Why to make home pages today
Transcript of my talk given at superglue.it launch on the 3rd of October 2014 at WORM, Rotterdam

It is a great feeling to speak at the event which launches a device packed in a box that instructs:

“Make your own webpages and host them at home.”

Sounds simple and humble. But there is so much in this sentence – a 20 year history of love-hate relations between users and developers, users and providers, users and the internet, users and the www.

It also contributes to a long web debate about what a home page should be.
Let me explain and argue why you should actually still make one.

“Make your own home page” is an old appeal. It is older than the mid 90′s. Not even 1994, but 1992. On the internet, one year is equal to ten astronomical years, there is a century between 1992 and 1994.

So in 1992, the home page was a document that you saw when you opened your browser – which at that time was WWW on the NEXT computer.

As the author of “The Whole Internet” noticed in 1992: “The home page provided by CERN is a good entry point into the web; it points you to a lot of resources fairly quickly. However, there are lots of reasons to want your own home page.”

He meant that maybe the links provided by CERN are far from your interests and you’d prefer, for example, links to medicine rather than physics resources when you open your browser. So you could edit the CERN page, filling it with your links and notes and it would be your home page.

So 50 years later :), in 1993, with the arrival of the Mosaic browser, the web left academia. Web users got ideas and tools to extend home pages, and turn them into websites. The term “home page” started to change its meaning. It became the first page of a website. Then as a sort of metonymy, it started to mean personal web pages. Making a home page soon meant not making the first document of your website, but making your personal website, your home page, YOUR HOME ON THE WEB.

Early web users were very busy imagining what their cyber homes should look like. How to design a space which is cozy, but in a galaxy far away. Many worked with the metaphor literally, using images of houses with porches and roofs, bedrooms and kitchens, over starry backgrounds. A half open door to the universe is quite a frequent motif.

Cyber homes made at home. At your personal computer. Superglue suggests that you should not only make your home page at home, but also host it at home, to turn your actual house into a cyber home.

This page was last updated in 1999. Fifteen years ago. Fifteen years which were marked by the growth of the idea that you as an individual should not make your hands dirty with HTML or with making your home page at all. Month by month, building homes was replaced by generating content. Livejournal, Friendstr, Myspace, Facebook, Hyves, Twitter, Instagram. All these platforms brought and still bring millions of people online. People who communicate, express themselves, generate… sometimes they question underlying structures, sometimes not.

We are active, but we don’t build the web.

I have followed this alienation since 1999. At that time, social networks were already around but they did not look like a threat to the amateur web world. It was professional graphic/web design world which was ridiculing people who would put outer space backgrounds and under construction signs on their pages. At that time, my interest was mostly aesthetic. I was collecting elements, using them in my art and design projects. I taught students not to be afraid of under construction signs and external links (basements of cyber homes).

In 2004, ten years ago, when Blogger, Livejournal, and Myspace became popular, I saw that not just the aesthetics but the culture of making home pages – welcoming users to “my corner of cyberspace” – was disappearing. I initiated a home page award, the $1,000 Page.

I got quite some entries. It was nice to give prizes to long-standing personal pages. In 2005, together with my students and other artists we announced the prize again. But it was too late. People still wanted to get 1,000 dollars, but they were applying with their blogs. By todays standards, this would still be quite valuable input. I can imagine that if I were to make this call today, I would get a link to an Instagram account, or a selfie.

Since 2004, I have been writing about the vernacular web and collecting amateur productions of the 90′s. Since 2011, I have had access to the Geocities Archive – almost 400,000 home pages. I look at them every day. For the last year and a half, I have looked at 72 home pages per day – to keep up with the speed of our “One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Tumblr”, which is feeding the internet with its own history every 20 minutes.

So I see a lot of pages. I know what I’m talking about when I say that losing them is a big loss, and losing the idea that we should make home pages is dramatic.

