Sharing digital photos in the 90s

A long, long time ago, I got my first digital camera and wanted to share photos online. The problem was, back then a website might only give you 512K (five thousands bytes, not mega, not giga) of storage. I could only put a few small photos online at a time.

To work around this, I would share photos directly from my computer by running a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server on it. I would dial in to my dail-up Internet Service Provider (ISP) that I dialed into with a dial-up modem (get the point?) and let it run overnight for folks to connect to and download photos.

I am confident I had the largest collection of Disney photos online anywhere on the Internet.

I had a script (a DOS .bat batch file) I would run any time I wanted to turn the service on. It would upload a customize web page to my website that had the current link to my computer at home. When I would shut it down, another script would upload a “the server is not available right now” page.

It was cutting edge.

When you’d connect, you’d see something like this:

Time travel commencing…

When a user would connect (all via a text interface, not the world wide web), they would see this:

[Welcome Before Login]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| INTERNET EXPLORER USERS!!!  Having problems?  Try NETSCAPE!  It works :)
| Also, PLEASE set your "ftp" configuration to send your e-mail address as
| the password.  If you don't know how to do this, try NETSCAPE!  :)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Welcome to the Al's Place FTP Photo Archives Server!

Hello, user connecting from [$origin].  Please login as "anonymous"
and use your COMPLETE e-mail address as the password.  Want your own
login account?  mailto://alsplace@pobox.com and ask!

It’s funny thinking back to the days when the Microsoft stuff was just not very good at Internet. Above, “[$origin]” was replaced with the IP address of the user visiting. All connections on the internet at tracked, and the same was true even 25 years ago.

I had a public anonymous account set up so anyone could connect. Once they entered the correct username, they would see this:

[Welcome After Login]
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello, [$user], and welcome!  There is/are currently [$usersonline] user(s) 
online (out of [$maxusers] allowed).

7/3/98 *** Want your own private account here?  E-mail me for details!

Welcome to the *Al's Place* FTP server.  This site is only available
when I am logged into the network:

     WWW - http://www.pobox.com/~alsplace/online.html

Here you will over ***4,600*** digital photos (over 220 megs) from
theme park and amusement places such as:  Disneyland, Walt Disney World,
Kennywood, Six Flags Georgia, Paramount's Gret America, Adventureland,
Universal Studios, and many, many others.

Most images are in 640x480x16.7 JPG format and about 55K in size.  You
are welcome to use any of the images on your web site if you please give
me credit (such as a link back to my site).

Enjoy!  And please drop me a line if you encounter any problems
or have any specific photo requests!  mailto://[$email]

My ICQ number is 373286.  Page me if you need to.

Wow, 4600 whole photos back in 1998! The first generation digital camera I had would take a 640×480 resolution photo and store it at around 55K, which is why that many photos only took 220 megabytes. (Well, I say “only” today, but back then, that was a ton of space. It would have cost a fortune to pay for that much storage on a web host provider. Just getting a custom domain name was $75 back then – adjust that for inflation in 2020 and you’ll get the idea of how much it was then, compared to $8 today.)

And does anyone remember ICQ? “I Seek You” was an early chat program. I had started out using one called PowWow. PowWow is long gone, but some variation of ICQ still runs today (or did the last time I checked). My user number was pretty early considering they were in the tens of millions (wiki says 42 million daily users in 2010).

Now, although I had an anonymous account that anyone could use, I did ask that they use their e-mail address for the password just so I could know who was visiting. If they did not give it, they would see this:

[Anonymous Denied]

Anonymous users are currently not allowed to log in.  Please send e-mail
to [$email] asking for access.

You are likely seeing this if you didn't use your real e-mail address
for the password when you logged in.  Please be considerate and at least
let me know who you are -- thanks!

I could shut off the service at any time, and then users would see this:

[System is Closed]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Al's Place is currently closed.  Please try back later, or sent mail to
[$email] asking what the problem it.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And anytime I needed to shut it down, any user currently online would see this:

[System Shutdown]
The system is being shut down.  Please check back again later, as
sometimes I just have to take the server offline to reboot the system.

Since I was running this on my 486 Toshiba laptop, and was using a very slow dial-up connection, I would limit the number of users that could be online at any time. It was slow enough as it was trying to download a 55K image over dialup.

[No More Users Allowed]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| INTERNET EXPLORER USERS!  Try NETSCAPE.  It seems to logout properly
| from FTP sites such as this.  IE seems to "hang" holding on to the
| connection.  Most of the time when the system says it is full is due to
| Internet Explorer apparently holding on to IDLE connections.  Sorry!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sorry, but the Al's Place FTP Photo Archive Server has a limit of [$maxusers]
users logged in at the same time.  Currently, there are [$usersonline] users
logged in right now ([$anonsonline]/[$maxanons] anonymous).  Please try back
again in a bit and see if the system is less busy.

NOTE:  If you are trying to connect using a web browser, each access
counts as a "user".  Please note that this site feeds off of a computer
that is connected to the internet by a 56K dialup modem (when I am
online) so doing multiple downloads is going to make things go much
slower for all connected.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I even had online help!

[Help]
Sorry, no help is available currently.  I hope to have some in the
future.  Until then, feel free to leave mail to [$email] and
ask any questions you may have.

Oh…

Well, at least I could ban troublesome users, and they’d see this:

[Your Class is Banned]
Your user class is currently banned from accessing the system.

I know you are stunned to know people were being jerks on the internet even in the 1990s.

And lastly, when the user was ready to disconnect, they would see this:

[Goodbye]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Thank you for visiting the Al's Place FTP Photo Archives server!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

And that, my digital friends, is how folks were able to browse and download digital photos back in the 1990s before websites were able to handle large photo galleries.

Enjoy surfing in the 2020s! It’s much nicer than it was 25 years ago.

Until next time…

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