A Journey to the World’s Oldest Websites

A client is celebrating their new website this week. Built from the ground up in just a few weeks using all the tools at a modern web developer’s disposal, it has all the bells and whistles without an unworkable pricetag. As a digital marketing pro, I have been involved in more than a few website redevelopments and I’m amazed at how easy it is now to build your digital home.

It got me thinking about the first websites ever built, what they looked like, and the effort it took to build, find, and interact with them. Let’s look at some well-known early websites and their fates.

1991: CERN’s World Wide Web Project Becomes the First Website

Launched in 1991, the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s webpage is, amazingly, still live in all its two-color brilliance. Despite its simplicity, all the structure of the modern internet is right here: Hyperlinked keywords, a succinct description of the content, links to additional resources, and grammar errors. In short, it’s perfect.

What mobile phones looked like in 1991. Nokia Library.

1993: Early News and Entertainment Websites Launch

Within a couple of years, media and entertainment companies discovered the internet was a good – if yet unmeasured – way to reach new audiences. In 1993, technology magazine Wired went online, Bloomberg launched, and the Internet Movie Database became a thing. And seriously, what did we do before IMDB? How would I ever find out the name of that redhead actor who always plays a jackass*?

Also launched in 1993 was MIT’s online newspaper The Tech. It’s still online and still running contributions, which is more than I can say for many publications that launched long after, which I guess says something for being student volunteer-run and devoid of any kind of competition.

1994: The Web Gets Personal

A coffee pot image from the world’s first webcam. Photo: CC, Quentin Stafford-Fraser – Trojan Room Coffee Pot biography

The first webcam was set up in 1994 to watch the coffee pot in the old computer lab at the University of Cambridge, England. The coffee pot and its live connection to the world were severed in 2001, but you know what they say about a watched pot…

Launches started to speed up in 1994, as corporate entities including Microsoft and IBM jumped on board. Justin Hall introduced the first blog (five years ahead of LiveJournal’s launch in 1999) and Sex.com started to titillate with what I can only imagine must have been hopelessly pixelated images. And to round out the debauchery, Pizza Hut allowed people to order pizza over the web.

Also in 1994 began the now-familiar story of websites began for altruistic purposes turning into giant cash cows, with LawInfo, now an attorney directory, which once offered free legal resources and pre-screened attorney referrals.

The Age of Search Engines

This may horrify younger people but before 1994, we had to type web addresses out in full, correctly, in order to find our destination. In that year launched the first of the web directory services, which were precursors to search engines – WebCrawler, the World Wide Web Worm, and Yahoo!

Google was a laggard, starting in 1996, but its unique algorithm meant it worked better from its launch, and innovations have kept it ahead of its competition since.

The Internet Remembers Everything

Well, here’s something I didn’t know: YouTube started as a dating site! Co-founder Steve Chen told CNET that developers figured it would be a great way for singles to share their introduction videos. So now you know.

Something.com was an early website. Launching in 1995 and promising to be the home of, well, everything, it is now, ironically, nothing.

Want more of a trip down memory lane? Wikipedia has a list of sites built before 1995.

* Rob Huebel is his name. I’m sure the actor is a great guy but I can’t help but hate him from his work. Sorry, Rob.