The Evolution of Web

August 22, 2023

written by
Forrest Darabian

The World Wide Web has come a long way in the past 25 years. From the golden age of static webpages all the way to modern progressive web apps, there has been many shifts in numerous areas of web development. Let’s take a journey through the years and see how things have changed.

In 1998, websites were mostly static, with limited interactivity. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was dominant during this period. Websites were often designed with that browser in mind, which led to compatibility issues with other browsers like Netscape Navigator. CSS was only 2 years old, Google was just founded, and we saw the introduction of Apple’s iMac.

Images, audio, and video were present but were used more sparingly due to slower internet connections and limited browser capabilities. Adobe Flash was a popular technology for creating interactive elements and animations on websites. My favorite memories of the internet during this time were playing games on Cartoon Network’s website (all of which were flash games).

Something that lots of people often overlooked was accessibility. Web standards were very new, leading to inconsistent rendering of websites across different browsers. This resulted in many websites being inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Fast forward a couple years later and we see the rise of blogging platforms and early social media sites. JavaScript libraries such as jQuery were introduced along with CSS2, enabling more complex styling. We also see the introduction of AJAX, allowing dynamic content updates without refreshing the entire page.

The late 1990s to early 2000s marked a foundational period for the World Wide Web.

Then everything shifted.

Mobile devices began to gain popularity. While website responsiveness was always important to begin with, it became one of the more important things to consider once tablets and phones slowly but surely rose to become an essential tool we all use. Along with this, we also began to see richer multimedia content and more advanced styling with the introduction of HTML5 and CSS3. With web fonts becoming widely available, typography options were enhanced.

With these more dynamic, interactive, and user-centric websites, we saw social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube transform the world we know today. It’s crazy how these companies were able to grow at such a high rate.

The focus on web standards and accessibility grew, leading to better cross-browser compatibility. With the rise of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and later Safari, competition between browsers pushed for better support of web standards and faster performance.

Over the next few years, we saw the continued growth of front-end and back-end JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue.js. This complimented complimented the rise of Node.js, enabling server-side JavaScript development. Performance optimization also became crucial with Core Web Vitals and Page Experience ranking factors. Static site generators became super popular.

This is around the time that web development took a more modular and component-based approach. We saw the introduction of Flexbox and CSS Grid making use of advanced layout design.

Today, AI and machine learning technologies have found their way into web development, enabling personalized user experiences, chatbots, and recommendation systems.

The emphasis on accessibility has been growing, with developers striving to create websites that are usable by people of all abilities. Improved tools, guidelines, and awareness have been helping to ensure that websites are more inclusive and accessible.

Thanks for coming along on this historical ride with us. If this trip down memory lane has you wondering how your brand can have multi-generational influence, reach out. 25 years in, we’re not just looking back, we’re creating what’s next. 

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