Robin Camille Davis
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Time traveling in my web design past

March 23, 2011
Tags: internet, nonfiction, UI/UX, wistful

I began learning HTML and CSS about a decade ago. The bulk of my introduction to web design was through Diaryland, where I made blog templates for masses of confessional bloggers who were also 14 years old and living the drama of late middle school. I called my website Daisy Designs, then Pokytemps (in an effort to sound more "original"), then Toastsnatcher.

Most of my "web design" could be summed up as

  • copying CSS from other designers (or, as I like to call it, learning)
  • editing it in Netscape Composer
  • cleverly cropping out watermarks from GettyImages JPGs in Photoshop Elements 3.0
  • pasting in Dashboard Confessional or Less Than Jake lyrics, set in Silkscreen
  • stamping curlicue Photoshop brushes over everything.

I daresay I have improved — if nothing else, I have learned not to use HTML tables to display entire webpages. Sometimes I miss the wide-eyed prolificacy of design I achieved circa 2001-2005. Fans of my templates signed my guestbook with messages of gratitude, nary a capital letter in sight. I was part of a community of aspiring Diaryland web designers called Beautify. We traded links and submitted templates to monthly challenges, which were won by whomever used Zapfino most effectively... I'm making fun, but honestly, it really was a community in which I learned a ton about digital media. And truthfully, it's one factor that led me to my profession.

In a fit of nostalgia, I present to you a carefully curated selection of Diaryland layouts I made once upon a time:


(Yes. That is Good Charlotte. Also, my current screen is FAR wider than I'd imagined one's screen could be — note the repeating background.)


Days of absence, sad and dreary, clothed in sorrow's dark array... It's Shakespeare, apparently, but oh my god


Yes, you are, Strong Bad.

Darling Boy - Toastsnatcher Diaryland layout

Here's to Diaryland. Here's to Beautify. Here's to 2003. Here's to teenage girls staying up past 2am creating something for the other girls in their tiny corner of the 'net.

I shuttered my Diaryland layouts around 2005, moving on to making Photoshop brushes and outputting more thoughtful writing. I lost track of the other Diaryland folks (except for one other diarist I'm now Facebook & Instagram friends with). I wonder what the other designers are up to now.

It's funny. I have such a strong sense of nostalgia, like I'm missing a place to which I can never return. And this is true, isn't it? The Wayback Machine has, thankfully preserved a good portion of what I once discarded, but it's not complete, and it doesn't link to anything extant. I can't see these templates on anyone's account except my example pages. It took some sleuthing to even figure out the URL where I'd once placed these blog templates. Everyone else I can remember from those days has disappeared, their web pages nothing but 404s. Diaryland deletes accounts that remain inactive for 6 months or so. This is reasonable, of course. If they didn't have that policy in place, their servers would be encumbered by aging, untouched accounts that generate no revenue for them. Still, sites like Diaryland (and Geocities and AOL Hometown and Angelfire et cetera) represent huge swaths of culture. For their users' webpages to disappear is a small, sad thing, usually noticed only by the creators, with some sorrow.

Part of the beauty and calamity of the web is its unceasing mutation. It is a swift amnesia, interrupted only by broken links and brief curiosity.


Bonus!

Added June 4, 2013. In looking at this again, I took another trip down memory lane (a.k.a. the Wayback Machine) to revisit some of the communities from which I learned so much. Here are a few shots of Beautify, a Diaryland template directory, where the designers were both helpful and competitive. I learned about CSS here, and where to find free fonts and photos, and why we loved Mick Jagger (some of the girls had an unhealthy obsession with him, I remember.)

Beautify in March 2003

Beautify, March 2003. See it on the Wayback Machine »
Beautify in December 2003

Beautify, December 2003. See it on the Wayback Machine »
Sadly, my link image wasn't saved here either
Beautify in May 2004

Beautify, May 2004. See it on the Wayback Machine »
See "Pokytemps"? That's where my link image would have been. God I so wish those link images had been saved. I spent so much time pushing pixels to come up with the buttons I thought were the most clickable and representative of me. I remember really admiring Migraine, and Zut, and Vitriol.

I also remembered Frozen Kiss, another Diaryland directory in which my website was listed under Designs:
Frozen Kiss in March 2004

Frozen Kiss, March 2003. See on Wayback Machine »
Sadly, for this one, Wayback doesn't seem to have saved the Designs page. But oh my goodness, the stock image, the grungy Photoshop brushes, the 10pt Verdana, the glowing display font! This was the height of the Diaryland look.

Lastly, here are a few other layouts from my personal site, toastsnatcher.com (no longer owned by me, now owned by a Russian who blogs longingly about furniture?).

ToastsnatcherJune 2004. I'd installed WordPress at this point but was still offering Diaryland layouts. This was my normal template, and the page is describing that Darling Boy layout.

Homepage of Toastsnatcher - Pick your poison
Splash page, September 2004.I really wish this one had survived with all images intact. I think it's pretty cool, even now. I'd made an image map on bottles labeled Blog Layouts, Photoshop Brushes, Email.

Splash page 2005

Splash page 2005

Splash page 2005

Splash page 2005

Splash page 2006

Splash page 2006

Toastsnatcher - photoshop brushes
May 2005. I made Photoshop brushes like made for a few years from scans of old books and my own photos and drawings. I still really love the splashy color here! Although note my hilarious misuse of the word "retribution." I'm also basically outlining a Creative Commons BY-NC license, interestingly.

Toastsnatcher - photoshop brushes
December 2006. I was in college by now, as you can see by the French I slipped in there. I'd also discovered the Difference and Exclusion layer styles in Photoshop. I do love this one, still, too.

Okay, last little fun thing from my past: the "Funsies" page from November 2006, where I listed out my favorite things on the internet, like PostSecret, and White Ninja Comics. And Gmail, a "Web-based email program that rocks. If you need an invite, I can invite you. :)" Oh man. The internet! Such a delight.