The legendary 1996 Space Jam website has now been pushed aside and archived as the website for the new, Lebron James version of Space Jam takes its place, and one of the architects of the original Space Jam site says that it all shows how much the internet has changed since 1996, in some cases for the worse.
When Michael Tritter was working on the Space Jam website in the early 90s, he was a recent Oberlin graduate, and in his words, “a bored & jaded 90s gen x stereotype.” Tritter worked on marketing at Warner Bros. at that time while being a musician on the side, which is now his full time gig. The site he had a hand in creating at his day job has ended up being a formative piece of internet history. That Warner Bros. has archived the site doesn’t surprise him.
“It’s a funny situation for them,” Tritter told Motherboard. “They have a new film, but also this original site that has become this weirdly well-known thing, so they were perhaps caught between a rock and a hard place. I mean, let’s be real—and I’m allowed to say this—the 1996 Space Jam website is not a ‘thing’ because it’s good, right? It’s beloved because a lot of people younger than the people who made it are nostalgic—which is great! And it’s also got this rare connection back to an early web which doesn’t exist anymore.”
In 1996, the internet had a completely different look and feel. This was the age of Geocities, when any and everyone could have a website. Corporate web design didn’t look all that different from the design you’d see on someone’s personal site; websites were still a new frontier, and as such the web itself had a more bespoke design. The original Space Jam site has many of the classic hallmarks of old web design, including frames, clickable bitmap images, and links to other basketball or Warner Bros. related websites.
Compared to the original Space Jam site, the new Space Jam is pretty bare bones. That’s because having a website on the internet to advertise a movie serves a different purpose than what it did in 1996.
“A movie today is digitally marketed in a million different ways and places, and in many or most cases centralized websites have been reduced to a small piece of the strategy,” Tritter said. This explains why the new Space Jam site is just a page with a new trailer, which then loads into a very basic site with the release date front and center, and a synopsis of the film. It’s a far cry from the screensavers, basketball tips, and music clips from the original site.
“Whereas, in olde times something like OG Space Jam dot com was pretty much it if you wanted a presence on the Information Superhighway, so you had to come up with some great downloadable coloring books for the kids,” Tritter said.
As a kid, I used to visit the Space Jam website because it had those activities. Being online wasn’t the default position for young people in the mid 90s; I was lucky to even have a modem. But just because the web has become more ubiquitous, that doesn’t mean it’s become a better, or more informative place. Tritter said that in some ways, the user experience of older websites like the original Space Jam site is just better than what you get now. At the very least, the page won’t jump around as the site loads in advertisements.
“The web is exponentially more capable and useful than it was 25 years ago, but it can also be a waking nightmare of bad UX and relentless targeted advertising for something you already bought,” Tritter said. “I mean it says a lot that a simple movie web site that was coded in BBEdit before we even had CSS still provides the same incredibly immersive and compelling experience that we created using modems in 1996.”