Throbbing Gristle
May 17, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

One of the first uses of a graphical throbber was in NCSA Mosaic. Command line versions did exist, but most were a spinning slash. Nowadays, with Ajax, they have become nothing more than variations of spinning gray wheels to indicate loading or buffering. Gone are the more creative ones like, Netscape, whose throbber is a condensed loop of how the dinosaurs became extinct.
posted by wcfields (37 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think the throbber is one of the hallmarks of user friendliness. It's a shame that loading bars nowadays are more to sate our impatient mind than to truly represent progress in some quantifiable fashion. My favorite exposition on this idea is Joe McKay's The Big Job.

(PS, the ajaxload GIFs are 403ing)
posted by a sourceless light at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I teach beginners' computer classes at a public library, and when I point out that sometimes the computer has to "think" for a few seconds before the webpage loads, and that there is an icon to connote this, I will not be using the word "throbber."
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:28 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Now I'll spend my idle time looking for info on hardcoding skinning, back when you had to replace the graphics within an existing program. I have a hazy recollection of browsern throbbers being a strip of sequential images, not an actual animated GIF.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:31 PM on May 17, 2010

Yeah, I call it an hourglass even when it's not an hourglass. A "throbber" is .. well, something else entirely.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2010

Spinning Apple Pirate Prompt?

Spinning Apple Pirate Prompt.
posted by boo_radley at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2010

Less well-known was that anybody could replace the throbber in Netscape 1 - it was a simple matter of replacing some image resources. Wired, back in the day, profiled some designs, and there even galleries where you could download throbber packs. All gone away forever now, as far as I can tell.
posted by ardgedee at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

So that thing I get while waiting for my porn to load is called a throbber?
posted by mazola at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

In high school I spent a weekend making a throbbed of a full screen ASCII Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill, falling down, repeat. Sure wish i'd saved the code!
posted by jewzilla at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2010

Is the throbber an In or Out?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2010

Yeah, I just checked; wxpython has a throbber. Sentences in the computer industry get kinda surreal.
posted by adipocere at 12:53 PM on May 17, 2010

I vaguely remember (on shit, Mac OS8 maybe?) making my own throbber for Netscape. I think you had to use ResEdit to modify the resource fork directly and replace the existing one with the one you made.

I'm pretty sure mine was a spinning biohazard logo.

I do know that it was nifty.
posted by quin at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2010

My favorite throbber was the one in "Internet Shambler" (a Quake-themed IE mod). It just consisted of the Shambler throwing lightning. Good for confusing the squares.
posted by Imhotep is Invisible at 12:55 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although it's not as pretty, I really enjoyed learning the folks at Apple call the spinning wheel in OS X an "indeterminate progress indicator".

Wow, a throbber can really bring back so many memories of an era! The Mosaic animation reminded me of my freshman year in college (1994), I could see my dorm room as soon as I looked at that animated gif and remembered building my first web site - and playing Marathon online with my roommate. A throbber is worth a thousand words.
posted by jardinier at 12:56 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Posted March 13th 2007: Netscape 9's Revolutionary Feature (hint: it's "the big throbber from days of old")

From 2002: Changing the IE throbber takes a bit more work, mucking around in your registry and such (Windows 98 SE/Win XP). Virtual Plastic has a bit more information. They also cover branding in other browsers.

Revised 04 Nov 05: Leigh Brasington's Throbber Page for Netscape 3.x and 4.0, and Leigh Brasington's Netscape 4.0 Throbber Tips and Tricks (the page content looks older)

Circa 1997?: UCLA Throbbers
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on May 17, 2010

Ah watching that Netscape "throbber" and I'm looking for that Neko or eSheep to come chasing after my mouse.
posted by msbutah at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's ironic that while throbbers are designed to convey activity, the usual time you see one spinning away is when the process is actually broken. Just an empty, stupid spinning animation conveying no actual useful activity.

Apple's SMS iPhone app takes this to new extremes with the progress bar on sending an SMS message. It counts up, sort of unevenly, zipping across the line in about 1.5 seconds. Then it hangs, 95% complete, and sits there for 30 seconds. If AT&T has failed, as they so often do, then you get a timeout. Or maybe it succeeds in a random interval. Either way, whatever progress the rest of the animation is intended to convey is fiction.
posted by Nelson at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

No link to the original Netscape Navigator throbber, the throbber that gave throbbers their throbbing name?
posted by zsazsa at 1:15 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, throbbers sure don't throb like they used to.
posted by GuyZero at 1:18 PM on May 17, 2010

I liked the Netscape throbber where the dinosaur popped up and was all like 'GRRARRR page loading fire'
posted by xorry at 1:41 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Netscape graphic was well-done. But as the Netscape package got older it got more bloated and buggy, and having to see the logo dozens of times a day while working support, I came to associate the meteors with the browser itself crashing and burning.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:51 PM on May 17, 2010

Nice title. Fancy some Psychic Rally in Heaven?
posted by elmono at 2:31 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

boo_radley: "Spinning Apple Pirate Prompt?
Doo-dah, doo-dah.
Spinning Apple Pirate Prompt."
Oh, doo-dah day!
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:21 PM on May 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

My earliest memories of the web involve watching that NCSA Mosaic spinning globe in the university computing lab. Of course, back then each web page took literally minutes to load, so one would need some kind of animating distraction to pass the time.

Although NCSA Mosaic was first, Netscape deserves credit for the "throbber" name.