Believe me, I’m not nostalgic and I’m not the type that thinks everything only gets worse. A photo on Instagram can better represent you than a personal web page. A timely selfie can make you more popular than the perfect personal web page. One tweet can be worth 1,000 web pages… this is all clear, even to me.

Home pages are important for something else, namely three points. 

Learning how things work. Even if you make your home page in a WYSIWYG editor, you have to think structurally and algorithmically. You have to think, predict, and ask questions like – what resolution am I targeting? Will it work in another browser? Will it work in one year? It is not about having answers to these questions, but raising these questions bonds you to the medium you are working with. Making a web page is a very medium conscious activity. It is an exam in media literacy.

Making a web page is not only a technical or design task, but a philosophical one. Historically, making a home page required answering existential questions. Do I have something to say to the world? What can that be? It is a bit more than the questions offered by social networks – “what are u doing today?” or, “who is in this photo?”

Early web users thought about what they wanted to say to the world, and shared the answers at the front of their site.

“I have made this web site because I will be a student in the Walt Disney World College Program this Fall.”

“This page is where we started expressing our love for each other long before we were living together, it was our home while we had no mutual home.”

“Hopefully my life isn’t as pitifully boring as I think and a few people will come and read about it.”

“Okay, I finally broke down and decided to setup my own website. (Hey, it’s free… why not?)”

Answers were very different.

Last two are defensive, but I want to quote them here, because in the event that you realized you had nothing to say or add, you could still decide to make a page, just to be a node in the network. Making your own web page was an activity that turned you into a person who was building the web. You could provide links to other pages. It was a noble role.

The earliest screenshot in our archive. A slightly modified sample page, filled with Geocities clipart… and “links to the other sites on the web.”

Here is a home page that conceptually is unimaginable today. A web user provides links to search engines, seeing their personal page as a portal. First of all, today there is only one search engine. Second, it is no longer the user’s job to provide infrastructure. I think today’s equivalent of such a “portal” would be the personal domains where instead of content, you put links to your own profiles on different networks. Though it is rather a form of aggregating than networking.

Yes, people still register domain names for their names and put up at least some index.html file. There are reasons to have web pages, personal and commercial. That is why there are services out there that offer tools to host and create them. These tools are really abusive. Because you are supposed to deal with templates. These templates impose styles and, whats even more damaging – structure, for what a successful page should be.

Fortunately, there are counter initiatives. I should mention Neocities, which motivates users to write html. Newhive, which pushes its users to make pages as if Jacob Nielsen were never born. (Update from 17.10.14: tilde.club – brings back idea of an active web user, a web ring and file transfer protocol )

Superglue’s design toolkit offers the possibility to start from a clear/empty screen. You can go on building your page in WYSIWYG or in a plain text editor and
with open source code from other Superglue pages, you can edit and create yours. Precious. Give it a try.

Don’t see that short period in the 90′s, when everybody made web pages as a short period in history before we got “real tools for publishing and communication online”. Make home pages and fill them with links to other home pages.

Roses are Red,
Violece is Blue,
Yahoo sucked ALWAYS,
Now GEO does TOO!!!

Half a year ago speculating on what to expect from 1999 on Geocities, I didn’t mention may be the most important fact. It was the year when Yahoo bought GeoCities.
Till the end of June users reaction to this deal was rather calm. Annoyance was growing, people complained about pop ups, banners, water marks, but anger was still directed to GeoCities. The first (to appear in our archive) clearly anti Yahoo page comes on the 27th of June. It lists Yahoo sins as theGooCities owner and a search engine

You can’t see the last paragraph, so let me paste it here:

It was bad enough when Geocities got all commercially and intiated the geoplus and “pages that pay” crap, but now i’ll never go back to another geocities page. I hope all the companies that use Vortals continue to do so, so yahoo folds. THEY SUCK! I WILL REJOYCE THE DAY THEY ARE CRUSHED BY COMPETITORS AND FORCE INTO BANKRUPTCY. I’d rather Microsucks bought Geocities than Yahoo. DIE YAHOO!! DIE YAHOO!! 1

This page can be seen as a presage of the real upraise that happened later that week. For the first time homesteaders started to blame Yahoo when giving a reason for moving to another service or closing the profile.

