Ghost Sites of the Web

Web 1.0 history, forgotten web celebrities, old web sites, commentary, and news by Steve Baldwin. Published erratically since 1996.

April 25, 2004

Ghost Ribbon Campaigns of the Web

The Web has enjoyed remarkable success as an activist's medium. Its ability to organize like-minded people into effective, active communities has been demonstrated again and again, and its fund-raising and awareness-building power was so well utilized by former U.S. presidential candidate Howard Dean that for a while he became known as the "Internet Candidate".

Many may not know that the Web's first baby steps as an activist medium came in the form of graphical "ribbon campaigns", the first of which was the "blue ribbon" campaign of 1996, organized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protest against the Communications Decency Act, otherwise known as the "Exon Amendment".

The Exon Amendment was ultimately derailed and never became law, but the "ribbon campaign" meme became an unstoppable force that took hold of many early Web activists, doubtless because it was easy enough for them to copy and paste a graphic image and a snippet of code into their existing Web pages in order to express solidarity with the causes that moved them. Consequently, a staggeringly heterogenous series of "ribbon" campaigns swept throughout cyberspace after 1996.

Most of these ribbon campaigns are thoroughly forgotten today, but one fascinating Web page, maintained by Carolyn C. Gargaro, provides a revealing look back at about 170 of them, ranging from the solemn and meaningful (Remember September 11; Remember Columbine HS) to the ridiculously trivial (the Polka Dot ribbon campaign for "proper use of language on the Internet"; the "We Are Not Nerds" Lime ribbon campaign). As expected, the HTML links for some, but by no means all of the listed ribbon campaign images now point to defunct or disappeared Web sites, the result of several years worth of link drift, plus the ephemeral nature of many of the causes themselves.

Gargaro's page itself has not been updated for more than two years, and we cannot say whether this lapse is due to a loss of interest in the subject, or to the decline of "ribboning" as a form of expression worth devoting an active Web page to. Still, despite its out-of-dateness, Gargaro's page provides an illuminating historical snapshot of "ribboning", a first-generation means of electronic protest and/or expression of solidarity that might otherwise escape the attention of historians attempting to plot the Net's evolution as an activist's medium.

Another good source for ribbon campaign historians is a Geocities page maintained by someone who calls herself Lady Sheherazade. Here, one can browse the various ribbon campaigns by color, which include white, red, pink, orange, brown, gold, green, lime green, light blue, dark blue, lavender, fuschia, multicolor, grey, and even ASCII ribbons (the latter representing a campaign decrying the use of gratuitous graphics on the Web). Lady Sheherazade's page was last updated in March of 2004, which suggests that we have probably not seen the last of ribbon campaigns or the people who index them so lovingly.

Pioneering Web Ads Persist at the Banner Ad Museum

Banner ads - what would the Web be without them? These floating 468 x 60 pixel rectangular billboards grew like kudzu during the Web's middle years, and they came in many flavors, including static, GIF-animated, Java-animated, and Flashified.

Of course, banner ads were never very popular with Web users, especially those using dial-up connections, nor could it be said that they were particularly popular with advertisers, who grew increasingly dismayed by their typically abysmal click-through performance. Thus we got the pop-up, the pop-under, and the context-sensitive text ad - an ad medium that Google seems to be pinning much of its future on today.

In my travels, I have unearthed a number of early banner ads, and discussed them in various articles here, but a site called the Banner Ad Museum has done a much better job of preserving a large, historically significant corpus of them.

Perusing this online museum yields key important facts about the birth of the banner ad, including the fact that while 468 x 60 became the most widely adopted size, many other standard sizes were promulgated by the IAB (Internet Advertising Board) way back in 1996.

More importantly, the Banner Ad Museum has done an excellent job of preserving and displaying thousands of early banner ads in its massive gallery area, including classic animated banner ads from now-defunct Web properties such as WebVan, Kozmo. and even

The Banner Ad Museum's collection is broad and deep (it claims to have gathered a whopping 3,500 banner ads), and while the site's public collection has not been updated in several years, its proprietor tells me that BAM continues to gather ads and plans to put more recently collected examples online soon.

This is a worthy project and if you have a few bucks to spare, I suggest that you give a few to BAM to keep its collection online. Suggested donations are between $1 and $3; a small price to pay to keep so much fascinating Web history available to the world.


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