Remember the dulcet, gurgling tones of a 56K modem connecting over your phone line?

I can’t think of a more evocative sound from my early online adventures.

Apart from an angry parent shouting “JAMESSSSSS! I NEED TO USE THE PHONEEEEEEE” from downstairs.

It was 1999. The internet and I were fresh-faced. (9 and 18 years old respectively).

I’d graduated from Microsoft Frontpage. Macromedia Fireworks and Dreamweaver were my new toys, but I needed a reason to use them.

So I dreamt up a concept for my first website:

"Ever wondered what someone on the other side of the world looks like when they squash their face onto a scanner? Now's your chance to find out - Headscan brings hilarious images from across the globe direct to your desktop. Send us your picture and we will add it to the Scan Gallery, along with a dot marking you out on the map, and a link to your website".

By August 2000, Headscan had clocked up 14,000 hits and was receiving around 15 submissions a month.

Headscan as it looked in August 2000. You’ll need to use your imagination as the Wayback Machine doesn’t have any images for the site.”/> Headscan as it looked in August 2000. You’ll need to use your imagination as the Wayback Machine doesn’t have any images for the site.

My Hotmail inbox filled up with the names of exotic places.

Sheffield. Frankfurt. Manila. Rido de Janeiro. Alabama. Warsaw.

It felt like the future had arrived.

I made a prophetic declaration on my fledgling web-design portfolio:

"Thousands and thousands of new sites are launched every day. In ten years time nearly every business in Britain will be using the world wide web."

Hot damn, I was right!

But updating Headscan’s static HTML was increasingly time-consuming. It would be another 4 years before I learnt PHP and mySQL, thanks to Wordpress.

I looked up the location of each submission in a printed atlas, then placed it by hand as a dot on the appropriate map. You’ll need to trust me on this, as the Wayback Machine is the only record of Headscan I have — an imageless ghost of what was my digital pride and joy. 

I distinctly remember the mixed emotions the first New Zealand Headscan heralded.

Wow! Someone on the other side of the world has heard about me!

(No MySpace, Facebook or Twitter remember. I guess people just emailed links to each other. Or went on forums. I even read the newspaper to find new sites).

D’oh! The marker dot is obliterating New Zealand on my map.

So I made a new map to house Majik in Lower Hutt and laboriously linked up the other locations.

This was starting to feel like hard work.

I was now studying graphics in Glasgow and had more pressing needs. Like earning extra cash to fund my social life and get drunk enough to think I could dance. 

But I didn’t own a computer. So I borrowed my flatmate’s beige PC and once a week stayed up until dawn, cajoling pixels into place. I was hooked. 

I stopped updating Headscan, and began cold-emailing businesses in the phone book that didn’t have a website, offering to build one for £100. A car-hire company was the first to take up my offer. But that’s a story for another day. 

The only Headscan I can find online. I have a hunch this guy was from the Netherlands.

What did I learn from building my first website? 

  1. Experiment. Have fun. Put new skills into practice.
  2. Don't worry about technology or writing beautiful code. 99.99999% of people don't care. The other 0.00001% will be arguing about what the actual percentage of people who do care is.
  3. Build your site around people. Make it human.
  4. Make a backup, dummy, or take screenshots. In a few hundred years someone might take the same pleasure from looking at your website as they do now looking at old black and white photos, marvelling at smudges of horse-drawn carts and petticoats.

“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, which is generally accepted as the earliest photograph of people

What was your first website?

Posted to graphic-design in 2013.

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