When Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist credited with the invention of the Internet, built the world’s first HTML website in 1991, it was nothing short of revolutionary. For the first time people across the world could transfer information and opinions with few barriers. But as with many technologies, today we look back at those early websites and see limited functionality and dated designs.
Although we have many more bells and whistles (just think about social media!) these days, ultimately the point of the web is still information exchange; how we do it, and the the actors involved in that exchange, are what have changed. In just over 20 years, we’ve seen the web evolve from text-only interfaces to dynamic, interactive experiences that are more functional and beautiful. Read below to learn how this was possible.
The very first websites were text-only affairs in a single column with headings and links. Pretty simple and pretty boring. Who remembers sitting with an ancient modem, waiting what felt like forever just for some bland text to display? Dynamic, engaging environments on the web weren’t thought of or even technically achievable in those early days. Early web pages couldn’t even match newspapers in terms of visual appeal, but that balance would soon change.
Within a few years, images and animated GIFs became common. Major search engines were developing into the powerhouses we know today, and companies began seeing the Internet as nascent channel for promoting their products and services. The only thing missing was that the experience needed to be more fun and engaging.
In 1996 CSS and Flash were introduced, which made the web more accessible for its nearly 74 million users across 650,000 sites. If you’re nostalgic for how that looked or haven’t see it before, visit theSpace Jam website (pictured above) preserved as it appeared in ’96, just as the web was getting popular.
As design advanced to include multiple tables, whitespace controllers and the development of the WYSIWYG applications, sites began cramming in more and more information into their designs. This was the era of multi-column pages that competed in offering as much data as possible in a single place. Late-90’s search engines are the best examples of this, until Google came along and changed the game with a much simpler layout.
And then came social. Not so much a change in web design as a shift towards the user, creating a space for them to have their own voice as opposed to just another channel for publishers to beam out information. This was the birth of the so-called ‘Web 2.0’, where blogging, chatting and social networking began developing at a rapid pace and quickly took the center stage of the Internet.
The rise of social refocused the purpose of many websites to interact and engage with users, giving them something to play with that they then might share. The best sites quickly shifted from talking about just products or services to talking about the user first. After all, who doesn’t like hearing about themselves? A great example is the Webby Award-Winning Museum of Me, a site that pulls in a user’s Facebook data to offer an entertaining, sharable ‘visualization’ of your online presence.
Watch a video of the experience below:
These days, maybe you’ve noticed the huge influence of sites like Pinterest and apps like Flipboard on popular web design. The rise of tiled, touch-optimized and seamless experiences between desktop and mobile reflects the understanding that people consume media across a range of devices and have competing information streams, so the one that’s the most visual and easy to use wins.
Enter HTML 5. It has allowed for much more reactive and fluid websites, like the new iQ by Intel site (pictured above), ready to grab the user and give them an incredible online experience. Bryan Rhoads of the Intel Media Labs offers insight into why designs have evolved to be more flexible:
Our devices have evolved. Designing for the 2-foot browser experience is no longer enough. We now have primary screens in our hands, in our laps or even secondary screens on walls requiring a 6-foot experience… our designs need to adapt to device, screen and current behaviors.
What’s the next stage of web design, then? Perhaps more sites will begin taking the totality of your actions into account to create a more personalized browsing experience. Or maybe, interaction with the web will become a ‘blurred’ experience that combines the virtual and real worlds; this site lets users control a robot to physically ‘sign’ their name from their computer anywhere in the world on a real, giant holiday card. Luke Kintigh, the Managing Editor of Intel iQ, offers his thoughts on the shift to social optimization and what the future web experience might look like:
People are now discovering and consuming content through their social feeds and personalized content aggregators rather than traditional destinations. In the face of this change, we’re building digital properties such as iQ that can distribute our content around the social web without locking it to a single destination. The big challenge today of effective web design is optimizing both your platform and content to adapt to the multi-screen, post-destination world.
The physical manifestation of the ‘web’ might be an entirely new thing indeed.
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