Websites that Changed My Life

OK, that's a bit dramatic. More like, "websites that made me realize things were changing," or "websites that showed me there was a better way to do things." I write it here, lest I forget. Beware: extreme navel gazing ahead.

Symantec Visual Page

We start with a couple non-website items. Visual Page was my first serious introduction to HTML, probably around 1997. I spent hours crafting pages, watching how Visual Page generated markup. Tweaking layout in the WYSIWYG and seeing attributes change and tags shift position was an incredible learning experience. Several sites that began as Visual Page endeavors still exist today.

MacAddict

One especially important issue of MacAddict featured an introduction to Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). I could hardly comprehend it. I remember a lot of brackets, and some colons, possibly a simulated drop shadow. Things are much clearer now. Those were the baby steps, though, coding in BBEdit and refreshing the page in Internet Explorer 5.

RIT IPEdit Tools

We skip ahead several years, possibly to 2002 or 2003 now. I am working in customer support at the Rochester Institute of Technology as a student employee. The IPEdit system, used by students to self-register their MAC address or staff to administer parts of the network, is a bit of a kludge. It does have one interesting feature, though: a "status lights" display during processing. Sure, it's broken on most of the Mac browsers, but it's rewriting (or trying, at least) the live page using JavaScript, allowing changes to happen without reloading the page. Big stuff, and the essence of Gmail and hundreds of other AJAX web applications.

Cinnamon Interactive

It was always my intention to dissect Cinnamon Interactive and blog the results. That never happened, but to this day the website is a shining example of semantic design and the separation of style and content. When I first came across the page, few websites were equally readable in Internet Explorer 3 and the newest builds of Mozilla with no code changes. Of special note was the unordered list, absolutely positioned to function as a horizontal navigation bar. This was a revelation for me.

Orkut

While I often found it sluggish and lacking in the interface department, Orkut did have some interesting code behind it. The profile system allowed you to rate your friends' as cool, sexy, or friendly, with up to three points in each category. You could also mark someone as a favorite. Clicking the image for two "cool" points would change two images on the live page, but would also update the backend database. This was the first time I saw XMLHttpRequest in action, modifying stored data on a site without requiring a page reload. Google purchased Orkut before producing any AJAX applications of its own, to my knowledge. (Feel free to correct me.)

And more?

Other developments have been important to me: Fahrner Image Replacement, sliding window rollovers, etc. Above are specific examples of things that made me go, "whoa," where I just had to dig into the code and see what was going on. It's a great feeling.