Antique Web Browsers Still Surfing at DejaVu.Org
A few nights ago, I came across an extraordinary site that's been online for several years called DejaVu.org. It isn't a new site (it went online in the late 1990's), but its main offerings - a timeline of Web development, and a uniquely compelling WWW browser emulator that lets the Web surfer see sites the way early Web pioneers experienced them, using vintage NSCA Mosaic 0.9, Netscape 1.0, Internet Explorer 2.0, Lynx, line-mode, and even my personal favorite: the famed HotJava browser - have grown even more appealing as time has moved on. We were so moved by the experience of viewing the Web in this way that we reached out to DejaVu.org's creator, Par Lannero, and he granted us this brief interview from Stockholm.
Ghost Sites: What was the inspiration behind DejaVu.org?
Par Lannero: As you can read in the timeline part of dejavu.org, I was watching and taking part in the development of the Web from a very early stage. Everybody I knew in the IT sector 1996-1998 was playing around with fun Web ideas, and dejavu was simply one of many ideas I came up with. Another one was a Web-based buddy list system which I finished the day before Somebody told me about a similar project from a company called Mirabilis. With the speed that their project spread over the Internet, there was no use in releasing my own project. Yet another idea was a system to manage Web bookmarks on the Web instead of in the browser client. That one I actually implemented, and I have been using it almost every day since 1996. It wasn't just me - everybody seemed to come up with fun ideas those days... :)
Ghost Sites: It looks to me that several people besides yourself were instrumental in creating the browser emulators. Who did what and how long did it take to get it going?
Par Lannero: My friend Elias Bengtsson and a Ville Hising at Bazooka.se produced a few images. Per Gullfeldt of Digital Equipment Corporation provided a server as sponsorship. Daniel Bergström has made sure the Web server is (almost) always up and running. The rest of the people in the credits list are colleagues from the time when I was working with dejavu. They provided the necessary encouragement for me to actually launch the site. I did all programming and writing by myself. Mostly in 1997-98, but I have been fixing a few things since then.
Ghost Sites: As you're probably aware, there is a lot more historical Web matter online than there was back in the late 1990's. I speak specifically of archive.org's massive "Wayback Machine". Do you have any plans to work with this organization so that your browser emulator might be used to view some of the preserved historical sites?
Par Lannero: I have thought about that, too. But since I have no income from the dejavu project, I can only spend a few hours now and then. If I get sponsorship or if I lose my job or something I might be able to develop the site further. One big advantage, though, when dealing with history, is that it doesn't change very quickly, so there is no hurry. :)
Ghost Sites: Your excellent Timeline of Web Innovation seems to stop at the end of 1999. Why does it end here? Did innovation trail off or did you stop work on DejaVu.org? If the latter, do you have any plans to revive it?
Par Lannero: I have not spent much time updating the site since 1999. Of course, a few things have happened since then, but I definitely think innovation slowed down around 1998. Before that year I always used a beta version of Netscape - every new improvement was worth the time it took to download and install. Today I don't care what browser I use, since there is nothing much happening.