Here’s a riddle: the Internet Movie Database, the now-ubiquitous website that tracks pretty much every speck of info about movies and TV, will celebrate its 25th birthday on Saturday. But the 25th anniversary of the proposal that gave birth to the World Wide Web won’t come around till November. That means that the website is older than the web.
The answer is actually relatively straightforward. As IMDb’s founder Col Needham explained in 2010, it was on Oct. 17, 1990 that he “published a series of scripts which allowed you to search a lists [sic] of credits collected by a wonderful USENET group.” Web browsers, which were how many non-experts first encountered the Internet, were still on their way, but the Internet had been around for years at that point. The Usenet system of discussion groups (later described by TIME as “a bulletin-board system that began as a competitor to the Internet but has been largely subsumed by it”) allowed tech-savvy people with similar interests to communicate.
Needham’s interest was movies. As he would later explain to the Los Angeles Times, he had long kept track of the details about every movie he watched, and later began to compile lists of actresses and actors and their work. In 1990 he made his database public so others could search it. The database moved to the web a few years later, and was incorporated in 1996.
The early IMDb wasn’t exactly the super-complete site today’s users are accustomed to, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless: users could search several fields that are still in use today, like character name and production company, or browse curated features like a user-selected list of the top 250 movies and a column (written in Comic Sans) called “The WASHED-UPdate” about stars of the ’70s and ’80s. (You can browse a 1996 version of IMDb.com using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine here.)
By 1998, TIME dubbed the “astonishing” site “the most awesome movie database you’ll ever peruse.”
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