The History Of TheBlackzone
It has been a long time since I had published my first home page on the internet back in 1997 and today I can almost proudly say, that it had been around without interruption since that time.
Over all the years I had changed the look of my web presence many times and also the way it was created and how its content was managed. Sometimes there were just subtle changes, sometimes it completely changed in appearance and sometimes I threw everything out and started from scratch.
From several backups I took along that way, I was able to recreate some sort of a timeline of how my site once looked.
Join me on a short trip through time…
In the beginning…
This screenshot is taken from the earliest version I still have a backup of. The site was unnamed and just stated “This website is under construction”. The version shown has already progressed and incorporated two subsections: “Quake”, which was dedicated to my favorite game of that time, the first-person shooter game “Quake”. And “RISC OS”, dubbed the “German Acorn Programmer Pages”, which was dedicated to computers from British manufacturer Acorn Computers Ltd. and their RISC OS operating system. The original site has been set up somewhere around the end of 1997, the version shown here went online on December 27, 1997.
Around mid of 1998 the pages had evolved and I had changed the look.
This version dates from July 1998 and subsequently had multiple subtle changes.
It was still unnamed and just titled “Welcome to my home page”. In this version I also had reworked the “German Acorn Programmer Pages” section and added a new section titled “Gallery Of Ancient Computers”, which was dedicated to my collection of older computer systems.
I also added a few more pages with some funny stuff, links to other sites and general information about internet related topics. In parallel I started working on yet another overhaul of the RISC OS section and on June 08, 1998 I created the “German Acorn Headquarter” pages that ought to replace my former “German Acorn Programmer Pages” section.
The screenshot shows how it looked on June 11, 1998. I can’t remember if I had ever published this version on the web, because already in September 1998 another relaunch took place and in the following version I had stripped the whole Acorn section down to a single page.
On Saturday, August 29, 1998 the “Blackzone” was born!
This is the first version that was titled “Blackzone” and it started with a new front page on this date. By September 19, 1998 the rest of the content was adapted to the new look, with the exception of the sub-section “Gallery Of Ancient Comptuers” and “Quake”, which remained unchanged. The RISC OS section was cut down to just a single “links” page for reasons I cannot remember anymore. For the first time I also added a webcam to the site which was located in my office at home. The rest of the content was taken from the previous version.
On November 17, 1998 my “Quake” pages followed with a new design, that looked like this:
Only two months after the “Blackzone” came to life, I reworked the design.
This version went online on November 22, 1998 and remained until January 10, 1999. This was the first version that featured the unique Blackzone “swirl” logo that I still use today. I remember that I created the logo in the Corel Photopaint software, using a bunch of distortion filters. Notably changes were also made to the “Ancient Computers” section that had now been integrated into the main pages.
And I decided to close the “RISC OS” section and had just kept one page of information. The initiator for this decision was a press release from September 17, 1998 in which Acorn Computers Ltd. had announced to close down its workstation division. Some slight changes were made to this version as well, right before the next switch, this is how it looked on January 10, 1999:
As an interesting aside, I noticed a file in the backup of this version, that identifies as “Allaire Visual Tool Project File” and belonged to the software Allaire Homesite 4. I remember that I had initially used Microsoft FrontPage to create the first versions of my site, but I quickly became upset with all the overhead stuff that FrontPage added to the HTML source code and the lack of direct control it offered. So I started to use “Homesite”, which was quite similar to the software Bluefish that is widely used today. However, there was no instant switch, because I still can see FrontPage’s meta files in later versions of my site.
Around the beginning of 1999 my graphics skills had gotten a little better and I created a more complex layout with machine-style graphics. The design was inspired by some of the big computer gaming sites of that time. Since I was playing a lot of computer games back in the day and had focused on publishing related stuff on my site, I tried to create something similar.
On January 11, 1999 I published my site with this new look, which took my approximately three days to create and implement.
Only five months later, on May 14, 1999 I yet again changed the appearance of the site. This time somewhat more rust-style looking with a new layout.
Meanwhile I updated the start page almost daily with news and stuff mainly related to the computer game “Quake” and the online gaming scene. The core content remained largely the same as in the last version, but had I also redesigned my “Ancient Computers” section and shortly after revived my “RISC OS” pages, this time titled “The RISC OS Ressource”, which went live on June 06, 1999.
In August 1999 a friend of mine had is own web server hardware running and offered me to move my site to his server. The prospect of having unlimited web space was quite tempting, since back in the day the hosting provider I used had strict limits on the space he provided. I already had put a “coming soon” page on the server and was ready to make the move. But then came to light, that the server had serious security issues (ie. was hacked), so I never moved there.
On Friday, August 27, 1999 a completely reworked site design went online.
