Whilst I can’t pretend to be an ‘experienced web designer’ (certainly not the designer part!) I have been toying with web pages since my dad first taught me a stint of HTML 4 when I was 6.
Thanks to my friends having a large interest in computers, we all toyed with ideas in programs such as Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Flash, the Microsoft Windows Notepad and Evrsoft’s FirstPage series. In my teenage years I even started trying some of the web software that came with our free hosting packages such as phpBB, Joomla! and b2evolution.
With such a vast transition between these two eras, I thought as a first ‘proper’ post I would look back and sum up five key things I’ve noticed change in the last 20 years since entering the brave new world of the internet, both on the developing side and the user side.
Content Ownership Shift
Back in the 90s if you wanted to make your voice heard, you had a few limited options. Firstly you could find a friend with a server or some cheap hosting or use a free service such as Angelfire, (Yahoo) GeoCites or Tripod and set up a standard HTML website with your thoughts and opinions on a topic. You’d have to write out all of this code manually each time (unless you were clever enough to know PHP so you could build your page in blocks and use the
include('page.html'); function to drop it in where you needed to), inevitably resorting to using either DIVs or tables to try and keep your page looking structured.
To then change this you had to manually create new pages, fill these with your text and images you needed – rebuilding the whole layout again and change any hyperlinks on your homepage or menu that linked to your articles to reflect this.
If you weren’t into building websites, you could always join a community through a message board, Usenet newsgroup or a chatroom and speak your mind there. However, over time your words would slowly be erased to make room for the new and there was no real way of sharing your specific content for all the world to see.
These days of course this has all changed with people having the ability to share comments and content wherever it can be made available. You can read a blog post like this and write your opinion below it. You can upload your own pictures of you having fun at that event last weekend to the event’s website itself or your own failures to show up on TV shows such as ‘You’ve Been Framed’ right from your mobile phone. You can document your life on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter and in turn converse, discuss or comment on each other’s timelines and share content with each other.
With this whole change in attitude, website providers must now think carefully when designing their site and be prepared to have replies and opinions to their posts shared more publicly than before. Quite often contents is often created collaboratively and control of the discussion is passed to the user, rather than being solely held by the creator of a piece. Of course that’s just how I see it. What do you think?
Though it wsn’t just software that was a bother. The problems came as hardware too. Many people in the USA will vouch for me here, but we had this problem in the UK too. Between the mid 90s and into the millenium it was hard to pick up magazines sometimes without fimnding them filled with more tacky flyers. Internet advertisers such as America Online (or Aol. as they’re now better known) and CompuServ were famous for this funding their many many CDs to be stuck into magazines (which you soon knew about by gently folding a magazine to see if it rolled in half or not) promising a couple of hours of internet for free if you installed their software and signed up to the service.
With the recent decline in popularity of Shockwave, Java and Flash citing secruity issues and favour over the new HTML5 standard, traditional web technologies – whilst always being there have recently increased in popularity with CSS3 joining the mainstream with better support for more fluid and flexible applications such as animation, transitions, gradients and “media enquiries” (the magic that fuels responsive web pages for smaller devices) bringing the web tchnology full circle again.
Even GIFs have made a comeback in popularity, although less in the cheesy animated looping icons that used to be adorned on personal and corporate websites hosted on places like MySpace profiles, (Yahoo) GeoCities, Angelfire and Tripod.com, to larger animated frames often from pop culture films and social media videos;
Files got bigger, Patience got smaller
It’s true that broadband compaines are trying to promise us faster broadband speeds all the time, but so are the size of many downloads such as software, not to mention the number of devices we attach to our connection pushing the bandwidth to it’s limits on a daily basis. So it’s no wonder it never feels like it’s getting any faster. However contrast your speed to that of little more than over a decade ago and the idea of “600KBs” broadband seemed blazingly fast, whereas now I know rage often ensues when somebody finds speedtest is telling them they’re getting just over 1MBs. Go back even further and you’d have to go through a rather elaborate ritual to access your homepage and downloads at the speed of around 28-56KBs in the first place.
These days a simple blip in the loading of a video, or a device being “kicked” off the wireless is enough to send people’s stress levels through the roof. Many people claim it’s one of many “First World Problems” whilst others feel like their own world is ending. Little do younger millenials realise, that they take their always on, easy to connect to broadband for granted. If you connected to the internet before broadband existed you needed to follow a specific process. Firstly, make sure nobody was on the phone (unless you were lucky enough to have two phone lines), then open up your respective network connection wizard. If nobody had vandalised the state of the precious “remember settings” checkbox you could go ahead and press “Connect”. If not you needed to make sure you had your phone number, username and password, entered in these details and pressed “Connect”. Then you either went to make a cuppa or sat and endured a series of sounds ingrained in most people’s minds that used dial up networking. Click play on the YouTube video below to learn the rough sequence (this varied depending on where you were in the world and your modem at the time) or to feel nostalgic as you please.
Once connected you needed to open up your browser if you hadn’t already (Safari, Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were the prime choice for most consumers) and wait for your browser to download the text and formatting markup, place this on your page, then download your images and multimedia content (which it did progressivley) before you were able to do anything (usually time to load the washsing machine) and you repeated this cycle for each and every page you clicked.
If you didn’t make a request for a while or somebody in the house unwittingly picked up the phone and dialled a number , more often than not you would both reach an impass and your session was screwed (including any downloads you had started), limiting most people to a specific time of day to go online and for a small amount of time.
Over to You
There are many other things of course that changed over the decades and even in today’s time with new advancements occuring all the time. Are there any particular things you miss from days past? Are there any things you’re glad to see the back of? Feel free to discuss in the comments below and thanks for taking the time to read this post.