The web has come so far in the past 20 years it's actually amazing. Precisely 20 year ago, one of the only ways to access the internet was by subscribing to one of three Internet Provider services: AOL, Compuserve, or Prodigy. Every month, you would receive a mailer from one of these companies with a free installation disc, trying to compel you to buy their service. Your email address may have been "@compuserve.com" or "@prodigy.net" and getting online meant logging on, locating the nearest available "modem phone number" and waiting while your 14.4 baud modem squawked and tweeted. Usually, your online service came with "5 hours of online time" per month.
Most websites that we know today were mere whispers of what they have become. Yahoo ruled the search universe, but other search engines like Alta Vista, Excite, Ask Jeeves, and others dominated the pre-Google world. Netscape was the browser of choice, and downloading the latest version meant at least of hour of churning.
Many of the websites that we ran across were peppered with garish, ocular horror like "flaming horizontal rule" gifs, or some kind of dancing gerbil in every corner. The background colors were pastel and harsh, and huge, red, bold, italic underlined headings were the norm.
Then came Flash. Once Flash arrive, web designers realized that they could go crazy with design in ways that the basic HTML functionality had not yet allow them. This lead to websites with enormous, high-production-value "intros" where pieces and parts would come flying in from everywhere and assemble themselves into a menu or an image, accompanied by forced music or hollywood style sound effects. Tons of money was poured into these types of sites before site owners and developers realized that 99.9% of users went straight to "Skip Intro"
We were in the "eye candy" days of the web - before content was necessary, before SEO was a real concern, and WAY before mobile websites were even a gleam in Steve Jobs' eye. Load time was irrelevant as long as the site was visually epic. In addition to the "home" and "about us" buttons, navigation often consisted of hard to decipher items like "crazy ideas!" and "beep beep!" (instead of just "Services" and "Contact"). Sometimes clicking on links was like cutting the wrong wire when defusing a bomb. You clicked it, then just hoped for the best. In the business we call this "Mystery Meat Navigation". Oddly enough, it still pops up from time to time.
Of course, there was more but thankfully, the internet and it's progeny websites slowly morphed:
- Flash navigation gave way to CSS navigation
- Flash websites gave way to "Rotating Banners" whic ultimately gave way to lightweight, easy to manage JQuery featured sliders.
- HTML gave way to content management systems
- Black Hat SEO (hidden links, hidden text, overly stuffed keyword tags) gave way to clean, white-hat SEO. Link-swapping faded away.
- Eye Candy gave way to quality content
- Finally, "This site best viewed on Netscape Navigator at 800 x 600 pixels" gave way to responsive websites.
So much. We blew through Web 2.0 in 2008 and are now well into web 3.0 which is a nebulous, pervasive and ubiquitous web. Ask Siri to tell you what movies are playing locally, and you've just played with Web 3.0. Machines that can read and research and understand data as easily as humans can. It's the intelligent web. It's when you look for a specific book using Google and later that week, Facebook is recommending that very book. It's the web becoming a living, breathing thing that understands more than we'd expect it to. It's like the Force - it surrounds us, moves through us.
Stay on board the train folks - In 20 years we'll look back and write a nostalgia article about how cute it was that our phones were things we actually held in our hands.