I spent a lot of effort on the machine-style graphics, which was partly animated. The news updates got less frequent, since I shifted to other interests and the content was slowly morphing to a more “typical” personal homepage. Also, this version lasted longer and remained online until June 2000.
If you look closely to this screenshot you notice a display error in the right part of the graphics (black areas). This is because the whole layout was created with frames and framesets and it was only fully compatible with the early Internet Explorer, which was the dominant browser that days. Using frames was a prominent technique for full page layouts back then, but it also meant to exclude all visitors with browsers that weren’t capable of displaying frames from viewing your site if you haven’t set up a “frameless” version of it.
On January 9, 2000 I published a recreated version of my “Quake” pages dubbed “[Q]AGGRESSOR’s Quake Ressort” ([Q]AGGRESSOR is my in-game nickname) at another free web host. They were mainly set up as a test to try some of the features said hosting service had offered, namely server side scripting and the use of Perl scripts.
I planned to use this version as complete replacement for the “Blackzone” and had already incorporated large amounts of the main site content into it. However, already on January 22, 2000 I noted in a news entry, that there were problems reaching the pages and that the overall performance was very poor. So I never made that switch and eventually, in May 2000, re-integrated the Quake pages back into the “Blackzone” main site and gave up on the external hosting.
Also in January 2000, I created a new version of my RISC OS pages. My motivation was to create a design, that was accessible without issues with the fairly outdated web browsers of the RISC OS operating system. However, in the end this remained just a draft and never went online.
In general I didn’t update the “RISC OS” section of my site very frequently because meanwhile I started on a different project related to RISC OS… the “TCR”.
In March 2000 I had this side project running that came to life through the initiative of some RISC OS enthusiasts. The project was named “TCR – Technology Consortium for RISC OS”. It was a site trying to bundle resources for developers for the RISC OS operating system and to promote new developments for it. I was responsible for the web design and initial site management. We attracted a nice community back then and grew some popularity with this project.
On March 12, 2000 I radically changed the appearance and moved from the graphics-heavy design to a minimalist layout with just a logo as the only graphical element.
After a while, on June 3, 2000, I updated the layout to use an external CSS file. I used some basic CSS styles in the HTML header sections before, but this was the first time I referenced a full set of CSS styles in an external file. Also, I noted that I used the Allaire Homesite 4 software to author my site and all of the FrontPage stuff had gone in the meantime. Although I am sure that this switch has been done quite some time ago, I explicitly mentioned it in the FAQ section in this version for the first time.
As I mentioned above, my “Quake” pages where reintegrated into the main site in May 2000. When I moved them back, I redesigned this section as well and went online with a new design on May 7, 2000
On June 18, 2000 yet another redesign of the “Blackzone” went online. The layout remained basically the same, but I switched to a blackish appearance and created a new logo. The content remained the same.
In October 2000 I started working on a new project that I called “void”, which was short for “virtual online & interactive design”. The goal was to create a complete replacement for my current site.
The motivation to start on this project was driven by a notice I received from my hosting provider who complained about my site having gone way over the storage and bandwidth limits that they allowed for non-commercial websites. I was forced to remove some content and started looking for alternatives.
At this point the “void” project was in an early state and I had just created the concept, logo and basic site layout.
Although my web host provider still threatened to shut down my site because it still didn’t meet their traffic and storage limit policy, I officially stopped working on the “void” project on November 24, 2000 in favor to find another solution. Negotiations went back and forth and because I wasn’t sure about the outcome, I already created a “good bye” page for the “Blackzone”, which I luckily never needed to use.
Still on December 11, 2000 I noted that I would probably be forced to close my site at its current location and look for another hosting company, however on December 20, 2000 already I was optimistic that there would be no need to make this step.
In early December 2000 I started working on some drafts for a new layout that I planned to use in case I had to relaunch my site in another place.
The drafts were, for the first time, completely in English as my intention was to make the content available to a broader audience.
I also drafted a new version of my “Ancient Computers” section in mid December 2000.
After all, these versions remained drafts and weren’t used online.
Instead, after it became clear that I didn’t need to switch to another hosting provider, I started over with a new design and started working on translating all content to English.
This version went online on December 17, 2000, already with major parts of the content translated.
While I continued to operate my site as normal, it was on March 03, 2001 when finally an agreement with my hosting provider was found that made sure that it could stay in its place.
On November 6, 2001 I made some minor adjustments, e. g. added the “rust logo”, but over all the site design remained unchanged.
Meanwhile the site had also morphed into a typical personal homepage. I made frequent updates on the “site news”, which was some sort of “blogging”, although that term hadn’t been invented back then.
All of the subsection “Quake”, “RISC OS” and “Ancient Computers”, I formerly had used separate designs for, where now integrated into the main site and used the same design.
