The web as we know it got its humble start in 1989. A year later the core protocols of the web were created and the first browser and search engine were born. Then one year after that, on August 6th, 1991, the first web page was published.

The next two years gave birth to Netscape, Internet Explorer, the first full-text search engine, AuctionWeb (now eBay), Amazon, Yahoo (mostly a web directory then), and AT&T ran the first banner ads in Internet history. The original meme of The Dancing Baby went viral in January of 1996. It wasn’t until a couple of years later in 1998 that WiFi started showing up in everyone’s workplaces and homes. 

In January 1996, the original Dancing Baby went viral.

One year later, in 1999, Google started gaining more traction for its soon-to-come world dominance. In the same year Blogger took off and everyone from home cooks to coding geeks started their first blog. All while Napster and Metallica clashed in epic proportions while the world assembled huge collections of digital music, illegally.

March 11th, 2000 saw the explosion of the dot com bubble and the resulting downfall and tragedy. Later that year, Google launched AdWords and suddenly monetization and ROI became a very serious topic and issue. This kicked off the advertising era of the web that’s basically taken over today.

From 2001 until 2005, the roots of social media were beginning to take shape. Websites like Friendster, Myspace, WordPress, and others are built on earlier similar concepts such as GeoCities. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter all started roughly around the same time.

“Somewhere after the turn of the century, there was a line between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. I’m not sure if there’s any distinct date or line drawn in the sand. Most of the developers I knew and worked with started posting to Twitter in 2005 and 2006; it was mostly developers on social media back then.”

The web as we know it today has a long history and path of evolution. In total what we call the “web” has three distinct phases. The differences across the iterations of the web are vast. 

Some of the things that have changed through the phases include: 

  • The type of information available
  • Mechanisms of information distribution and delivery
  • Aspects of commerce
  • Security concerns and threats
  • Ease of use
  • Amount and quality of information
  • Ubiquity
  • Usability & Accessibility
  • Rate of data transfer
  • And user interface complexity

The Internet itself is a fascinating sociological and psychological, organic creature that’s been enabling mass communication for decades now. The “web” is the network of worldwide computers that enable humans to access, share and exchange information in a way that’s never existed in society before. This web has a face, called a user interface.

The user interface of a website is how humans utilize the functionality and features of any given web property. The changes and evolution in the user interface of the web play an important part in the distinction of each iteration of its evolution. In addition to the user interface aspects of what defines Web 1.0 is the shape information takes and the ways that it’s shared.

Where Did Web 1.0 Originate?

The web started as mostly a way for researchers to share scientific information. The early Internet-enabled communication in ways that had never been available before. The first web servers came online and their addresses were indexed, shared, cataloged, and curated into directories.

Directories were the first search engines and delivered a much different experience than what is available today with Google. Locating information, especially valid info, was quite a bit more time-consuming and difficult in the early days of the web. Search engines were extremely basic and worked something like a phone book in the Web 1.0 period.

The markup language for web pages, called HTML, enabled anyone with the know-how, equipment, and a working Internet connection to publish anything they wanted to the new World Wide Web. In the early days, this was limited to mostly college professors, scientists, and computer nerds. Later, sites like GeoCities emerged, and tons of people who had discovered the web published basic static web pages and sites.

The mid-nineties is when Web 1.0 started to take a defined form. Until then, it was really undeveloped, not accessed by many, difficult to use, and not at all ubiquitous. Images really weren’t a part of the primordial Web 1.0 experience either; they were still downloading…

Commerce, capitalization, ROI, and advertising weren’t a huge part of the early web. It’s more difficult to sell the frame of a house than it is a completed house. The early web was the frame, the plumbing, the underlying chassis that the modern web rests upon.

Open source, free information, and just the concept of free were very important in early Web 1.0, and they still are. Advertising was frowned upon by many for years. The first iterations of advertising were small graphic banner ads, usually placed at the top or bottom of a web page.

Early advertising was more about sharing and spreading information than monetization of anything. A lot of the first banner ads were displayed on web pages in exchange for another site doing the same. Analytics were basic page counters showing how many people had visited your web property; like visited it ever.