Netscape was originally called Mosaic Communications and the initial beta versions of Netscape Navigator had a very impressive animation of the Mosaic corporate logo. They were forced to change the name of the company shortly before the release of Netscape Navigator 1.0. They named the company Netscape and hastily changed the browser animation to a very basic "N" that literally throbbed in and out. And that's how it became known as the Throbber.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 3:51 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is the linked "Mosaic" throbber really the original one for Mosaic? I seem to remember an older one that was a large M with some spinning rectangles.
posted by xedrik at 4:15 PM on May 17, 2010

I recall the little hand icon in the early Mac OS - that counted 1-2-3-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-... (4 fingers - because it was a cartoon). This, and the cursor that turned into a bird and flew away when you clicked on it - this latter in the tutorial on how to use the "mouse." This after nothing but command line prompts for 15 years, mind you.
posted by mr vino at 4:31 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is the linked "Mosaic" throbber really the original one for Mosaic? I seem to remember an older one that was a large M with some spinning rectangles.

Cat's out of the bag, I'm no Throbbing expert. I was searching for the old Netscape comet GIF and discovered that it's a Throbber which lead me to post on the blue.
posted by wcfields at 4:31 PM on May 17, 2010

Derail with self- and cat-food-promotion.

The mention of Neko reminded me of a cat I worked on in 1997. It walks and jumps and can stand on windows, and will chase your mouse if you click near it and if it feels like it. It was done for Meow Mix, though there's precious little overt advertising in it.

US Meow Mix doesn't have it anymore, but amazingly, Canadian Meow Mix DOES.

It was written for Windows 95, but is working under XP SP3. Microsoft, with all their flaws, does keep an enormous amount of old code running on their newer OS's. This is the good Microsoft.

And about cat food. Our cats are all ex-strays. They detest all human food, I believe from having to live on our garbage while feral. But they love cat food, and I suspect that cat-food scientists have figured out some chemical combinations that cats are just powerless to resist, and are salting their corn-and-offal products with it to produce irresistable horrible stuff. Does anyone know? Should this be an AskMe?
posted by hexatron at 4:34 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh man, that Netscape throbber brings back such memories of sitting in school computer labs in the '90s and early '00s, waiting for something really cool to upload, like a Terry Pratchett fan page or
posted by Countess Elena at 4:47 PM on May 17, 2010

Damn that makes me nostalgic. Netscape + Infoseek + Boolean ops and for a few years there I could find exactly what I was looking for with at most a few refinements.
Now the way web searching works has inverted the definitions of obscure and common. The obscure is easy to find while the common returns an absurd quantity of results, nevermind if what you are looking for has a commonly used homonym.
Previous to me having my own computer around 1990 a friend proudly demonstrated his Compuserve account where the way you knew the page was loading was by watching it load,
             pixel                        by                          pixel
with an occasional burst that would fill in a few lines.

OP I just downloaded the cat (MeowPal) and it's CUTE. hexatron if you had taught that cat to hunt and kill Bonzi Buddy or Clippy you would be a billionaire.
posted by vapidave at 4:48 PM on May 17, 2010

vapidave--your interest made me click around a bit. Meow Mix has had a somewhat tortuous history.

If you right-click the kitty, you get several options. Under 'Feed', you get the option to 'Visit Meow Mix' (to replenish your supply of 'food' (see 'help' in the right-click menu). But that just sends you 404 land.

I updated this program just once, apparently when Meow Mix was acquired by Ralston-Purina in 2000AD. But it has wandered a lot since then--see the above-linked wikipedia screed--and they no longer support refilling your cat-food supply. I STILL HAVE ALL THE CODE AND ART. I can fix it. For money (not for me, see following paragraph).

As for being a billionaire, this is what is know as work-for-hire. I signed a contract that says anything I create belongs to my employer (with particular exceptions). My employer undoubtedly signed the same sort of contract with whoever was running Meow Mix at the time. So I am doubly insulated from the financial repercussions of this little program. But I do get to cash paychecks.

As for the design of the program itself--the animation was all done by a freelancer from Brooklyn, the art director is now ART DIRECTOR at the company, and the producer (=client contact person) left several years ago but is a wonderful and impressive person too. I just did the technical stuff and griped a whole lot.

And as for the technical stuff (which is what I did on this project, besides gratuitous complaints about the artwork)--this was created before there was such a thing as a partially-transparent bitmap. It uses BitBlt with values of dwRop that do not have defined names--several (4?) Blt's per frame, which is why the animation may be jumpy even on new high-end video cards (they only do the popular (named) dwRops in hardware--the orphans grind along in cruddy software slow-as-snot emulation code).

If you can't imagine what a dwRop is:
1. You probably aren't Rob Pike
2. You don't know there are 256 of them. And 240 of them HATE YOUR GUTS because they're virtually useless. But it's ok--they hate you anyway.

...and now back to your normal station.

posted by hexatron at 5:58 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by disclaimer at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Forget this Neko stuff. Anyone remember the "busy" mouse pointer for the Mac FTP program "Fetch"? It was a little running dog. I had a coworker in the late 90s who would talk to the dog at conversational levels. "Go, little dog! Run and fetch my files!" Yeah, good times.
posted by mendel at 8:28 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Aw. I wanted this FPP to have a ref to Hamburger Lady.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:07 PM on May 17, 2010

I adored Neko. It's the cutest damn cartoon cat.

ANyone know where I can get a Neko for Win7? Or my iPad?

That would be a nifty iApp: Neko... :-)
posted by grubi at 6:25 AM on May 18, 2010

Found it!
posted by grubi at 6:56 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

iNeko for the iPhone. Perhaps it will work on your iPad too?
posted by bonehead at 8:20 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you get an aftermarket case with that Japanese cat icon for an iPod Touch? Because I would like to have more Neko Case on my iPod.
posted by grouse at 10:25 AM on May 18, 2010

« Older Togas optional, no advanced degree required.   |   Helen Shapiro Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments