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The evolution of websites: from the 1990s to 2020

Reading time: 10 minutes | By: SkyDogg  | Jun 01, 2021


Around thirty years ago, websites meant pretty basic, vertically structured, text-heavy HTML pages that were not at all easy on the eye. Businesses having a website were considered ‘modern’ and ‘adaptive,’ while websites with graphics and images were the best websites of that time. Oh, and building a good website meant months of hard work.

Fast forward thirty years - we have websites that can stream entire movies and TV series, websites that can execute complex algorithms, and websites that let us build websites and apps within just a few clicks, thanks to cloud technology and the advancement of the web design industry.

What is interesting is the growth pattern of this industry. It took around six years for us to improvise from basic text-heavy web pages to websites with tables and graphics. It took less than three years to introduce Cascading Style Sheets to websites. It took even lesser time to introduce websites with audio, video, and animations. The pattern is clear - the web designing industry is evolving faster, and it is necessary to keep up with the changing trends to stay afloat in the long run.

The first Website

Tim Berners Lee, the legend who invented the World Wide Web, was also the first one to build a website. By the end of 1990, he had developed the technologies necessary to run websites - HyperText Markup Language(HTML) for creating web pages, HyperText Transfer Protocol(HTTP) for transferring data across the web, and Uniform Resource Locators(URLs) for pointing specific resources, documents, or pages on the internet, apart from a basic web browser and web server software. 

The website was launched on August 6, 1990, and of course, it was about the World Wide Web itself. Since it was the first website ever created, it looked pretty basic - containing only plain text and blue links that stand out from the text. However, once the Web gained popularity, more designers started to invest their time on it, and it resulted in fast-loading, user-friendly websites that we see today.

Check out the first website which is still live today = http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.htm

Tables

Although some of the most popular websites like Yahoo and Amazon were launched before 1996, they were all vertically structured, since HTML tables were not invented back then. It was in the mid to late 1990s where Graphical User Interface(GUI) was developed, which allowed web designers to incorporate images and icons to websites. 

Tables were used to structure the text content of websites before CSS became popular. It may sound silly, but the code required to build tables in the pre-CSS era was very complicated, and the use of tables was a significant step made towards clean and user-friendly websites.

Flash

We have all seen websites requesting users to update their flash players in the past. It was very common back in the 2000s, but only outdated websites use Flash today. It was one of the big things that happened in web design - the introduction of Flash, an algorithm that allowed web designers to incorporate music, videos, and animations to websites.

Flash took user interactions to the next level by enabling interactive menus, splash pages, animations, and beautiful buttons that scream ‘press me, press me.’ Although Flash was used extensively during a period, the popularity declined very soon due to various reasons, including security vulnerabilities and performance issues. The Flash was also not supported on some of the most popular platforms like iOS and Android, compelling web designers to find other alternatives.

However, even though Flash is obsolete today, it was one of the major inventions that changed the way websites were designed and used. HTML5, Javascript, and SVG have already replaced the area that was dominated by Flash, and it is officially set to die off in 2021.

CSS and CMS

As websites became more advanced, they got harder to maintain. The separation of content and design was necessary, and this led to the birth of Cascading Style Sheets(CSS). CSS was used to define particular styles across a website without having to code each page individually.

CSS was supported by most browsers in the early 2000s. The separation of content and design made it easy to build and maintain websites, and Content Management Systems like WordPress, Joomla, Blogger, etc. were built in this era. These content management systems made website development more manageable, especially with ready-to-use web design templates, although the websites made on these were not as customizable as the websites built from scratch.

Responsive Design

It was all personal computers and laptops until the mid-2000s, but the late 2000s saw the arrival of powerful smartphones. The traditional websites were built for desktop screens, and so they had to adapt to the changing technologies and devices. 

Ethan Marcotte, an independent web designer, was the first to find a solution for this. He created the ‘responsive web design’ that made websites adapt to different screen resolutions seamlessly. The responsive web design helped users have a similar experience on smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

Although responsive web design is widely used today, most businesses now create separate mobile designs since it offers greater flexibility and better user experience that the responsive web design can’t provide.

Cloud Technology

While all the developments above had more to do with the design aspects of websites, cloud technology is what transformed their usability. Previously, websites were used mostly to share text-based information and execute simple programs. 

Using cloud tech, businesses started offering software and services that cannot be run on the limited resources that desktops and laptops have, through websites. Even better, cloud tech made it possible to access these tools through smartphones also, changing our concept of what a website can do.

And today, using the latest AI algorithms, websites offer custom, personalized experiences and content suggestions that only get better over time.

The future

It has been only thirty years since the invention of the Web, but it has undergone tremendous changes in this short period itself. From slow-loading, text-heavy pages to fast-loading websites with visuals, we have come a long way.

Today, businesses are taking advantage of new technologies and algorithms to build better looking and functioning websites that cost less. In the past, custom websites were more expensive than WordPress and Joomla websites. Now custom development costs less, is easy, and offers seamless integration of new technologies like AI and robots, making it a go-to option for businesses. The future will see web development costs coming down again, especially since new algorithms are making it easy to build great websites in less time.