It stood as either a memorial, embarrassment or in-joke: the promotional website for the 1996 film Space Jam, a comedy-action-sports film starring Michael Jordan and the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes characters.
Created at a time when the exact relevance of websites in the spectrum of mass media promotion was still being worked out, www.spacejam.com held many of the fashionable attributes of a site in 1996: an image map that you could click on, a repeating star background, and a screen resolution that years of advancement have long left in the dust. The limits of HTML coding and computer power were pushed as far as they could go. The intended audience was a group of people primarily using dial-up modems and single-threaded browsers to connect to what was still called The Information Superhighway.
By all rights, the Space Jam site should have died back in the 1990s, lost in the shifting sands of pop culture attention and flashier sites arriving with each passing day.
But it didn’t die, go offline or get replaced with a domain hosting advertisement or a 404.
Unlike a lot of websites from the 1990s, the Space Jam movie site simply didn’t change.
Just as every city seems to have that one bar or restaurant that can trace itself back for over a century, this one website became known, to people who looked for it, as a strange exception – unchanging, unshifting, with someone paying for the hosting and advertising a movie that, while a lot of fun, was not necessarily an oscar-winning cinematic experience. You could go to the site and be instantly transported back to a World Wide Web that in many ways felt like ancient history, absolutely gone.
Years turned into decades.
For those in the know and who paid close attention to this odd online relic, the real mystery was that the site was not actually static – someone was making modifications to the code of the website, the settings and web hosting, to jump past several notable shifts in how websites work, to ensure that deprecated features and unaccounted browser issues were handled. That costs money; that’s the work of people. Somehow, this silly movie site represented the held-out flame that with a small bit of care and dedication, a website could live forever, like we were once promised.
It wasn’t just a clickable brochure – it became a beacon in the dark, a touchstone for some who were just children when the World Wide Web was started, and who grew up with this online world, which has shifted and consolidated and closed and tracked us.
Then the unthinkable happened.
In 2021, the sequel arrived.
It is abundantly clear the abnormally long life of the original 1996 site helped see the sequel through the endless mazes and corridors of Hollywood development turnaround.
Because websites and online presence are the way that movies are now promoted, the very place that spawned this consistent brand through decades had to go. A new Space Jam site was created, using the www.spacejam.com domain.
In a nod to its beginnings, the 1996 website still exists, shoved into a back room; adding /1996 to the URL will give you the old site as it used to appear before this year, and a small note in the corner lets you know you could optionally visit this once-dependable hangout.
But now the site is broken.
The word is disposable.
There’s still one place you can see the old site, as it was once arranged, though.
The same year the Space Jam movie and website arrived, another website started: The Internet Archive.
Unlike Space Jam, the Internet Archive’s site did change constantly. You can use the Wayback Machine to see all the changes as they came and went; over half-a-million captures have been done on archive.org.
We have changed across the last 25 years, but we also have not.
The ideas that the Web should keep URLs running, that the interdependent linking and reference cooked into it from day one should be a last-resort change, and that the experience of online should be one of flow and not of constant interruptions, still live here.
Hundreds of webpages that have also survived since the time of Space Jam are inside the stacks of the Wayback Machine, some of them still running, and still looking unchanged since those heady days of promises and online wishes.
And if the unthinkable happens to them, we’ll be ready.