I recently stumbled upon a web project from about 17 years ago that really put into perspective how far certain technologies have come in the last couple of decades. The project was a travel “blog” for my younger brother, Wesley, who was on a long walk…

The year was 2003 and Wesley had decided to walk from Savannah, Georgia, to Winona, Minnesota. We wanted to be able to keep friends and family apprised of his adventures as he went. “So,” you’re thinking, “maybe a dedicated Facebook page, or perhaps a travel blog he could update on the go?” How quickly we forget what life was like in the early aughts. It took some remembering for me, at least.

Smartphones were not a thing (pagers were still a thing). PDAs were a thing, but barely useful in a case like this. WordPress was not a thing (though it would be launched later that year). Facebook was not a thing — even MySpace wasn’t a thing quite yet.

So we came up with a solution that seemed pretty cutting edge at the time. Hell, it probably was.

We found a device called the PocketMail. It was the first mobile email device to hit the mass market. It had an acoustic coupler built in which, when held up to a regular phone, could send emails directly. This made it possible for Wes to send emails from the road as long as he had a quarter for the payphone. Yes, payphones were still prevalent.

So Wesley would send me his daily journal entries via email, and I would drop them into a static web page. I don’t recall exactly how the pages were created, but looking at the source code I have to assume I was doing it in Dreamweaver. Tables as layout, font tags, inline styles — it serves as a wonderful example of why semantic, standards-based web design eventually had to take root. I’m sure it was IE6 compatible, and Netscape was still a thing.

Each entry got a date and a location with a link to MapQuest. (MapQuest was still a thing, Google Maps was not, yet.) Entries were archived by week, sometimes with editorial notes (and the occasional animated GIF) from me. But none of this was structured data, just table cells containing the metadata and paragraphs of text. There was no linking to specific days, no search, no way to sort the entries. But the travel log was there, and the pages still work today (fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly).

It was a grand adventure, an impressive feat, and fascinating to read about as it happened. I’ll probably turn the whole thing into a PDF for archiving. If the code were a bit more consistent, I’d parse it all into a more structured format that I could do more with, but it’s not, and everyone who would really care will probably say “good enough” to the print-to-PDF version1. Either way, it’s fun to find “memories” archived between the time of scrapbooking2 and the era where everything was catalogued by Facebook and the like. Memories like Wesley’s Great Adventure.

  1. This is by no means a guarantee that I’ll be able to resist the urge to convert it all into a JSON format I can better work with… 

  2. I am certain my mother also scrapbooked this whole thing from where she was, but without the up-to-the-minute recording of the travel log.