The White House entered a weird new place called the World Wide Web when it launched its very first Web site 20 years ago this week. This was how CNN anchor Miles O'Brien described the site at the time: "For those of you brave enough to spend time sitting in front of electronic devices, there's a new place to check out on the cyber scene." The cyber scene. (Also, by this definition of "brave," we are all national heroes. Where can we pick up our Internet medals?)
The site, referred to by CNN as a "new computer system," was announced by none other than Mr. Internet himself, Vice President Al Gore. You can take a look at the Clinton White House's first site here, as it's been archived by the National Archives, as it existed in November 1995.
Now, the year was 1994, and the Internet was kind of a thing. But not really. GeoCities wasn't even launched yet, which is where the White House Web site looks like it belonged. It was a time when clip art ranked among the highest forms of design. Thus, any ancient online relic shouldn't be judged too harshly by today's standards.
But, we couldn't resist a modern tour of the historical Internet. Let's begin at the top, shall we?
Okay, for starters, top-notch welcome page. Classy cursive font interspersed with functional Tahoma. Succinct and to the point. I personally am a bit surprised there is no throwback GIF scrolling at the top, but fear not, because things will get snazzier from here.
Oh, and you, too, can make your own 1994 White House Web site. Here's the code, for all my Internet-makers out there:
"Hi. Welcome to my Internet home page," Gore literally says on his page. "I hope you find the information useful and informative. Electronic communication like this is of course changing the way we communicate, work, and learn." Man, he wasn't kidding, huh?
You can also click through to a short, very rapid QuickTime video of Gore doing vice presidential stuff. Here it is, in GIF-form:
Now, continue scrolling down and check out this clip art. I mean, really. Like, don't even come to me with a piece of information unless it is also accompanied by a graphic representation of said concept.
And you have to hand it to Gore, because such icons are basically the ancestor of the modern-day emoji, which the current White House has generously employed.
Continue scrolling down and you'll come across the best darn thing possibly on the entire Internet. I'm of course referring to "Al Gore's cartoon gallery."
I'm sorry, are you seeing this? Why does this exist? Well, Gore "has amassed a large personal collection of cartoons characterizing his public life." So to get us all jazzed about technology, Gore has provided some examples from his personal collection. They are a hoot. Curiously, some programmer felt just fine with writing, "Some text goes here. Blah blah blah blah" on a live, official government Web site.
Let's go back to the homepage so we can visit "The Executive Branch."
I don't know, guys, I'm digging this. I like the presidential seal, which I am just noticing now (I guess Gore's page was too busy to allow that to stand out). We have a cutout little boy Clinton who is larger than grownups in the photos to the right and left of him. And he's wearing a bow tie. Who doesn't like a kid in a bow tie?
Now, one design flaw here. It appears that Clinton's official signature is overlaid on top of text that reads "unofficial signature" or something of the sort. Come on, programmer guys (or ladies). Strip out that text! This site is supposed to usher in a digital age for the presidency.
Okay, I guess we should appreciate the liberal use of photos here? It is nice to know that you can back up a claim like Clinton enjoys horseback riding with some visual proof. Still, this looks like an amateur picture book. It's unclear whether Internet users of 1994 knew that you have to click on each of these images to enlarge them. Do you remember if you knew that in 1994?
Back on the homepage, you can click through to useful pages such as "What's New" (since 1995, at least), "Publications" and "Comments," from where you can "speak out," the site proclaims. You can also click through to "Tours."
"The White House is also a museum and the home to many great moments in American history," Clinton also literally says on that page. "I hope you enjoy your brief visit through those treasures. Keep in mind that you too are a part of that history. This is, after all, the very first on-line White House tour."
It sure is!