Star wallpapers and free picture collections

The popular web part II

Another glorious element of the volkstumliche Web is the space background, also known under "Starry Night" or star wallpaper. It is usually a black, dark blue or dark purple image with a few bright, sometimes flashing pixels tiled across the browser window. Among the early web authors such backgrounds were very popular, certainly because many of them were science fiction fans and video gamers.

Their desire to make the web look like the futuristic scenarios of their favorite series, movie posters and games was more than justified; not only as an expression of their own taste, but because of the hopes and promises that the new medium had to offer. The Internet was simply the future, it sent us into new dimensions, brought us closer to distant galaxies! Dementsprechend musste der Look des Web an Filme wie Star Crash oder Spiele wie Galaga angepasst werden; entweder etwas wie aus dem Inneren des Computers oder von irgendwo da drauben. The star wallpapers gave the Internet a very familiar look, apparently a medium with a mission that no other medium could ever fulfill.

Star wallpapers and free image collections

A space scenery in the style of Star Crash by Andrew Glazebrook

Star wallpapers and free image collections

The Galaga Worship Page suggests that one of the most famous space backgrounds is taken directly from this game.

Especially practical about star wallpapers was the small number of required colors. In a pinch, black and white will do, the image will be maybe half a kilobyte in size and still give the web page a futuristic atmosphere.

Still, the space backgrounds may look rough, but don’t seem to fit any concrete idea. Scientific texts, private homepages, cinema programs, Pathfinder photo galleries, somehow never right. Selbst GIFs von Raumschiffe sehen auf ihnen nicht authentisch aus, denn man kann ja keine Bilder in den Himmel hangen, und im All gibt es auch keine Buchstaben. And even if there were some, you couldn’t read them, because the i-dot might be just a star and the %-sign a small meteor swarm … this is just too easy to confuse.

Anyone who has ever designed a website knows that space backgrounds only look good when they are not covered by anything else. And if you’ve ever reworked an existing old website, you’ll remember, first of all, the starback.gif removed.

One of the last and therefore documented space tapestry amputations took place in 2004. Here is the 90s look of an online video store directory:

Star wallpapers and free image collections

And this is how it looks like in the meantime (Below)

one of the hardest survivors is kinoservice.de, a weekly updated website with the cinema programs for Stuttgart and Frankfurt. Every time I enter the address, I fear that the stars have been removed after all.

With time, the hopes of an Internet future in the cosmos had to give way to usual online editions of newspapers and magazines, electronic offices, e-commerce and other serious ventures. At the same time the space backgrounds disappeared. They no longer stand for the future, but for the past.

And of course for a whole army of amateurs, who like Anni and Jens built a few pages and soon forgot about.

This connection between space and amateurs is extraordinarily strong. The other day I stumbled upon the professionally made promo site Renault Megan II Car of 2004. The design was developed around the spaceship-like shape of the car and therefore looks like an unofficial Renault fan site, because stars – even made with Flash – mean in the web "Amateur" and not "Space".

So, as stars shine outside the mainstream, they fit very well to alternative and subversive projects, they are almost as good as the prefix "Anti". At Unamerican.com, for example, there is a sticker mailer and, in the broadest sense, anti-American thought. The starry background supports the concept by moving the authors of the page into space, from where they can objectively grasp the overall picture.

My project page on the server of the Merz Academy is decorated with space motifs, in order to be able to deviate so clearly from the Corporate Identity of my employer.

Auberdem: Art inspired by space wallpaper.Teleportacia projects: Gravity, Some Universe. Design for Raiders of the Lost ArtBase, Net Stars and an elaborate collection of glittering stars and moons.

Web bricks collected for free

Space motifs are not the only images from the amateur web, soon appeared paper, glass, water and wood veneer. Public collections of graphics quickly emerged, including "Sets" on special occasions like weddings, Christmas or Halloween. The themes range from music to X-Files to Berry Babies, each one deserves praise and recognition. In sets, there are usually coordinated navigation buttons, bullet points ("Bullets"), separators, GIF animations as eye-catchers and "Welcome to my home page"-Funeral graphics. From these sources you can create whole web pages or just use a few elements for decoration.

When looking through some collections, one notices that a handful of graphics have been copied on an extremely large number of private pages and have thus become really famous, for example the rainbow dividing line, the "NEW!"-Symbol and the digging cat "Felix The Cat" than perfectly animated GIF.