On June 10, 2001 the TCR project, I still was affiliated with, went out of operation. The governing and site maintenance of the project had already been taken over by somebody else and so the decision to go out of operation was mainly driven by the guy who operated the site by then.
Early January 2002 I was in the mood for another redesign and drafted a new version that was mainly inspired by the “rusty” logo that I added to the site last November. The creation of this “rust-style” graphics was a technique, I just learned with Corel Photopaint at that time.
But yet again, it remained just a draft and instead I created a variation of the current design that utilized the full width of the browser window. At this point, January 5, 2002 became a very important day for me. On this very day I did the initial upload of the new version of the “Blackzone” to my own server hardware! Yes. I had built a new server computer running Debian Linux, had a domain registered and was now running my own full-fledged web and mail server with the hardware housed by my hosting provider and with a direct connect to high speed internet.
On January 8, 2002 the old site had completely been moved to my new server and was now running everything completely independent on my server.
By January 28, 2002 I already made use of this new independence and installed “The Blackzone Forums”, a forum mainly for the attendees of our frequent LAN party events. Also I created my own guestbook software with Perl.
Another notably change has been, that I was meanwhile crafting all of the HTML code with the VIM editor without any other tools. The HTML meta data for “generator” stated “Handmade by me :-) using VIM”.
In February I made some minor changes to the layout, namely I removed the sidebar. I can’t remember what exactly the reason for this was, but I guess it had to do with the implementation of the new Blackzone forums.
In early April 2002, I made a another switch to a new look and had created some medieval style design. It went online on April 5, 2002.
Although I spent quite some effort on the new design, especially for the templates of the forums. It was replaced only three months later by another version.
On July 29, 2002 I launched a version that should become the final version of the “Blackzone”
While I was running this version of my site, I started evaluating easier ways to update the site. So I was implementing a weblog software called Personal Weblog and used it, with the site layout remaining unchanged, until the end of 2003.
The Zardos Era
By the end of 2003 I decided to created something new and to join the “blogging” hype that slowly gained steam at around that time. So in January 2004 I registered the domain “zardos.org”, a name that was influenced by the 1974 B-movie “Zardoz” and referenced to “wiZARD of OS” (wizard of operating system).
I started of with some draft designs that I created in January 2004. The first one was this:
followed by a second one, which took me quite some time to create.
But somehow, immediately after I had finished it, I found it wasn’t quite right and discarded it. A third one followed, also in January 2004, but it needed some more work so I postponed it.
Instead I started with a simple placeholder page for zardos.org that just linked to my webcam and a feedback form. It went online in January 2004 and remained for quite a while since I didn’t find enough time to create a design for the site.
But finally, on February 22, 2004, the first version of zardos.org came to live. Initially I started posting content in German, since I’d noticed in the late days of the “Blackzone” that most visitors of my site originated from Germany. The content of this version was completely managed manually, by directly editing HTML files.
But already in July 2004 I switched to a blogging software called Pivot Weblog, accompanied by a minor redesign. Also I switched back to English to attract more audience.
In January 2005 I once again reworked the design. Just like I once did in the “Blackzone” days, I switched to a minimal layout with no graphical elements and plain colors.
On March 31, 2005 already, I did another redesign, which was inspired by the designs I had created for the “Blackzone” website. In fact, I noted that I was browsing through some of the old stuff of my former site and wondered if I could come up with something similar.
It only took four hours to create the design and the corresponding template including all the graphics. I guess this was one of my fastest creations.
At this point I was still using the “Pivot Weblog” to manage the content. But in the last week of June 2005 I more or less accidentally came across Wordpress again. I had looked into it several times before but never adapted it because Pivot looked to me easier to handle and it didn’t need a database server to run. This time I just casually gave it a try and after having played around with it for a while, I decided to do the switch.
I started of by taking the existing template from Pivot and adapt it for Wordpress. It was a quite simple process and it only took me roughly an hour to get it done. Then I started taking over the content. The transfer of the blog posts from Pivot was a quite simple process and just a matter of running it through the RSS importer of Wordpress. For all the static pages however, I had to resort to “copy & paste” the content from one place to the other.
After having finished the grunt work, I just wasn’t satisfied with the look anymore and so I made an off-the-cuff decision and created a new design.
On July 3, 2005 the new zardos.org blog, running Wordpress and featuring a new design, went live.
I quickly reintegrated all of the former content and on July 14, 2005 I even brought the old “Blackzone forums” back to life at zardos.org.
Around November 2005 I had to remove my server from my hosting provider as they started to outsource their hosting business. As of November 20, 2005 zardos.org was temporarily operated from a server in my home. This might ultimately have been one reason that made me start posting on the then popular blogger.com platform, where I did my first post on January 2, 2006.
