Julianne Aguilar | Longreads | February 2018 | 14 minutes (2,894 words)
Once upon a time, in 1999, when the internet was small, when it came through your phone and not just on your phone, when the first browser war had not yet been won, when you had to teach yourself a few lines of code if you wanted to exist online, when the idea of broadcasting your real name for anyone to see was unthinkable — in those early days, before Twitter revolutions, before Facebook Live homicides, when the internet was small and most people didn’t understand it, and only the nerds hung out there — even then, it was already happening.
Even then, people hated girls on the internet.
* * *
Eighteen years went by before I thought about Sara again.
I’d just finished a project in which I had tracked down a fanfiction author I’d loved in the early 2000s. Jami had been relatively easy to find: It turns out that if you’d had a sprawling internet presence as a child, you probably have one now, under new names, on new websites. Not only had I found Jami, but I learned that she is now a successful, Hugo-nominated author. I was deliriously happy. She’d made it — this girl who’d written fanfiction had achieved the wildest dream and turned that talent into an actual writing career. I wanted the same for Sara, a tangible success that followed minor internet celebrity.
In 1999 Sara had a website hosted on Expage, and so did I. I didn’t know her: I was attracted to Sara’s website because it was incredibly well-designed for 1999, and because Sara, like me, was a middle school girl who loved the internet. Her “About Me” page listed her age as 12, same as me. I don’t remember how I found her site but I do remember that it’s what initially sparked my interest in web design and the internet in general.
Between 1999 and now, I would occasionally think of Sara. I’d been addicted to her website. In the design anarchy of Web 1.0, Sara had an eye. She had a sense. Her website looked like few others at the time, in that it looked good, like something you couldn’t make yourself. She knew how to hold an audience: she updated frequently, changing her layouts often and offered the code for free. Because of this, her website was hugely popular. Many years later I’d see her name mentioned in a discussion about early internet celebrities. I was there, I thought. I was one of her biggest fans.