Yahoo obviously made itself visible by announcing the new ToS on the 29th of June. After users read it, they got furious.
Section 8 suggested:

“By submitting Content to any Yahoo property, you automatically grant, or warrant that the owner of such Content has expressly granted, Yahoo the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed.”

Users got as a sign to leave, and went to Xoom or Angelfire, or elswere… The screenshots below also show that some removed midis, texts and images from their profiles. They protested and called for the boycott.

Most of the protest pages were linked to boycottyahoo.htm on sitepowerup.com. Unfortunately the earliest file saved in the Internet Archived is from the 6th of July. It indicates that Geocities and Yahoo steped back, rewriting the ToS:

“As boycotters, we had asked for a number of issues to be addressed, including a definite ceasation of the rights they are granted when you leave the service, the ability to leave before agreeing to any new ToS change made regarding your content and how it is used, and the clear limitation of the use of your content solely for its display on the service on which you stored this content.

The new GeoCities ToS addresses each of these concerns in a clear, positive and concise manner which may well serve as a blueprint for similar Terms of Service agreements throughout the young internet community.”

If we’d have another super computer, the task we could give to it at the moment could be to go to the Wayback Machine and take snapshots of all updated on that date profiles to see how else users reacted to the “section 8″ and how many they were. GeoCities Research Institute can only share with you thoughts of people who protested and never came back. Above mentioned article Yahoo Angers GeoCities Members With Copyright Rules appeared on 30th of June in New York Times sais protests had mass character. I’m sure there were more than we can access now… at the same time GeoCities life of many users went on as usual, they were updating, just moving in and moving out because of reasons not related to copyright… Later this month Yahoo will abandon GeoCities neighborhood system to substitute it with vanity profiles, but nobody knows it yet.

Update: more protest sites from the first days of July 1999

Sad news: five years after the deletion of Geocities, Yahoo sysadmins found out (I hope not from this blog) that some parts of the empire are still visible and usable and made a new clean up, replacing profiles and directories with the page promoting their smallbusiness hosting service.

They even removed profiles of GeoCities Plus users, including the glorious spunk1111/, the famous ASCII artist Joan G. Stark. Though the promise was that those pages will stay up. “If you’re a Yahoo! GeoCities Plus customer, your friends and family can still view your web site as usual. However, you can no longer access your files or update your pages with GeoCities tools” was stated on a help page which is erased as well, but the Internet Archive remembers.

As my Clear GIFs collection vividly shows, yahoo blocked access to the two transparent pixels on their server
pixel.gif, used in the layouts of Geocities itself, and visit.gif, the web beacon that was tracing accesses to Geocities pages.

The pixel c.gif is still there though. Yahoo blocked access to the clipart directory now, but c.gif they didn’t dare to touch. It supports our earlier assumption that this file is a corner stone of the WWW, and if one pulls it out, the world build with HTML will collapse, burying underneath the ruins of old websites modern services, online shops, social networks and the Large Hadron Collider.

Skywriting (excerpt)
86 video/MIDI sound captures of Geocities home pages featuring welcome_plane.gif

Kunsthaus Langenthal, Switzerland
28 August – 16 November 2014

Thanks to the Geocities Research Institute’s intern, Joel Holmberg (olia-3), who helped identify copies and variations of welcome_plane.gif.

One day in 1998, Pure10 moved into the Dreamworld suburb of the Area51 neighborhood, house #6246. He build his home page using Intel’s Web Page Wizard. He made index2.html with more pictures, and index3.html which tells more about him, and Index.html with “Possibly more stuff to come”.