But zardos.org continued to exist and was transferred to new web server shortly after. On May 2, 2006 already, I moved away from blogger.com and back to my main site. All posts I’d made meanwhile, were successfully imported back to my Wordpress blog.
Then, on June 1, 2006, yet another redesign had gone live. I tried to find a balance between a dark and light scheme, combined with a warm look.
Also in mid 2006 I had switched my job and I became quickly appointed to a lot of new tasks. I was very busy and had not much spare time. This led to less frequent updates in the second half of 2006 and almost no update in the first half of 2007. The lack of time made me even think about abandoning my presence on the web completely.
But I changed my mind and just went for a stripped down single page site. As of July 5, 2007 I removed all content and just kept a single page with my contact data on it.
If you look closely you will notice that the page was written in Esperanto, which I was learning at around that time. I thought it would be funny to keep the text in this language as well. And just in case you are interested, the note I left at the bottom says, that I will be on holiday for two weeks and not responding to emails.
The revival of the Blackzone
Almost one year went by and around mid of 2008 I finally decided to revive my activities, abandon the domain “zardos.org” and move back to “Blackzone”.
Ahead of that move, I started looking into a couple of blogging solutions that didn’t require a database server. The reason for this was, that I’d planned to move to a new hosting provider and a database system option had a significant higher monthly fee. I had no big plans for the new site and just wanted something simple.
In July 2008 I began working on a new site design, renowned as the “summer edition” that was finished on July 5, 2008. It was temporarily published as part of the domain shark-industries.com. On the very next day I hacked up my own flat file blogging solution in Perl and created my first post with it on July 6, 2008.
This was, as said, just something temporary and, finally, on August 24, 2008 I officially registered “theblackzone.net” and the very next day I went online at the new domain with this “design”:
Now, actually it was more or less just a single plain text page. But I already had rudimentally implemented a page on the “Quake” game again and shortly after this initial version, a slightly improved one followed.
Then, in October 2008 I had finally created a new design for the site.
This one was implemented using HTML with server side includes. The web host, I was now using, didn’t support Perl scripts, so I had to give up the blogging script created in July, which I initially had intended to use on this site.
So my search for suitable blogging solution continued and later that year I came across the Habari weblog system, a project created by some former Wordpress folks. I gave it a try and immediately liked it for its clean approach and the possibility to use it with a lightweight file based SQLite database instead of a full fledged database system.
I decided to implement it for my site and adapted the current layout to its template system. On December 28, 2008 it went online, with the now official “theblackzone.net V1” template.
Habari worked quite well and in May 2009 I started working on another template design. “theblackzone.net V2” went online on May 31, 2009 and already featured some of the styling elements that would remain through the designs to come, most notably the “rainbow line” in the header and the colors of the site name.
Version 2 lasted for almost four years before I started working on a successor. On June 2, 2013 “theblackzone.net V3” went online. It was quite similar to its predecessor but I had removed the sidebar to simplify the overall layout.
On May 27, 2015 I relaunched again with a more simpler and lighter theme, “theblackzone.net V4”. The layout remained basically the same, but I finally used a responsive design to adapt to screens on mobile devices as well (yes, I know I was late to the party).
Finally we have arrived at the current version and today you are a looking at “theblackzone.net V4.1” which has the same design as the last version, but is completely adapted to HTML5 and had been changed for use with static HTML pages.
Of course, I will update this page when new versions of my site are implemented.
Now, let me wrap this up with a few words about this page itself…
The “History of TheBlackzone” as been completely reworked in August 2018. Although this page had been around since 2006 already, it hadn’t been very accurate and left out some of the major milestones. Also, the old version was more or less just a collection of screenshots with dates but without the story surrounding it. So I thought it would be a good idea to put somewhat more substance into it.
Recreating the timeline was not as easy as I’d initially thought it would be. This was due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, I never organized my backups in way that would allow me to easily retrieve them in chronological order. Instead, I just created archives that were inconsistently named and just loosely thrown into a backup folder. Secondly, I haven’t kept a changelog. In order to reconstruct the major changing points I had to read through the site news of the respective site version as well as checking all the blog posts I made. And thirdly, I faced some technical issues, especially caused by incompatibilities between PHP versions back then and today.
A positive surprise had been, how easy it was to get my old Wordpress site back to live. I had to restore a backup of my old MySQL database and install the most recent Wordpress version. After pointing the new installation to the old database, Wordpress flawlessly upgraded the database and all that was left, was to make some minor adjustments to the old templates and to remove old, incompatible plugins. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as lucky with the Habari weblog, which is no longer actively supported. I was unable to get it to work with the current version of PHP and I had to resort to an old PHP version that was available on my webhost’s server.
That’s it folks. I hope you enjoyed this trip through time and through my website’s history. Feel free to drop me an email if you wish to comment on it.