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Rat.org: the original fan repository returns

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Rat.org's original 1990s logo After a 20-year hiatus, Rat.org has returned, at least as a read-only museum. Few today may remember it, but for some fans it was their first furry Web repository, and a launching point or inspiration for many other sites.

Rat.org was founded by Kilorat in the ancient stone-age year of 1994 as a combination Sonic the Hedgehog and Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron fansite. Later a Gargoyles section would be added as it grew in popularity.

This was the first home for many artists and fanfic writers, launched before Windows 95 came out (most used Mac OS 7.5.x or Windows for Workgroups 3.11 to connect with dial-up), and before giants such as Yahoo!, GeoCities, deviantART, and Fanfiction.net took over.

The website was hosted on a humble 80386DX with a "gigantic" 500 MB hard drive co-located at MV Communications – the first ISP in New Hampshire, where Kilorat was working. Despite being one of the only sources for fan materials on the Internet [compare S'A'Alis' Avatar Archive], the server was able to handle the low levels of traffic of the day.

Fan interaction at the dawn of connectivity

Once Windows 95 and Microsoft Internet Explorer came out in mid-1995, the Internet began to see an explosive rise in use. Traffic began to increase and many other websites began popping up. Sonic HQ which is one of the largest Sonic the Hedgehog fansites and one that is still around to this day, traces its origins directly back to rat.org, having been inspired by it around 1996.

Aside from hosting artwork, the Sonic section was home to the first incarnation of The Knothole Library Archive (later The Mobian Central Library) by Serithina "Bookshire" Dratwood - a collection of Sonic fanfiction by herself and other authors. Swat Kats fansites such as FyreSight, The SWAT Kats Encyclopedia and The SWAT Kats Fan Fiction Archive also owe much of their existence to rat.org for spearheading that fandom on the Internet during its formative years.

Thanks to this new-found publicity, rat.org became the target of brief tension with SEGA, who were put-off by certain user submissions (notably Guppy's yiff art of Sonic and Tails) that would be among the earliest "Rule 34" on the Internet. An IRC channel on Eris Free Network (now EFNet), #Sonic, was formed so fans could chat in real time about the website and the fandoms it represented.

As 1996 arrived, Kilorat founded the furry-art-only Squeeky Clean Furry Archive, though that was always kept separate from the fan materials (at rat.org/furry, and later rat.org/yerf). This would later be handed over to furry artists Scotty Arsenault and Jedd Marten in 1998 and spun off as Yerf: the G-Rated Furry Archive, hosted at yerf.com. [The site went down a decade ago, but much of its content has been archived.]

Tails promotes 'cool web pages' The rat packs up and moves on

The good times would not last, however, as Kilorat gradually got bored of being a system administrator for a Sonic the Hedgehog fansite. With the Internet's growth bringing larger competitors, such as Team Artail (1996-2013), The Sonic Foundation (1998-2014), the previously-mentioned Sonic HQ (1996-Present) and Sonic Stadium (2000-Present), the audience beginning to fragment and the portions of website's fan directories were removed, starting with SWAT Kats in early 1997 and Sonic the Hedgehog in early 1998.

For a time, the site remained as more of a webpage about Mortal Kombat and the Squeeky Clean Furry Art Archive. It went offline in mid-1999, replaced with the words "Got Rats?"

For close to twenty years, rat.org's fan areas would be offline and inaccessible (returning as just a blank HTML page), with the home page resurfacing in 2006 as a basic page to display Kilorat's email address and LiveJournal, and a Half-Life 2 and later Team Fortress 2 server.

This changed in late 2016, however, when Kilorat re-launched his website and its fan portions (at least, the Sonic and SWAT Kats sections) from what backups he still had (the Gargoyles portions were lost in a hard drive failure; some parts are accessible via the Wayback Machine).

While, like the Yerf Archive, rat.org no longer accepts new submissions, at least for the time being, it exists as a fascinating time capsule from the distant, pre-commercial past of the Internet.

My thanks to Kilorat for his correspondence and permission for this story, and for filling me in on some forgotten information form the intervening years.

Comments

Your rating: None

This is amazingly good news. Much of what influenced the Furry Fandom online has been lost due to digital data rot, and I'm only just scratching the surface when trying to find information for my comic archival site.

I don't know if it could appropriately be called "the Web's first furry fan repository", even with the modifier of "for some" in front of it - but I'm sure Fred Patten will be along shortly to shed some light on it. Certainly influential, I'm not going to deny that - I may not have heard of this site before, but I have heard of Yerf and the SCFA.

Glad to see it back! Hopefully this signals more "lost" stuff will come back around.

Your rating: None

Yeah I don't think it was the first at anything.

Your rating: None

First doesn't always matter, and will forever be for debate anyhow. The important thing here is that rat.org had a major influence on a lot of things that came after, including directly spawning Yerf.

In addition, Rat.org appears to have been many people's introduction to online furry, being an early post-September website that was substantial and in place when the internet revolution kicked into higher gear in '95.

Rat.org went down before I joined the fandom and I've not heard of it until now. That's a damn shame in my book, and a failure on my part when researching Furry history rather than the site not being notable.

All I ask is that you make an archive of it available to help avoid digital data rot.

Your rating: None

I compiled “An Anthropomorphic Bibliography” and Yarf! published it in 1995. It was popular enough that I compiled expanded editions in 1996 and 2000. I’ve seen some comments since that the 1995 edition was the first list of talking-animal books. No, there were about a dozen earlier lists, but they were all online and each one included some books that weren’t on the others. I published a bibliography that would be COMPLETE.