In an attempt to modify the template he made quite some copy-paste mistakes and messed up the HTML syntax. To the search engines of that time he wrote:

Matt, Pure10, pure10, PURE10, dudes, dudettes, corrado, Corrado, G60, Suzuki, Katana, waverunner, map, Mcmurray, McMurray, PA, rmc, RMC

Late in the evening on March 17th 1999 he revisited his Geocities home and noticed: “Hmm, haven’t really done anything with this for a long time, maybe I should, huh ? Okay, okay…” Pure10 uploaded a new pic.

He added links to the Corrado Club of America, weather forecast for Pittsburgh, USA airways and stock market charts, then sent his files to the server for the last time. He made it in the first minutes of a new day, at 00:24:42. This is how his homepage became the first one to be last updated o the 18th March 1999 — the day when Microsoft released Internet Explorer 5.

Pure10′s page becomes the first one rendered in Internet Explorer in our archive and to appear in this new frame on Tumblr. 15 years later it is the date when we at the Geocities Research Institute say good bye to Netscape and switch to Internet Explorer.

Dragan Espenschied justifies this move:

With the release of Internet Explorer 5 and it being shipped with Windows 98SE and Windows 2000, this browser can be considered to be the default window into the web for a long period of time.

We don’t do it with light heart. We know that our followers will be disappointed, we will miss it ourselves, but to continue with Netscape would mean to go nostalgic, to ignore history.

The framing of Netscape made every page look great, with Explorer it is different. To quote Dragan again:

While Netscape considered itself a product with a strong identity and therefore very recognizable visual design,1 Internet Explorer tried to look like an utility, the web becoming part of the operating system.‎ So while Explorer copied the structure of Netscape’s user interface, its appearance is more modest and transparent. With its toolbar being smaller than Netscape’s, web users gained a few more pixels, the Microsoft-Windows-only ActiveX plugin interface, smooth Java integration and many proprietary tags like <marquee> opened up new forms of expression — yet in hindsight Explorer’s staggering dominance is regarded as a dark age of the web. For most users, an actual loss was experienced through the lack of Explorer’s support for the <blink> the tag — a widely used way of bringing animation to the web, introduced by Netscape in 1994.

One thing is for sure: you will see much fewer home pages with garbled text on them. While Netscape strictly adhered to the HTTP protocol and displayed non-latin alphabets  only if the headers were set correctly — which many users did not know about –, Explorer tried to find out on its own what character encoding a page might be written in, and was guessing right more often than not.2

So, enjoy a glimpse into the web of 1999 written in Vietnamese, Russian, Korean and Chinese.

  1. See an overview of how Netscape looked on different platforms at Two Rovers Consulting, the designers in charge for it. []
  2. We also have improved on the HTTP headers sent to Netscape in the meantime, some of the older home pages now would show up with the right character set if visited again. []

As mentioned in the post about the earliest under construction signs, there is not much sense in knowing what exactly was the first under construction sign or rainbow bar and who exactly created them. At the same time it is a great opportunity to talk to the people who made graphics, or wrote scripts, or put together collections that were used by many and influenced the web. By this you get reminded about the motivations of early web users, their idea about the state and the future of the WWW, and learn about their work flow.

It was a pleasure to talk to Steve Kangas, the creator of one of the earliest under construction signs, the digging man . The sign can compete in popularity only with the under construction ribbon. Steve is also the author of the restless counter . He made the warm welcome to the internet and left an important reminder null. In 1995 he put these and other graphics (99 in total) together on the Animated Icon Browser website. It is still online!

On the page about himself Steve Kangas recalls:

“Early in 1995 I saw a graphical web browser and decided that the web was the most staggeringly awesome thing happening on the planet. I quit my profession and have devoted my time since then to exploring the web, spending an average of 10 hours a day online, either surfing or creating web projects. This is an excessive amount of time for any one pursuit – more time than it will be possible for me to sustain – but, well, it was worth it (in my opinion). I felt like a spectator at the Big Bang (“isn’t that neat! Imagine the universe that will grow from this!)”

