'the internet' by Patrick Barry on Flickr. Used under CC BY SA 2.0

How the Web has Evolved

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.

Once uni hit however, web developing took a backseat and I settled into the rut of using WordPress on the default settings with maybe the odd custom theme. Fast forward several years and suddenly Adobe has transformed all of the former Macromedia assets, Evrsoft seems to have vanished into the ether, FrontPage has since evolved into Expression Web and then merged into Visual Studio and many other tools such as Notepad++ and gedit amongst many others have superseded Notepad as the go-to editors for coding. On top of this Flash is no longer ‘a thing’ and HTML and Javascript have taken over the scene again, completely transforming how web design is created and the culture that surrounds it. At least PHP hasn’t changed too much from the little I learned.

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

'xkcd commemorates the end of Geocities' by secretlondon123 on Flickr. Used under CC BY SA 2.0
‘xkcd commemorates the end of Geocities’ by secretlondon123 on Flickr. Used under CC BY SA 2.0

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?



'Half an hour of web ads' by 'Dniel Olnes' on Flcikr. Used under CC BY 2.0
‘Half an hour of web ads’ by ‘Dniel Olnes’ on Flcikr. Used under CC BY 2.0

I’m sure many 90s kids and adults alike will agree people today are lucky to get the rare popup widnow appear thanks to modern popup blockers (although arguably the in-page modular DIV popups seem to have become all the rage recently), but in the past when the software was only becoming apparent, one had to tread carefully when visiting website in fear of stumbling across a site riddled with banner ads, Google Adwords blocks surrounding the paragraphs of text and window after window appearing in front of you (hence the term “pop up”). The worst of sites took to employing multiple scripts meaning that when you closed the window, another would pop up or a javascript powered “warning” would pop up trying to fool users into keeping the window open and clicking through to it’s content.

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.

'aol promotional cdss in canada'. Released under Public Domain
‘aol promotional cdss in canada’. Released under Public Domain

Endless Plugins (& Updates) become HTML5, CSS, GIFs & Javascript

'So Many Installers'. Own work compiled by unverifiable sources.
‘So Many Installers’. Own work compiled by unverifiable sources.

Interesting how the circle of life has made its way into computers. Most websites when I first went onto the World Wide Web consited of basic text and images (with occasional ‘clever’ things occuring through the use of Javascript programming or animated GIF files for images) with the more advanced ones making use of serverside technology like PHP/ASP/JSP and server side includes. But then the world of animated and interactive content entered at the turn of the millenium with applications created using Macromedia (at the time)’s suite of builders such as Flash, Director (for shockwave), Clickteam’s Vitalize! and Sun (at the time)’s Java (for the uninitiated – not related to javascript). Additional content such as video also frequented news pages and music on various websites – all of course being in an endless list of formats, necessitating the installation of at least Windows Media Player, Real Player and Apple QuickTime player onto your computer (if you even could). Having them all could be both a blessing and a curse – it was great since you could check the news on the BBC website, learn something on Lynda.om, play a few animations on Newgrounds and perhaps check into the Habbo hotel if you were young and wanted a form of social chat.However the various developers updated these plugins regularly and at different times, which users would usually find out upon launching content, often leading to frustration if you had to update more than one in a session (particularly on a slower internet speed – but we’ll get to that later!).

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;

From this...
From this…
...to this.
…to this.

Files got bigger, Patience got smaller

'Download'. Released under Public Domain
‘Download’. Released under Public Domain

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.

Connection Issues

'2edialing' from NCKCN. Used under Fair Use.
‘2edialing’ from NCKCN. Used under Fair Use.

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.




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