HotWired: The fifth iteration of the front door

Between May 1996 and 30 June 1997, the Web zine HotWired used a front page design that prefigured the weblog interface.

Uncharacteristically for HotWired, the design launched to no fanfare in May 1996. Lexis Nexis has neither a press release nor any other mention in its archives.

Below are the known references to the design. If you are aware of any other sources, online or off, please use the mail address at the bottom of this page to get in touch!

Archive pages

Internet Archive:

Monday 6 May 1996

Tuesday, 7 May 1996

Wednesday, 8 May 1996

Thursday, 9 May 1996

Weekend: 10 — 12 May 1996

Monday, 13 May 1996

Tuesday, 14 May 1996

Wednesday, 15 May 1996

Thursday, 16 May 1996

We just redesigned

Ron Hogan, “Why I hate Wired.” alt.culture.jesse-garon. 9 May 1996:

“we just redesigned the front door and EVERYTHING!”

Focus instead on the whole idea of dream job-ness

Yahoo’s Picks of the Week, 13 May 1996:

Finally, the inspiration of it all. Looking for that perfect job? Try
Hotwired’s new Dream Jobs, presenting new leads at the pace of one job a day. Certainly not the largest employment database in the works, the Dream Job approach is to focus instead on the whole idea of dream job-ness. Here, you’ll learn that
“not all Dream Jobs are at dreamy companies.” And that “not all Dream
Jobs are in the wired world.” You’ll also learn a bit of company
background and history for each potential position, and have the chance
to rethink your place in the working world.

HotWired’s presence

Dave Winer. “Java, Java, Java.” DaveNet. 21 May 1996:

In the meantime, just as I’m leaving HotWired they change their home page to work the way I always wanted it to work. I’d get a scoop, like Steve Wozniak on the record about his disappointment with Apple, and HotWired has no place to put it.

Now they have a front page that’s interesting, it’s not just a table of contents for the website. This is the way front pages should be. Structure, of course. But room for news. That’s how newspapers work. The table of contents isn’t as important as the headlines. HotWired finally got it. Gambatte!

Internet Archive

In October 1996 the Internet Archive picked up the first few frontdoors in their original location.

A pattern is emerging… […] I decided to go for it, package the idea

Dave Winer. “A New Groove.” DaveNet, 23 January 1997:


Look at

When I was an editor at HotWired I used to complain when I got a scoop and there was no way to get the news out to people who visited our site! I was frustrated.

About two weeks after I left (it always works this way) they fixed the problem and made the home page a news page. Now the HotWired site has grown, they have Wired News and Webmonkey. Great columns. Simpson & McChesney. I find it all even if I don’t remember to look. Only one page to bookmark. I trust the editors to show me the hot stuff.

The HotWired site is dynamic and it works. I go back to there every day, sometimes several times a day. There’s a lesson here. The home page of a website is like the front page of a newspaper. Some sites like the New York Times, take it too literally and use an image map to emulate the front page of a newspaper. I like it better when they use low bandwidth HTML. Both Macintouch and HotWired do it right.

Lesson learned. Static sites suck. Dynamic sites are worth visiting.

A pattern is emerging…

A New Groove

Like HotWired and Macintouch, I build my site around a news page too, but it’s deep in the hierarchy — pointed to from everywhere, to direct the flow to most dynamic page on the site.

As you might imagine I have tools that make it relatively easy for me to add an item to the News page. I also have a command that allows me to flow email from Eudora to a website, or to choose a file from a dialog to have it uploaded to my server.

When I demo this stuff people say “I want this!”. That was a clue. ;->

As a software designer, I look for patterns and try to insert my software into the flow. To raise the level, hide details, empower people, simplify things. I hope that by correctly reading the patterns my software becomes more relevent and therefore more valuble.

I like to play with other web developers, link my site to theirs, to learn from them, to use their commands and scripts. If a lot of people manage sites with our software we can develop compatible tools, grow the software in 50,000 different directions, all upgrade at the same time.

I decided to go for it, package the idea, to commercialize the suite, make it easy to do. If I can do it, you should be able to do it too.

HotWired relaunched for the third time in as many years

Mark Frauenfelder: “HotWired 4.0 Targets ‘Web Participants’.” Wired News. 1 July 1997:

HotWired relaunched for the third time in as many years Tuesday, with a tighter focus on the very medium used to transceive the programs – the World Wide Web.

HotWired says the new site is targeted toward “Web participants” – people who not only consume Web content and integrate the Web into their lives, but participate in building the Web as well.