Al the GIFs on Animated Icon Browser look familiar, they all became viral. They are all superstars. And there is something they all have in common: they are obviously not made by the same person. I asked Steve if the graphics were made by him or if he knows who are the authors. He said:

All the animations at were mine. None of the graphics were.

All the animations used pre-existing graphics, most of which seemed fairly commonplace at that time. I have no idea who created the original graphics. Many of them came from a site called “Icon Browser” (that’s why I used the phrase “Animated Icon Browser”). [...] It was an influential site at the time – people everywhere used their icons. Maybe you can find it somewhere.

My goal at that time was just to advertise the possibility of animation. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Netscape 1.1 came out everybody was excited about the possibility of using font colors other than black and link colors other than blue. When Netscape 2.0 came out, it was mind-blowing, by comparison, that images could actually animate.

I spent many hours in Photoshop, modifying popular icons frame by frame, trying to keep file sizes under 3K. That’s the most absurd thing now, but it really seemed necessary then.

Of course I looked for the Icon Browser site. Believe it or not, it is still here http://www.ibiblio.org/gio/iconbrowser/. Put online in February 1994 and last updated in 1998. 7296 icons for all possible themes and interactions.

Look, the third pic in the 4th row http://contemporary-home-computing.org/1tb/wp-content/uploads/eye1.gif it is the one Steve Kangas used for his crying icon .

The Icon Browser collection is huge and eclectic. You don’t even have to ask if the graphics are original or found. But i contacted their author Gioacchino La Vecchia , early web adopter and founder of the Italian W3C . He confirmed, that all the 7296 GIFs were collected by him, not created. He saw himself as a search engine, as an aggregator:

Icons crawling was manual. Download or extraction adapted case by case [...] at that time was not easy to find icons for web sites or applications.
No image search was available (like it is today with Google). So IconBrowser was a primary resource for web and apps developers.

The early web was very eclectic, because web pages were constructed using elements copied from other sites and different collections, from desktop icon collections published on cover CDs, sample files included with graphics or animation software packages, or files that have been popular before the WWW, on BBSes or the UseNet.1 And, I think now, that Steve’s and Gio’s collection’s were influential because you could find there all kinds of stuff. And I think now that being eclectic by themselves they were advocating and pushing this style.

The next pic is a screen shot from a typical homogeneous clip art collection to be found on CDs attached to web design manuals of that time. Its good that early users did more surfing than reading.

Myknet is on WordPress now. This news will not make it into international headlines. If you don’t belong to rural and remote First Nations of Ontario you are not on myknet.org, and probably never ever heard about this free hosting service for aboriginal peoples of Canada.

I got to know about it two years ago from the Austrian anthropologist Philipp Budka, and since then was surfing it regularly.

Myknet users had a primitive content management system at their disposal, which made them create pages that were structurally mimicking contemporary social networks, but aesthetically were classic 1990′s home pages. I made notes and screenshots, but hesitated to make links or to tweet about them, and was generally not sure how to deal with content that is formally public, but obviously very private. Myknet users don’t consider that some outsider would crawl from profile to profile.

I was also aware that one day I would type this URL, and nothing would be there. Myknet can’t compete with Facebook, WhatsApp and alike, its users were long torn between posting here and posting there. But I didn’t expect that it could move to WordPress. Was shocked, this decision appeared to me more cruel than a total shutdown.

Myknet users are also not particularly excited…

“Good morning! Thought I’d give this a try! See how it looks and how it works. So is this like FB or what? Cause I don’t need or want unnecessary skeletons, Don’t scare me eh…. jk. BBL!”

“The changes don’t just impact the presentation of the webpage but the purpose for it also. After having a Knet homepage for more than 10 years, I am questioning whether or not to continue updating. I set this page up because I was asked to do so by people who wanted a way to stay in touch, but I am not sure if the new format will serve that purpose.”

