Ten Web Sites, Ten Years Ago

The year was 1999. The world was preparing to end, thanks to the Millennium bug that would either blow us all up, or give out free money from ATMs at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Some events of 1999 included the establishment of the Euro, the Columbine High School Massacre, the first episode of Spongebob Squarepants, the war in Kosovo, the debut of Napster, Lance Armstrong wins his first Tour De France and Boris Yeltsin resigns as President of Russia.

I was working as a web designer and programmer for a Norwegian telecoms company, looking after their intranet design and occasionally helping with marketing bits and pieces. I couldn’t program my way out of a paper bag (still can’t) but I loved the excitement of Web Design, typing HTML in notepad and editing images with Paint Shop Pro. I was over the moon when the company invested in Macromedia Flash 4. Animation on the web! The same year a friend “loaned” me a copy of something I had heard a little bit about called Photoshop 5…

In 1999, the web was a smaller place, filled with tables, some seriously dodgy background images and blinking text. But what sort of designs did the really big boys have on their web site? Would you recognize them today? I used the Wayback Machine archive to take a look at ten web sites that are fairly huge today. Here’s what they looked like then. Note: When I was taking screen grabs, the resolution of my screen was 1280 x 800 pixels, you’ll see how narrow the designs were then by the amount of white space visible.

Apple.com, nice and clean even then, and advertising the Power Mac G4.

apple

Amazon.com had a liquid layout and looked very similar to how it is today.

Amazon

BBC was reporting on the murder of Jill Dando.

bbcnews

Microsoft.com offered a download of Internet Explorer 5.

microsoft

Wired Magazine

wired

Yahoo! was currently showing a sneak peak of their new homepage, but it used to look like this for quite a while.

yahoo

Monster.com: Many a CV has passed through here since 1999.

monster

The Onion.com, built with frames, remember them?

theonion

The White House is the most dramatically changed of all the ten web sites listed here.

whitehouse

Oh look! A new search engine.

google

What were YOU doing in 1999? And what do you think about how some of these web site designs have (or haven’t) changed in ten years.

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  • M.Mahgoub

    OMG 1999?! My first year in college. I got my first usa.net (remember it?) email account then a hotmail account and amazed by the web. I wasn’t know about Google so Yahoo was my search engine.

    A year after i tried to build my first web page on a free hosting site then after 3 years joined Sitepoint.. That’s when i decided to change my career and become a professional web developer.

  • M.Mahgoub

    Even today Amazon looks professional!

  • Marcelo Ruiz

    I didn’t even have a computer ten years ago!!

  • Vantrix

    Year 1999- was ecstatic when once managed a internet connection with a speed of 64kbps and had a great time surfing then!!!

    Year 2009 – Even Braodband connection seems inadequate these days given how websites have become so complex and feature rich.

    Anita CM
    http://www.vantrix.net

  • http://www.dangrossman.info Dan Grossman

    Where’s the screenshot of the first year of SitePoint?

  • adonim

    At that time I’ve had the equanimity of an oldie, having fought already for over 1o years with digital matters on Atari, Mac and PC. Gee, system got loaded on a wobbly 5″ disk, then the disk out again and the software disk in… waahoo working with 724 kB ram, on black and white monitor and a 6-needle-printer. Life was sooo exciting! In 1999 computers and Internet became as comfortable and easy to deal with as switching on the tv. Today’s task is to filter out valuable information from the floods of nonsense, misinformation, lies and propaganda … guess, every decade has its own challenges :-)

  • keith5885

    Some of those are shocking. Great blog Sitepoint. If only we could go back and warn MS about IE6!!

  • Ryan Downie

    We have a post along these lines on our blog, but is from the web in 1996 http://www.bfinternet.co.uk/news-info/articles/the-web-in-1996

  • Rinchangupta

    I am regular reader of site point and with all respect to author, i am disappointed when i saw this kind of article, where what all you need to do is to go to Archive.org and spend 15 min to get all the information… and more disappointing is that it’s very close to this article :(

  • Rinchan gupta

    I am more disappointed when i saw my comment without the link, which you guys have removed. :(

  • http://fvsch.com Florent V.

    I love it when people comment to complain that a blog post doesn’t live up to their standards. :/

    Thank you Jennifer for this blog post. It may not be a tremendous achievement, but it’s a nice article and i know from experience that putting together such as article still takes work.

