll come back here to take another look. Nice job!
L. Lanning | Life in the Chihuahua Desert | 08/May/2000:09:30:04
Came your way through the Friends of Art webring and had an enjoyable stay. You’ve a good attitude I think. What more can we do with this life than to share a bit of ourselves, spread a little color and humor, and try to cause no pain? I hate heights and glass elevators, too! Come and share a bit of desert color with us.
Barak Yedidia | Barak’s Photography | 06/Jul/2000:19:05:00
Craig, Enjoyed your website. I share your admiration for Fred Rogers among others.
tess campbell | 26/Aug/2000:14:03:42
Craig…thsi has to be one of the best personal web pages I have visited in a long time. WOW you are some all-around creative guy. I bookmarked the site so I cam come back often…want to hear some of those MP3’s.
Garry Schaefer | Garry’s Page | 12/Sep/2000:08:49:43
Craig, yours is the best personal web site on my list of bookmarked favourites. I’ve wended my way through most if not all of its intricacies with much pleasure. The highlight for me is, of course, the Photography section, including your innovative “Double Letter” series and recent “Tools” scanner-based series. I’m honoured that you have included a link to my digital photography web site. I’ll be certain to be back from time to time to see what’s new. Best regards, Garry.
ola s 09/Oct/2000:14:35:44
since I knew you before this as a photographer, I now espescially enjoyed the other things, esp.the music (“Playing Against the Wind”) and some of the poetry (Graft on pepler simt and shun / Sortie nefers habla ned!) cheers, Ola.
Pam Ramsey | Castle Ramsey | 31/Oct/2000:20:56:17
I enjoyed your page. I love to surf photography webrings since I also post my photos on my web page.
Ruthie | 23/Jan/2001:20:27:51
Well, after all these years, you never cease to amaze me! You are such a talented guy! It’s taken me this long to even look at your web page and I can tell you that it will take me some time to get through it all. I will look forward to checking it all out! (in my spare time!) I have no doubt that it will amaze me! Love you and give my sister a kiss for me!
Kim Adams | Kim’s World of Photography | 11/Feb/2001:09:18:14
Craig, I haven’t been here in a long time and decided to come back for a look. I especially enjoyed your autobiography section. You are very talented and have a lovely family.
John Sidlo | someday… | 01/Mar/2001:22:49:07
Fun to come back to visit, almost a year after my first visit. You *must* embellish your site with your wonderful Chalon-sur-Saone photos you’ve treated us to on PC. Cheers, John
Carol Waldvogel | 15/May/2001:11:06:15
Craig, what a wonderful website! I have enjoyed your images elsewhere for some time…now, I am also impressed by your many other talents! Loved your poetry, especially liked the “haystacks” and the (haiku?) “moved by tired skys”…anything but boring! One of the best, most interesting personal sites I have visited!
Carol Waldvogel | 15/May/2001:11:15:51
OK…so I am not the great speller that I once was! But tired “skies” moved me every bit as much… ;-)) Besides…I did mean to say also, that you have a beautiful family!
Huntress Stone Angel | The Web Brawls | 06/Jun/2001:15:59:09
Dear CH Collins, I enjoyed your site very much…your photography was so crystal clear, you seem to have an idea of what you are looking for and want to photograph before you do photograph something. It’s all cohesive. Thank you very much for a nice time, and I would like to extend my invitation to you to join an online organization called The Web Brawls. I won’t bore you with my pre-formed letter, I think you would resent that, but let’s just say that it’s another way to get to that 6% of addicts you were talking about…toodles, Huntress Stone Angel / The Web Brawls.
Steven Schnoor | Random Magic | 27/Jun/2001:14:00:32
You know I’ve enjoyed your photography for quite some time. Some shared interests in photo subjects, movies (well, The Deer Hunter, anyway), similar “skill” on the golf course (though I’m still looking for my first eagle), and concerns about the intricacies of parenting, etc. make your site a good one to return to when I need a boost. Above all, though, is the humor and intelligence you show in your pages — rare elements on the web. I had a real good time here.
Terry Forrest 17/Jul/2001:21:54:48
Hi Craig! Took a quick look at some of your website and photos. You have a lovely family. Your photos that I checked out speak to me of someone very creative, interesting and not afraid to try something different. Will be back at some point to see some more! Terry
Dawn | The poetry and art of Dawn Baker | 11/Oct/2001:19:40:40
Hi Craig, I just had to stop by and see your painting called Shapes….You were right, we do have paintings that resemble each others….very intriguing…. I do love yours, and the way you use color, way cool! I enjoyed my visit here very much, you have much talent, and I thank you for sharing : ) Take care
Brenda Bohannon | 08/Nov/2001:13:33:49
This is FASCINATING stuff, Craig! You are BRILLIANT artist and I’m completely captivated here! Thanks so much for sharing CHCollins on the Web with me, your ShutterCity friend, Brenda! :~)
Bruce Irving | Bruce Irving Songs | 14/Dec/2001:08:47:24
Hi Craig! Cool web site! Rob told me about it. It was great to see some of your creative visual work and hear some of the old CMU “greatest hits.” It’s been a while, so if you get a chance, drop me a line. Take care, Bruce
• • • •
I’m guessing that most of the visitors to my homepage back then had the same idea I had, to make connections. Though hardly any of my web connections evolved into friendships, those who weren’t your friends could still be decent and nice. Those were the days.