“heh & I’m still not use to myknet! -_-..where did my shit go? lol..just shut down myknet already..not like everyone use to update everyday or few days now..facebook took over. that’s where the party is at now jk.”

“This is cool, but I’m feeling lost at the moment. I got to get re-acquainted with my new myknet.org!!”

“I think people are going to have to get used to the new format before it picks up. There is a small learning curve and it reminds me of an email account in the way it’s set up.”

“Okay so this is different, not very different from blogger though. I got the idea of it. A lot of playing around with it. I’ll get it in no time! I have a quick learning skill! :) Anyways, just thought I would give it a try. I wasn’t expecting this big of change when myknet said it would change. I honestly don’t like it. It doesn’t help with my creativity! Yup’ well I will get used to it, just takes time.♥”

… but willing to give the new system a try, there are already some redesigns, and the #FFFFFF background color is getting removed here and there. And I’d say the way data Services Architect Jesse Fiddle explains the move is very reasonable and respectful:

“We disabled the ftp access and server user accounts. There was too much hacking on the old server. The whole upgrade was done in response to the server being hacked. The php and server software were out of date and didn’t work on many of the new browsers. Rather than manually rewriting and updating all the custom php built softare, I went with using the WordPress software which provided the same functionality and even more features.”

But, WordPress is WordPress

Today, looking at the “oldest” (last updated 1995-09-30) page in our archive, I again found myself in a chain of thoughts that I usually try to avoid, because they are formed by the questions that are time and energy consuming to answer … and these answers are not important for anything. Pure сuriosity and avidity.

So, yesterday I looked at the page, saw the under construction sign,

and asked myself and the Internet: How old is this particular file? Was it the first ever Under Construction sign? What was the first Under Construction sign? On what page did it appear? Who did set the trend to talk about the pages as being “under construction”? What was the first page “under construction”?

Internet Archive doesn’t remember. Google doesn’t know. Tim Berners-Lee doesn’t answer.

Anybody can help? Does anybody here know somebody who knows the guy who made the first Under Construction image?
And what to do with similar questions in the future? To ask them in a blog? On Twitter? Put an ad in the Guardian or the New York Times? How to reach users who were making their pages in 1993-1995?

On the other had, as I mention above, getting answers to these questions doesn’t help to understand the web of the 90′s and didn’t bring me closer to the question that I really want to answer: What did it mean to make a webpage? Maybe even the opposite, such facts are turning history into anecdotes.

As for Under Construction idiom:

I know that it was not used on the very first CERN web page.

This screenshot comes from the book The Whole Internet, 1993. Ed Krol annotates:

It’s important to realize that the home page and everything else that’s available is not “built-in” to your browser. [...] Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see text that doesn’t match our sample screen. The Web is constantly changing; that’s part of its beauty.

But already in 1994 — if to believe the screenshots in the book Using World Wide Web, published that year — one could read on the home page of the World Bank at www.worldbank.org “This World wide web Server is under construction and there will be many changes in the immediate future as more data becomes avalable for publication.”

Encyclopedia Britannica (www.eb.com at that time) also warned its visitors: “The World Wide Web database is under construction.”

census.gov used a different phrase: “construction continues”.

Stanford’s WWW Virtual Library referred to their Mechanical Engineering document as being “under continuous construction”.

And this particular line was around already in September 1995.


update 10 May 14:
Jason Scott reminded me about the 5 years old the thread on Metafilter where user twoleftfeet states that in was him who made the first UC icon in 1995. It is great to know the author of glorious null and the website he comes from.

We live in a world where people say “GIF”, but mean “Animated GIF”. In the 1990′s, and during the first years of the new century — or lets say before this format’s glorious comeback — there were two genres: GIFs and Animated GIFs. There were collections of GIFs and Animated GIFs, there were famous GIFs and famous Animated GIFs. I was reminded about it by the welcome message on the Sailormars Transparent GIF page.

Here are transparent GIFs of my favorite sailor senshi, Hino Rei. I have collected some over the web and made some of my own.

