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                   Tuesday, January 25, 2011 - 12:28PM

A look back at 15 years on the web

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
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There is nothing like talking about 15-year old technology to make one feel old, and this post certainly does. I wrote the first pages of this web site back in October of 1995 at the West Virginia Institute of Technology engineering computer lab in Montgomery, West Virginia (Google Street View). I did most of the hand-coded HTML and content writing on orange-screened, text-only monochrome 'dummy terminals' connected to the school's network and Unix servers. For you non-IT readers, a dummy terminal is basically a keyboard and monitor connected to a central server on a network - IE, no CPU (they were common in department stores, auto repair shops and the like).

The WVIT lab with the dummy terminals was in the Leonard C. Nelson (engineering labs) building, and was never very busy, since most students wanted to use the newer color-monitored Windows PCs running Windows 3.1 in the other labs on campus. Since the labs with the better computers were always busy, I didn't feel comfortable hogging a spot there for a non-school project. I actually liked the dummy terminal lab better, since it was always quiet, on the first floor of the building and had big picture windows looking outside. All of the other labs were windowless, flourescent lit and almost always packed with students.

But back to writing web pages. When I first wrote the site (then called "The Lightning Page"), I was still using ELM and Pine for email, Gopher was still an active source of information, and the best computers on campus were the 486s with Windows 3.1. For the most part, I wrote my pages 'blind' on the dummy terminals, then later had to go to another (busier) lab to get a quick view on how they looked on normal browsers - in this case, Netscape running on the 486s. I used Lynx (a Unix text-only server-based browser) to preview the site on the monochrome terminals. That wasn't as bad of an inconvenience as it sounds, since the first site had no tables, few images and no real layout to speak of. Just text and inline images.

In 1995, I had no computer of my own, and would not until the spring of 1997. Until that time, the development of this site took place entirely in my spare time at the computer labs at WVIT. The lightning myths and lightning faq pages are two of the biggest original sections from the first version of this site. Despite being heavily revised over the years, the 'meat' of most of that content was typed out on those monochrome terminals at Tech 15 years ago.

After I got my own computer and a dialup account in 1997, updating the web site took place over Telnet at the Unix shell prompt using the Pico text editor. I did everything server-side, except for FTPing image files as needed. I didn't start maintaining a local copy of the site and fully updating via FTP until 1998.

The first photo prints I scanned in '95 were using a flatbed in a lab in Orndorff Hall (the only scanner on campus that I was aware of), resulting in 256-color GIF images. I think I had 8 or 10 on the site to start with. The first lightning photo I posted to the site was the one pictured at left that I captured on my first 'chase' in July of 1993 (that is the original scan). At that point, I only had three seasons of weather expeditioning under my belt (most of my early photos were from Pennsylvania from 1993 to 1995), yet had a decently successful batch of lightning shots.

The site remained on the WV Tech campus servers until mid-1997, before a brief switch to Cross Lanes-based wvinter.net (who later became Intelos) once I moved to Charleston and started working. Soon after I started my job at CIS in the spring of 1998, I registered the wvlightning.com domain, accordingly changed the name of the site to "West Virginia Lightning" and moved the site to the CIS server, where it has remained ever since. I registered stormhighway.com in 2006, switched to that new name/identity in 2007 and phased out wvlightning.com, which still aliases to the site (and always will, since there are many links still referencing it). So there you have it, the 15-year history of this site.

The process of building this site during my time at WV Tech is the sole reason I ended up in the web development career field. I did my first web job on a school Co-op page, then when I moved to Charleston, began a nearly 2-year stint with the newspaper updating their site nightly before landing at CIS.

Old Site Designs

I have kept most of the old files from the previous versions of the site, all but the very first set of designs. The 1995 to 1997 versions unfortunately are lost forever, as they were backed up only on 3.5 inch floppies which are long gone (and probably would not work even if I still had them). archive.org does not have pages from those early versions, but I was able to retrieve two images from the 1996-1997 era, the header image and navbar that I made with a primitive 3D text program:

From 1997 onward, I have a pretty good preservation of the versions of the site, despite a few of the graphics files being lost here and there. Aside from the 1997-1999 and 2002 screen captures, these thumbnails link to the actual, active html pages from that year's version, so you can go 'back in time' to see how this site looked in years past (and how horrendous and primitive early web design techniques were). The 1999 version shows the benefit of the purchase of the graphics program Paint Shop Pro (prior to that I was using software like LView Pro, Microsoft Paint and the like). PSP was a great program that I used for design work up until 2007, when I finally moved to Adobe products (Photoshop, Flash, etc). Even so, I still use Paint Shop for certain tasks that I think it does better/faster (like quick photo resizing, logo overlays and JPEG exporting).


1997 version

1998 version


1999 version

2000 version


2001 version

2002-2003 version


2004 version

2005 version


2006 version

2007-2009 version

Yahoo Directory and Search Engines

In 1995, the Yahoo! Directory (at the time, the most popular search engine/directory on the internet) added a new 'Lightning' subsection to its weather category, and this site was the first and only listing for several months. Thanks to that link, I actually saw some of my highest all-time traffic for a year or so, until the Yahoo page started filling up with other lightning site listings. Thanks to archive.org, a screen capture is preserved:

I stopped getting traffic from the Yahoo link many years ago, as the directory lost popularity and 'West Virginia Lightning' suffered from being alphabetically last in about 30 or so lightning site listings. The Altavista search engine then became the primary source of my visitors, and for many years this site was always a top result for the 'lightning' keyword. Eventually Google came onto the scene, and now, like most sites, provides my biggest source of traffic. Today, the site gets less overall traffic than it did in those early years, mainly due to the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of web pages on lightning and weather expeditioning online today.

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