Pokemon Red and Blue hit North America in 1998—around the same time the Internet became something more than a curiosity that earned occasional soundbites from newscasters. Schoolkids who played Pokemon on the Game Boy or traded Pokemon cards during recess usually found themselves learning how to "surf the web" once the bell summoned them back indoors.
In other words, Pokemon and the Internet came of age together. Free hosting sites like Tripod, Geocities, and Dragonfire offered easy-to-use templates that made it possible for enthusiastic fans to erect sites dedicated to Pokemon cards, the anime, or even digital "shrines" dedicated to their favorite Pokemon. One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age catalogues innumerable snapshots of the now-dead GeoCities pages that thrived at the turn of the millennium, and despite the massive size of the archive, it's not uncommon to stumble on a Pokemon page some young Pokemon Master built decades ago.
In 1999, an English Pokemon fan named Joe started yet another website after falling in love with Pokemon Red and Blue. But the resultant page, Serebii.net, wasn't left to die in the mass grave comprised of Pokemon sites whose owners moved onto other pursuits. Serebii today is still one of the Pokemon community's go-to sites for news, plus it's a major hub for fan interaction thanks to active forums and a popular Discord channel.
"Back in late 1999, I was starting to learn about websites and a group of friends and I all decided to start testing things out," Joe tells me via email. "I focused on Pokemon as it was just coming out in the UK and all my friends were getting obsessed too. It made the most sense to me."
Serebii's name alone carbon dates the site. "Serebii" is the Japanese name for the legendary Pokemon Celebi—Pokemon Gold and Silver's answer to Red and Blue's Mew, more or less. With so many Pokemon sites named after commonly-known Pokemon at the time, Joe decided to opt for a name that felt a little mysterious.
"Back in 1999, most of the fan sites around were called things like Mew's Paradise, Mew's Place and things such as this due to Mew being the rare Mythical Pokemon," he says. "As Gold and Silver started coming out [in Japan], we started to get information. The Mythical Pokemon of those games, Celebi, was shown and its direct translation of the Japanese characters is 'Serebii.' Celebi grew to be one of my favourites."
Joe's tenacity is as legendary as the Pokemon his site's named after. Nowadays, fan sites and communities run by dedicated webmasters are almost extinct. HTML-coded pages of hand-gathered information and images were gradually supplanted by Wikis and sites owned by media conglomerates. Forums gave way to social media and Discord channels. But Serebii's reputation as the premier source for Pokemon news hasn't wavered.
Joe says there's no secret to Serebii's long-term success; just a lot of hard work. "I guess my sheer stubbornness would account for [the site's longevity]," he says. "I manage to get information up quickly and concisely, so people keep coming back. I also cover a lot of news and information that others don't."
Indeed, no tidbit of news about Pokemon, Pokemon Go, the anime, the manga, or the movies is too insignificant for Joe to report on. While you might hit up Bulbapedia if you want to know what elements a specific Pokemon is weak to, or you might visit Smogon for battle strategies, Serebii is probably your go-to destination for nearly everything else related to the franchise.
Joe is more than thorough. He's expedient, too—even though it's not easy to be quick in the era of social media. "I always make sure to try and get everything up as soon as humanly possible," Joe says, "which is tricky as I'm the only one updating the site."
Seeing as Serebii is a one-man operation supported by non-intrusive banner ad revenue, I asked Joe (while experiencing a small fit of nostalgia for early-Aughts Internet) if there's any special reason Serebii even looks like a site out of 2001. Ironically, it turns out keeping Serebii's design simple across the years has gone a long way to keeping it readable on desktop computers as well as mobile. "Modern layout designs do not work for sites which aren't blogs and have more than a dozen pages," Joe says. "As such, finding a solution for desktop and mobile in conjunction with each-other is an incredibly hard thing."
Joe's still trying to optimize Serebii for mobile. In its current state, immediate updates are easy to find and read on phones, but sidebar links to additional content is difficult to access. Future updates to Serebii's layout won't change the site's fundamentals, however: Simpler pages that aren't bogged down with scripts, images, and videos are less likely to creak under stress whenever breaking news brings a stampede of fans to the site. "A simple frontend lowers server requirements so more processing capabilities are pushed to the user," Joe says, "and the server can handle far more connections than modern sites on equivalent servers."
Joe's resolve to make sure Serebii can handle large numbers of visitors at once is the smart thing to do when a series is as active and popular as Pokemon. Between the ongoing popularity of Pokemon Go, the imminent release of Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Let's Go Eevee, and the ever-loudening whispers about Generation VIII, Serebii won't be bereft of visitors any time soon. Joe says while modern Pokemon fans might complain more about the things they don't like versus praising what they do like, Serebii's visitors (who tend to fall between the 18- to- 24-year age range, though Joe can't offer more specific data) are a passionate group. "People definitely still get excited [about Pokemon games]," he says. "The build-up to Pokemon Sun and Moon in 2016 is indicative of this."
The popularity of Pokemon has barely wavered across its two decades of existence, and Serebii's worked hard to keep apace with its energy. A new age of Pokemon dawns on the Nintendo Switch come 2019, and Joe says we can count on Serebii to be there. His own enthusiasm for Pokemon hasn't dampened since 1999, which is a good sign Serebii will indeed remain happy and healthy in turn.
"[I'm] as excited for 2019 as I was for 2016, and I fully hope Serebii will continue its roll," Joe says. "I have no intention of giving up or relaxing how I do things. I plan to hit each game release with the usual thoroughness and speed as I have done for every game in recent years."
Until Next Time, See Ya.