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Then and Now – How Have the Most Popular Websites Evolved?

When Tim Berners Lee set the first website live on December 20th 1990, it was text-only and ran on the line-mode browser. Since then, there has been a technological revolution, and the design of websites has continuously got better and better. To showcase just how far we’ve come, we’ll be taking a look at the most popular websites and how they have evolved.


Linkedin

2004 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

It may look awful when compared to the recently redesigned interface. Still, Linkedin’s original website offered a good user experience for its time. With a variety of design features that were typical of most websites in the early noughties. From the use of tables to organise content, floats, glossy buttons with a shadow, to blue-underlined hyperlinks and text-heavy UI, with low-quality visual elements and graphics used sparingly.


Airbnb

2008 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Airbnb’s design-driven approach to innovation has been central to its rise from a side-project to a disruptive global phenomenon. Even evident in its first website, which used the new grid layout standard and more graphical visual elements giving it a more simplistic look compared to other websites of that era. One thing to note is the weird wavy typeface used for some headings. It goes against all of today’s design best practices but was a standard feature on websites throughout the noughties.


Youtube

2005 & Now | Source: Wayback Machine

Fifteen years after it went live, YouTube still occupies the top dog status, with one billion hours of content streamed on the site every day. On launch, the website had less of a visual look, with smaller thumbnails used, videos organised inside floating tables and a heavy focus on using tags for content discovery. The most significant difference was that the video player used flash (now HTML5), and had no full-screen option or timer.


Facebook

2004 & Now | Source: Wayback Machine

If you looked at Facebook’s first website 16 years, you would’ve never thought it would become the monopoly it is today. The original website used best practices of the time, including shadowed buttons, tables to organise content and a text-heavy content display on the interface. Yes, the UI/UX isn’t great when compared to today; however, it was decent back when it stormed across US college campuses in 2004.


Yahoo

1994 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

When Yahoo launched its first website back in 1994, web design technology was in its infancy and unable to support text formatting, graphics, images and coloured backgrounds. So most websites, including Yahoo, were low-resolution static webpages filled with blue-highlighted hyperlinks and a dull-grey background. The arrival of the Netscape improved things slightly. With the browser supporting more graphics and text formatting. Visible in the yellow “new” graphic and more structured organisation of text on Yahoo’s first website.


Twitter

2006 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Twitter is amongst the most popular social media platforms on the planet, with an astonishing 500 Million tweets sent out every day. When it first went live, the website was dynamic, used tables for formatting, and had a slightly more visual look through its use of colours, more images and complex graphics. All design practices that had become a standard a couple of years earlier after the shift away from static pages and improved web design tools and tech.


Tripadvisor

2003 & Now | Source: Wayback Machine

With its community-driven review system serving as a measure of quality, Tripadvisor has transformed the way people discover new places and things to do across the world. The first website was a static webpage filled with hyperlinks, fewer visuals and more text-heavy informational content. A far cry from the sophisticated, slick UI and killer UX the platform offers today.


Spotify

2008 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Spotify’s journey to streaming dominance began when their beta went live back in 2008. The landing page and platforms, UI was pretty basic and dull. However, the focus was less on the looks, but more on engineering the perfect music listening experience. Safe to say things worked out pretty well, with over 280 million monthly active users using their platform and to stream music, podcasts and more.


Netflix

2002 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Netflix started life as a mail-order subscription service for DVD’s, before dominating the world of streaming today. Like most at the time, their first website was informational, with heavy use of text and few low-quality graphics. Notice the bold, underlined and capitalised text for the hyperlinks, which it uses as CTA’s instead of buttons. Another common practice you’ll find in websites of that time.


Ebay

1995 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

You can’t talk about pioneering tech companies and not mention eBay. Its launch as Auction Web back in 1995 was monumental, paving the way for the explosive growth of eCommerce and online shopping today. Although its platform today is powered by complex algorithms and offers a quality user experience, the first website was a low-resolution static webpage filled with text-only information content and hyperlinks. The highlight has to be the long letter from the CEO that features as you scroll down.


Skyscanner

2003 & Now | Source: Wayback Machine

Skyscanner has become one of the biggest platforms for searching and booking flights in Europe, with 100 million people visiting the site every day to find cheap flights. Its website from the early days was pretty good for its time. However, looking at it from today’s lens, it has a plethora of UX faux pas. Firstly, its use of drop-downs to select cities, instead of search and the fact you had to select tabs buttons to browse flights based on days, months and weekends.


Wikipedia

2003 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

The collaborative online encyclopedia has been the go-to place to find information on anything and everything since 2001. As you’d expect with an encyclopedia, the site today is still text-heavy. However, when compared with the original website, the UI/UX is vastly improved. Whilst the original website had little organisation and a chaotic structure, with no visuals and a sea of hyperlinks, today’s site has side navigation, use of coloured tables to separate content and better use of images.


Google

1998 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Google is the go-to place to get information on pretty much anything and everything, with a whopping 3.5 billion searches done on the site every day. When it launched in 1998, the website had a reasonably clean look, shadowed glossy buttons, minus the turquoise boxes, unnecessary hyperlinks and text. Also back then you couldn’t search for videos or images, and there were no ads. Honestly, the UI isn’t much different; but the services, technology and content returned have improved massively, enhancing the overall UX.


Reddit

Since launching in 2005, the community-driven social platform for topical discussion has grown to be one of the most popular sites in the world, boasting a massive 1.5 Billion monthly visitors. Unlike today, when it first went live, the website was chaotic, displaying a list of topics, with a small search box in the top right-hand and unclear buttons on the top-left corner.


Pepsi

1996 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

The ’90s was a time when web designers focused less on UX, choosing to explore instead what they could do with the new tech. Pepsi’s splash page from its 1996 website epitomises the experimental approach. With its busy swirling green-black background and use of interactive graphics and content, both created using new tools such as Javascript and shockwave.


Paypal

2000 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Two decades on from its launch, the digital payments platform is as popular as ever before. When you look at its first website, it may not seem like much. However, when compared to other sites of the era, the UI/UX was a top draw with its use of bold text to make critical CTA’s apparent, shaded effects on interactive buttons in the top navigation bar and use of high-quality graphics.


Apple

1996 & Now – Source: Web Design Museum

Everything you see, from their products, adverts and even the website, are carefully crafted with every intricate detail in mind. However, Apple’s famous design-driven approach is absent from their first website, with the grey background, low-quality graphics, a whole lot of unnecessary text and hyperlinks. Yes, the tech wasn’t great back then, but to put something like that out was a sign of their internal turmoil and lack of focus without Jobs. Please take a look at the website after he returned for the difference.


Amazon

1995 & Now | Source: Web Design Museum

Amazon’s rise from Jeff Bezos’s garage to powerful monopoly isn’t by chance. Right from the offset, the company has had a laser focus on providing users with the best experience. You can tell this from looking at their first website, which although not the most aesthetic had several features that enhance the UX. From the sparing use of hyperlinks which are well-positioned with the main body of text and heading. To their personal notification system, which served as the starting point for the powerful algorithm of today.

Ijaz K.

Ijaz K.

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