All of the earlier lists that were online have disappeared and been forgotten. My lists were published and are still around (they’re sadly out-of-date today), which is why they're still remembered. Old online stuff might as well never have existed.

https://www.amazon.com/Anthromorphic-Bibliography-Fred-Patten/dp/B001BIUA1Y/ref=...

https://second-ed.myshopify.com/collections/more-a-titles/products/anthropomorph...

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

As I understand it, the author's intention was along the lines of "for some furry fans who joined the community at the time, it was their first experience of a fan archive" (and more than just an FTP server) - hence the fond memories. I'm sure there were more organized collections on BBSes and the like, but many had a brief experience of those or missed them entirely, especially if not at university. I've made a few more tweaks to avoid potential confusion about the originality of the concept.

Your rating: None

Probably awkward phrasing then, cleared up by a minor edit:

"Few today may remember it, but for some it was their first Web furry fan repository"

Or perhaps "Few today may know about it, but it was the first Web furry fan repository that many people encountered"

But seeing as the closest thing to editing experience I have was my short-lived zine, well *shrug*

Your rating: None

Something like that, yes! As always, it's a matter of juggling things around to make them a) right, and b) fit nicely.

Your rating: None

And the fix is in.

Now to maybe get off my arse and get back to archival work.

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There was interest in furry BBS recovery, I was interested to see how it was going but when I checked in later they said they stopped trying.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Well, that's damn sad. Goddamnit, why don't I have more time in the day...

Your rating: None

It would be well worth it to archive it all on the Internet Archive.

Your rating: None

I remember this site from way back in the days,and found SCFA, later known as Yerf from it and found the fandom.

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I'm glad to have gotten anyone into furry, that makes me regret starting yerf less.

Your rating: None

I'm surprised you regret it at all. I could see regretting the way it faltered, but that wasn't your fault as I understand it. As for when it was running, I'm sure it wasn't perfect, but what is? Plenty of people liked it. The worst I got from that article by Feren is that it was kinda picky (except for people who got in early), and maybe didn't process applications as fast as would have been ideal. Arguably there was a place for that kind of site, although nowadays personal watchlists and "Popular" pages go a long way towards solving the curation problem.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

I should start out by saying I'm not looking for sympathy or a pity party, I'm just sharing my perspective on things.
I just regret the atmosphere of meanness that I bred, it even fostered the Burned Fur movement, all of those were from Yerf. After I left, it was just like-minded people that just stomped all over people's feelings.
I just wish I could go back and do it over, and be more inclusive.
Also it's just funny to me that I'm the one that started such a clean site, when I'm so very very much the opposite of a prude now. I feel like I'm on the wrong side of history.
When I go to cons, the people that I can find that were from the old days don't want anything to do with me. They probably remember what a jerk I was back then and figure I'm still like that.
I took 15 years off from the fandom, and I've figured out that I just have to start over from scratch as far as social connections go.

Your rating: None

Well, that should be easy enough. A lot have moved on, and the fandom's grown tenfold. You're a different person now, and so are those you associated with, so time alone could have eroded any friendships you had.

As for history, I'm sure you did what seemed right to you at the time. We can't foretell the future, only create it.

Your rating: None

I don't know if you'll ever see this... it being a month later at all, but...

Thank you for starting the Squeeky Clean Furry Archive/Yerf.

In 1998, I was 15. My computer access was limited, and the house's computer--such a rarity, in those days!--sat in the living room. I had recently discovered this whole 'furry' thing and loved it.

But some of the other websites around at the time were ... risky. After all, I could browse art, but never knew when I might trip over something unexpectedly adult and risk getting in trouble with my parents.

It was wonderful to have a place where I could browse without fear.

I wasn't a prude then, and I'm not one now, but your site allowed me to embrace my love of furry art.

Thank you.

Your rating: None

Oh my, so many murrmories ^^

I found furry around 1996, so this is definitely my era ^.^

I do miss those simpler times, but it was also quite lonely compared to today. Absolutely no local furs, and the per-minute costs of dialup meant I couldn't spend very long online chatting.

Your rating: None

Bring back Avatar.com next!
was it .com? maybe .org or .net I forget

you would FTP in and is was this large depository of images of people's avatars

Your rating: None

Huh. So that's why it was called the Avatar Archive. Somehow I never got that before now!

Man, that takes me back a decade or so ago to the days when I visited a virtual world. No, I'm not talking Second Life, or even Active Worlds, but DigitalSpace Traveller (aka Online Traveller) - available from 1996 onwards, and designed for 3D and voice chat - boasting of "the special ability to handle full duplex voice chat even on dialup modems!"

Even back when I visited, it was kind of a relic, occupied by a small group listening to Country music - a far cry from days of MTV sponsorship. It had the character of a local bar/pub, or one of those chat rooms where almost nobody new has come in for years - they were a bit worried at first because I happened to have picked an avatar which some fly-by troublemaker had used recently. One thing which stuck with me was every time someone went AFK, they turned their avatar upside-down; there wasn't another way to show it.

Sadly, it seems to have mostly given up the ghost (at least, I couldn't connect to anything but TechWorlds, and even that was without the community server that connects users). Their latest news is from 2008, but apparently someone did an hour long documentary with community interviews before its demise. You may also be interested in a quick video overview of the more bizarre 3D environments.

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About the author

RingtailedFoxread storiescontact (login required)

a freelance editor & writer and Fox-raccoon hybrid from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, interested in bicycle riding, reading and video games