HotWired 4.0 is a retrenchment of sorts

Michael Sippey. “Four Point Oh: Built for Geeks.” Stating the Obvious, 8 July 1997:

HotWired 4.0 is a retrenchment of sorts, a move back to basics to do what the organization is good at: providing engaging content on the web that’s about the web to people that care about the web. Five categories of the site invite you to “X the web”: build it, surf it, think it, work it and hear it. There are no illusions here — this is content meant for geeks, built by geeks. The only category that doesn’t ask you to “X the web” instead invites you to “clear your cache.” Enough said.

Enough information to choose specific destinations

Jeffrey Veen. HotWired Style. Wired, San Francisco, 1997, p.23:

But we shifted the emphasis from the sections of HotWired to the new content in those sections, which was changing daily. This page consisted largely of a series of text blurbs and images that encapsulated the day’s offerings. Far more labor-intensive than any of our previous schemes, this plan required a dedicated staff to write and design it each day. For the first time, this daily HotWired page served not only as a tool for using our site but as an effective guide to the ideas, news, and features we were presenting that day. We had stopped making visitors guess what might appeal to them and gave them enough information to choose specific destinations).

Pointing with pictures

Jeffrey Veen. HotWired Style. Wired, San Francisco, 1997, p.83:

With the fifth version of our frontdoor we created a “river of text” that snaked down the page, flowing around icons. As time passed, we polled our readers and studied our server logs to see how effective the design was in driving traffic to our content. Not surprisingly, there was a general trend from top to bottom: content near the beginning of the page saw more traffic than pages linked below the scroll bar. Also, teasers paired with an icon always drove more click-throughs than paragraphs without. We learned a valuable lesson in clarity and communication. A tight coupling of words and pictures is more compelling to a surfing audience than links from the paragraphs alone.
User testing of the design before launch showed another common behavior. If a paragraph was paired with an icon, users always clicked on the icon, regardless of whether the paragraph contained a text link or not. […] people don’t read Web pages – they skim them. Then they click on pictures.

Work in the dimension of time

Jeffrey Veen. HotWired Style. Wired, San Francisco, 1997, p. 97:

When you shift from subject-based to time-based divisions of your content, your pages come alive. Replace your static menu with an automatically updated list of what’s new — or combine that with starting one of your newest features on your frontdoor. Make it so visitors have no reason to hunt for the most relevant information. Make it so they just can’t miss it.

In the evolution of HotWired’s frontdoor, we started with the basic hierarchy, those simple static pointers to our five channels. Over time, we modified them, adding more-dynamic teasers to particular features. But it wasn’t until the fifth iteration that we began to work in the dimension of time, making the site reflect the content’s newness by reinventing itself every day.

Launched with Splashes in May 1996

Sabine Messner, “1996.”, 2001:

HotWired 3.0 launched with Splashes in May 1996
For nearly a year, visitors to HotWired were met with a “Splash,” an animated teaser that loaded first and then pulled to the frontdoor, highlighting content. Every single weekday we came up with a new one and built it in Gifbuilder, even then a primitive tool.

Sabine Messner, “1996.”, 2001:

HotWired 3.0 Frontdoors
The frontdoor was a different color of the rainbow each weekday. View examples from the HotWired archive

Front page written fresh every day

Jeffrey Veen. “Looking Back at HotWired.”, 12 July 2006:

Frames! Ads on the home page were successful, so they were made stationary when the page scrolled. This front page content was written fresh every day to spotlight new content within the site. This was before RSS, of course, but really served the same purpose. I used to enjoy reading this every morning when I came in the office. I also still really like those icons stacked up on the left, too. Later, you could click a control that would “detach” that nav bar and leave it floating in a resized pop-up window using something called “Javascript”.

Daily updates inspired by

Matt Sharkey. “The Big Fish: Ten years later, the story of, the first great website.” Keep Going, 2005.

What was not apparent from one viewing, and what was more shocking than the format or the byline, was Suck’s intention to publish a new column every day. Wired was then struggling with their publishing schedule. “We didn’t know how often we were going to have to update HotWired,” says Kevin Kelly. “The idea was, the content on HotWired might be updated maybe monthly. I kept saying—I felt like Dan Rather—‘What’s the frequency? I think the frequency is going to be more than that. I think it’s going to be faster.’ Maybe it’s like every week. These things were just frightening. They were scary, because it was like doing daily journalism. It means hiring staff. We were not thinking in those terms at the time. We were not thinking that people needed to come back to a website every day.”

“As soon as Louis saw Suck, he knew that what had to happen was that HotWired would have to update daily,” says Steve Silberman, a writer for Wired. “What are we? We’re a magazine. Okay, if we’re a magazine, you don’t publish a magazine every day. You publish a magazine maybe once a week. People come back every Monday for the good stuff. That was the idea. Once Suck launched, it was obvious that what you really wanted to create was an obsession, and Carl and Joey knew how to create an obsession.”

Screen capture

Jeffrey Veen. HotWired 1997. Flickr, 13 July 2006.

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