Web 1.0
Fun fact: Web 1.0 sites aren’t interactive.

Mid-Nineties, Things Get Interesting and Web 1.0 Takes Form

Extremely basic web pages began to appear and take shape after a while. More people were buying personal computers and discovering early ways to access the Internet; AOL for instance (you have mail!). Email was the primary form of bleeding-edge communication, still not totally understood or utilized by the mainstream.

It’s revealing to watch old news episodes with interviews about the web from the period right before the dot com boom happened. It’s quite a vast difference from today’s world. Most people had no idea what the Internet or the web was at all or what lay ahead for the entire world.

A culmination of events occurred involving business, access to information, over-speculation, hype, immeasurable loss and gain, and collective insanity. Software companies were being taken to Federal court and for a time dot com millionaires were made about every single day.

Most of the early web was a network of simplistic web pages. Many people published simple hobby pages that were more or less static blogs. There was no way to like, share, comment or subscribe though; that wasn’t for many years later.

At one point in all of the insanity, two browser companies were at war with each other for control of people using their products. The mix of new technology and old-world concepts created a historic clash in ideas, ideals, and the way we communicate and do business forever.

Late-nineties Into the New Century

The turn of the century was a wild experience for the entire computing industry, Web 1.0 included. Almost every human was talking about the Y2K Bug at one point by 1999. It didn’t matter if you knew about the web or computers or email, you still heard about the impending doom of the Y2K dilemma.

By the time the clock struck midnight on that fateful night, and nothing happened, the Web 1.0 hype bubble was at its peak. At first Web 1.0 was strictly information sharing in a very one-directional manner. Publish information to a server, access information from that server, read information, maybe email or instant message the link to a friend.

Technology was rapidly developing to make a more rich and full web experience. Interactivity was extremely limited in the early days of the web. Complex websites and games were slow, buggy, difficult to play, and had latency issues for many years.

A company named Macromedia changed things forever with a couple of products enabling a more immersive experience for the web. Shockwave emerged and shook up the entire Web 1.0 scene. Flash followed the initial Macromedia Director-based content.

Java Applets and a few other plug-in technologies were all fighting it out around the same time as the browser wars. Just about every month it seems like some type of new tech battle was going on, even with websites. It was definitely a gold rush type of experience for many people and soon commercials on TV began to appear for Internet and Web 1.0 companies.

Eventually, the hype bubble surrounding early Web 1.0 burst open with spectacular flair. Websites, millionaires, and dreams were being shattered left and right. Offices that were exploding with exuberance are now completely empty with monitors, server racks, and chairs left abandoned where raging parties once flared.

Believe it or not, the dot com bubble bust was good for Web 1.0. Things had gotten too crazy too fast. Bad business was everywhere and a huge lack of understanding and respect for the tech existed. 

The disaster of the collapse of the Web 1.0 bubble opened room for the fertile ground Web 2.0 began growing. Despite the failures on the business side of Web 1.0 during the bubble crashing the technology kept moving forward. Interactivity, data speeds, browsers, search engines, and many other facets of the web were maturing quickly.

The Transition From Web 1.0 to Web 2

The Internet is still so young I’m really not sure if we have extremely solid historical dates for some of the events and changes. Perhaps later in the future information on the historical aspects of the phases of the web will be better documented and understood.

For example, the term “Web 2.0” wasn’t coined until after the tech that created it began to take shape. Many aspects of what is considered Web 2 began during Web 1.0 for instance. In the same fashion, pre-Web 1.0 contained aspects of Web 1.0 and so on. I’d even go as far as saying Web 1.0 has its own distinct phases.

Web 2.0 as we know it today began in the early to mid-2000s. It was first driven by technologies such as Macromedia Flash for the user interfaces. The way information was shared, consumed, displayed and what could be done with it began to get more complex.

As people become more familiar with computers and the concept of the Internet and the possibilities of the web they wanted more from their experiences. It was a race to see which companies could dream up the best, most useful, engaging, and interactive applications.

The concept of advertising is another key aspect that began in Web 1.0 but didn’t really take off until the second iteration. Most of the story of the web and the way it works is like that though, having many tentacles. It’s just the nature of the beast I suppose.

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