    Regarding those ten websites: it’s amazing how Amazon got things right early on. The Apple website looks a bit dull.

  • http://www.crearedesign.co.uk TomBradshaw

    Wow, these have changed alot – except amazon which looks pretty similar. It’ unfortunate alot of modern web design isn’t much better than this :(

  • http://www.bluepebble.com.au bluepebble

    The first website we buit was for the Essendon Football Club – way back in 1995 – but for a trip down memory lane i decided to look up what design we came up with back in 1999:
    http://web.archive.org/web/19990428062439/http://www.essendonfc.com.au/

    Amazing to see how far we’ve come – we’re still developing the EFC website, and enjoying the challenge of integrating so many interactive elements in a way that still has the end-user at the centre of the experience. Something that a lot of sports-related websites still haven’t grasped!

  • jasongraphix

    I graduated from high school in 99…so on this date ten years ago, I was probably starting my first week of classes at the University of Central Florida. I saved the money I made bagging groceries all Summer to build myself a blazing fast PC powered by an Athlon 500 processor, you know, to play Unreal Tournament with. I had recently helped design websites for my high school and youth group, but my personal site looked something like this. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since those days, but I’m happy to see that web design (especially my own) has come a long way since then.

  • Georgi

    1999…
    – use to enjoy listening the modem sounds :P
    – the computer needed 10min to load everything
    – start to code HTML with notepad on windows and to animate on flash 4
    – google was just white and green page
    – yahoo mail still uses iframes
    – geocities was the great hosting service ever :)
    – playing WC2 with friends on windows 95 machines
    – corel was much more than adobe
    – and Apple … were only in movies where girls use to check their emails with some strange email clients :)

    and lots more…

  • http://www.magain.com/ Matthew Magain

    @Rinchangupta There’s no conspiracy—nobody removed any link from your comment, you just got the HTML wrong (no link text). I’ve fixed your comment for you.

    Jennifer’s idea for this post was original, and she wasn’t aware of the post you’ve linked to. If she was then she would probably have deliberately chosen a few different sites to avoid overlap. I guess the sites chosen are obvious choices for sites that people would want to compare. At any rate, there’s enough difference between the two that perhaps you got something out of it…

    @Dan Grossman: I’m guessing you’ve looked, but the earliest I can find, care of the wayback machine, is this gem

  • bird chan keng yik

    look so simple n low tech

  • taye chay

    Great article. For us in Sierra Leone, 1999 was a year in which we were pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. It started with a horrific invasion of the capital by rebels in which thousands were killed, far more than in Kosovo, but we were largely ignored because we were simply not as important as Kosovo…
    Later, a group of us were approached by the government to develop a website that would counter the propaganda website of the rebels, and the result was http://www.sierra-leone.gov.sl, no longer live but part of it is still visible on the Wayback machine. At one point we were assisted by some British naval staff from the HMS Westminster, which was positioned off the coast of Freetown and had come to assist our military against the rebels.

    It had the scrolling marquee saying welcome, and actually won some award for which we were notified by email. Only dial-up internet access was avaialble in Freetown then.

  • Bob

    I think 1999 was the year I made my first dedicated server and put it on the internet with a static IP using ISDN.

    @M.Mahgoub

    You know, a lot of the people at USA.net played the same MUD as me, in fact some of them were the creators.

  • http://mrclay.org/ mrclay

    For the full experience, visit in a version 4 browser. Quirks mode is cheating.

  • Dario Cedeño V

    1999, was my first year in Eloy Alfaro University. Just to know a great search engine altavista. Along with my first email account @latinmail.com. After that knowing a new search engine google.com a recomended to friends. 14400kbps modem was the connection.

  • sijan

    Year 1999. Lots of First-Time happened that year. My first acquint with Internet. That year, I joined VisitNepal.com as Web Designer and my career in IT started. Soon I learned PHP 3 and MYSQL. Luckily we had very good connection as VisitNepal also had Cybercafe (EasyLink).

    I remember getting frustrated using slow 56K modem in home and paying USD 1.00 per hour in Thamel CyberCafes. Really a remarkable year.

  • mearso

    Bizarrely enough I was just looking at our homepage from ten years ago. It was fascninating to browse the wayback machine, and see what the prevailing trends were at the time.

    If anyone’s interested it’s at http://isdevelopment.weblog.glam.ac.uk/2009/08/24/cartoons-on-the-homepage/