The Internet Archive Wayback Machine

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The other day I was looking online for some places to go scuba diving this summer and came across a website for a local scuba diving club. The website hasn’t been update since 2001 and it was the most visually awful thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Against an off-center water-themed background was a paragraph that barely described the club and about 50 animated GIF’s. It was as if the webmaster wasn’t concerned so much with having useful and relevant information as he was with making sure that his website could trigger an epileptic episode. It also appeared his search for “Scuba GIF’s” didn’t bring back any results so he settled for anything that had to do with water instead. There were jumping fish, wing-flapping flamingos and dancing seagulls, each contributing to the site’s overall state of terrible. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time.

Surprisingly, coming across that website made me feel kind of nostalgic. I was in high school when I began using the Internet and thinking back I remember a lot of websites looking very similar; not too much in the way of content and very heavy on images and multimedia. This nostalgia prompted me to do a search for something to the effect of “how ugly websites used to be” and after a few minutes of searching, I found the Wayback Machine by the Internet Archive.

The Wayback Machine lets you view versions of web pages as they were (and currently are) archived over time. Just enter the URL of the site that you want to see then select a date that a snapshot was taken. The Wayback Machine can show you sites archived as far back at 1996. Of course not all sites are archived (I was curious to see facebook’s original log in screen but that site isn’t archived) and browsing within the archived site is kind of limited as well (though I was typically able to go 3 pages deep before getting a “Page not archived” message). Nonetheless, surfing around the Wayback Machine is a lot of fun. Here are some archived versions of a few of the websites that I currently visit.

Gizmodo

The first snapshot from gizmodo.com was captured August 2, 2002 and it was actually the default index.html for Giz’s newly created Yahoo!WebsiteServices hosting account (click pictures for higher resolution).
Gizmodo's original Yahoo hosting account page

This next capture is from August 24th of 2002.

Gizmodo.com from 2002

Similarly to how MTV used to broadcast music videos, it looks like Gizmodo, the Gadget Guide used to write exclusively about gadgets.  The layout and color scheme aren’t too easy on the eyes and the writing style seems lack the humor and charisma that the current team of writers provide. I prefer the modern version of Gizmodo by far.

Apple

The very early versions of Apple.com display a lot of image placeholders but it’s interesting to see the layout of Apple’s website in 1996. It’s also interesting to see Apple’s claim that when other computer systems fail as 1999 rolls to 2000, the Macintosh will remain unscathed.

Apple's homepage from 1996

This capture is from October 23, 2001, the day the first generation iPod was launched.

Apple's iPod introduction page

Take notice of the Hot News Headlines section. Apple posted a net profit of $6 billion last April for Q2 of 2011. It’s good to see that they’re bringing in a little more money these days.

Burger King

Now I don’t regularly visit Burger King’s website but I did want to include it to show just how terrible it really was. This capture is from January 6, 1996.

Burger King's home page from 1996

While I was a high school sophomore enjoy my last week of Winter break, Burger King threw together this atrocity laden with poorly animated GIF’s. This is a far cry from Burger King’s current, beautifully arranged website.

I’ve spend a couple hours over the last few days surfing through the Wayback Machine. It’s been a lot of fun seeing not only how much web design has developed over the last 15 years, but also how much content and content management have improved as well. If you browse through some of the sites from the mid 90’s (especially fast food sites), you’ll notice that the common tone is “we know that the Internet is the new ‘big thing’ and we’re not really sure what purpose it serves or what we’re supposed to do, but here we are!”

Whether you want to take a stroll through ROM lane (that was such an awful attempt at humor, I know) or you want to see how unattractive the Web used to be, the Wayback Machine should provide a few hours of entertainment or distraction from more important things.

Special thanks to SpeckyBoy’s article, Elements of Ugly Web Design for the GIF’s!
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