In January 1999, when the page was last updated, it was clear that the GIFs behind the link would be static. Here are some of them.

But why then GIFs and not JPEGs, especially knowing that images are technically scans of magazine pages? It is because of transparency. And the author of the collection manifests it clearly in the title of the site: Transparent GIFs! The ones that will work great on your own Sailor Mars page, regardless the color or texture of your background.

I think that today when we start to acknowledge another retro hero — the clear one pixel or invisible GIF — it is the right moment to remind that in the 90′s, the term Transparent GIF meant not an invisible pixel, but a GIF that is “cutted out”, that uses a principal feature of GIF89a format: transparent color. And their role in web site design can hardly be overestimated.

When a browser encounters the transparent color, the browser doesn’t show any graphic information, which enables the web page background to show through. That’s how Web pages create the illusion of non-rectangular figures.”
Creating Geocities Websites, p.169

Properly anti-aliased images with transparency are the basic building blocks of a third-generation site
Creating Killer Web Sites, p.52

So, GIFs could be rectangular and transparent, static and animated. And there was another subcategory which I would call “GIFs formerly known as animated”. These are graphics that were originally animated, got famous as animated, but can be found as still elements on quite some pages.

The web got static explosion …

… static fire …

… and a cat that is just there.

Why would users stop the animation? I see three reasons:

  1. The animation was stopped to be used in the background in times before animated backgrounds became supported with Netscape 4 or Internet Explorer 4. Alternatively, the site’s author used a browser that didn’t support GIF animation at all and got only the first frame. This is BTW what Twitter made earlier this year with all the animated backgrounds of user profiles: it converted Animated GIFs to one frame PNGs. Mine looks like this now. And everytime I open my twitter timeline now I think I’m on Netscape 3 again.
  2. The user screwed up during uploading or downloading the animation or a technical error damaged the file.
  3. The author of the page read web design manuals before designing the page and got convinced that animated GIFs should be used with the greatest caution and be avoided completely if possible.

I know only one design manual from the second part of the 90′s that didn’t object animated GIFs, Creating Geocities Websites, published 1996. Other authors were quite straight about it.

David Siegel in Creating Killer Websites, 1996, mentions:

If you want your visitors to go out to lunch while your page loads, fill it full of 8-bit dithered GIFs …

Jakob Nielsen in Designing Web Usability, 1999, strongly suggests:

Ask yourself whether your point would be communicated as well by a non-animated graphic

Paul E. Robichaux in Jazz Up Your Website in a Weekend, 1997, reminds that animation is distracting and prolongs downloading time. He warns:

[...] don’t overdo it. Enough people have expressed annoyance with overuse of animated GIFs that Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape Communicator 4.0 both include options to turn off GIF animation all together.

Curt Cloninger in Fresh Styles for Web Designers, 2001:

The only thing more eye-catching than a transparent gif on a textured background is a transparent animated gif on a textured background. But first, a word of caution: as with all web animation [...], use gif animation wisely and sparingly

When I read such instructions, I think how great it is that you didn’t have to read any instruction to make a webpage.

Some days ago my attention got attracted by this colorful screenshot:

I went to our archive to enjoy the rainbow flag and other elements animated. But it appeared that in reality, the web page of Italian architect Federico Cribbio looked the same as the screenshot. He used Formerly animated GIFs:

His Italian and European Union flags and even the gay pride flag didn’t flutter, the Welcome sign didn’t rotate, “Chiao a Tutti” was not blinking. He also paused the two hippos, who were born to tramp the backgrounds of early web pages.

Federico Cribbio either got unlucky uploading his images or took design manuals a bit too seriously. On the other hand, maybe he knew that once his homepage will be just a screenshot posted on Tumblr.

P.S. You may also want to read some notes about previously static files becoming animated. And have a look at the comparative gallery of Animated GIFs and Glitter graphics, it features graphics from the beginning of the last decade, when GIFs got huge, blingy and static.