Star wallpapers and free image collections

Some elements even tell stories from their time. For example, several sets contain buttons for "Forewarned" and "Back to", although these functions are of course already integrated in the browser. Allerdings konnte man derart wichtige Funktionen selbstverstandlich nicht der Verantwortung einer Software uberlassen, von der alle paar Monate eine neue Version erschien! It could be that these functions would soon be replaced by others, so precautions were taken.

ahnliches gilt fur die sogenannten "Bullets", tiny images that replaced the bullets of standard HTML lists. For most amateurs, expressiveness seemed more important than structure, and so they placed spectacular graphics in place of boring black discs.

The choice of the right browser was an important and philosophical decision, that found expression in numerous "Best Viewed with …."-banners. Since the release of the Firefox browser, similar graphics have come back into fashion, variations were produced by hardworking fans.

A particular problem for the Russian-speaking or rather Cyrillic-writing web community was the different encoding standards for Cyrillic letters. On the first page of each Russian web server you first had to choose one of these standards, depending on the browser and operating system used. The buttons needed everywhere became a gigantic playground for designers.

In 1996, Artemy Lebedev, a web designer who was soon to become number one, created twenty sets of coding buttons for a wide variety of backgrounds and tastes. In a few months they spread on countless .ru-domans and became a natural part of the Russian web landscape.

Nevertheless, their bleeding was short-lived, already by the end of 1998 the coding problem was automatically solved on most servers and the buttons disappeared. Even the legendary collection is now only history.

Free collections are the soul of the amateur web. A lot of authors used the graphics to build their pages and created collections. Many-To-Many was not an empty buzzword, creating a website and a collection at the same time was almost unthinkable. It was more about the spirit of the web, less about special design skills. To distribute was as important as to create.

With only a little exaggeration, it can be said that, because of the modular design, all websites were a collection at the same time, even if they did not call themselves such. Every line or cartoon character, every sound file was isolated on the page and easy to extract, either directly from the browser or by searching for the addresses in the source code.

As soon as the web people divided into designers and their customers, the free collections lost their attraction for both parties. Professional websites distanced themselves from the amateur web as early as 1997 through an anti-modular structure. Graphic design started its triumphant march through the web, so fast that some designers and web archaologists actually think that web design is a sub-discipline of graphic design. Entire pages were designed in Photoshop as a rough graphic block and then, broken down into individual parts, rebuilt in the browser. Each of these parts could be used only in its original context, so it made no sense to extract them and use them elsewhere. In any case, the designers would not have been happy with it.

A suitable example is the Mobile Telecom website, designed by Artemy Lebedev in 1997. A typical Photoshop design and at the same time one of the first corporate sites in Russia produced by a professional designer.

The site was famous and often copied. Lebedev collects all replicas in his clone museum. Most likely, the epigones were not even aware that they were stealing something, but saw the site as a template for what the professional Internet should look like now.

In the course of this professionalization, many links to collections of self-made and found files were deleted. So many of these collections still exist, only the links to them are missing. And without links you will find nothing. My personal favorite is no exception. I hope to have contributed to the preservation of the collection with this link.

On the other hand, it would be wrong to say that the time of collections is over. Who after "my collection of web graphics" is looking for, will stumble on some interesting ones, not even necessarily retro. Many are extended and maintained, and in 2001 even a revival took place, when the category "God bless America" has found its way into many collections of US users of all levels of talent who wanted to express their patriotic feelings on their homepages.

A new market for button producers represent the "Verified XHTML"-emblems. The range of offered variations is still limited, but new versions matching different design trends are constantly emerging.

Other great collections are GIF collection, Juanna’s animated world, GIF-CO, gif world or GIF.10000.RU, who managed to create a "Hobby" to a higher level. These libraries are extensive and active, guest bookers and forums are bustling with life. They are useful not only for archivists, but also for designers who would like to create modular pages from freely available elements.

Such as a parish of London-based producers who composed their wedding page of appropriate graphics. Or British designer Bruce Lawson’s contribution to the CSS Zen Garden, a collaborative project designed to demonstrate the design possibilities of web standards. His GeoCities 1996 from 2004 show that true spirit and inspiration will always find a way around standards.

The next episode is dedicated to private link lists and MIDI music.

translated by Dragan Espenschied