10 popular websites: what they looked like when they first started

Web.com Team

Websites have gone through a number of transitions throughout the evolution of the internet. Where some pages were functional in times past, successful websites today function as brands for their companies as new trends within the mobile and internet world emerge.

Here are 10 of the most popular websites and what they looked like when they first started.

  1. MSN.com

Although the internet has been around since the 1950s, it was not fully commercialized to the public until 1995 when ARPANET and NSNET were decommissioned, removing the restrictions of use. When this happened, Microsoft (MSN) launched its website and has maintained a strong internet presence since then.

Early MSN Website Screenshot

Looking at the old website, it’s hard to see how this could be the work of a company now known to be so huge and profitable. You can see that there is a very strong use of tables and the banners clash with the actual page. The logo and the branding seem to be in battle with each other. Slap on the banner, and this is nothing more than a poorly constructed ad campaign. So what has changed? A great deal.

Primarily, you will see that the MSN/Microsoft platform has clearly identified itself in its branding. Yes, you have updates to the logo and to their overall trend, but the windows of the Microsoft brand have become iconic with MSN. The butterfly of the MSN logo is also commonly known. When looking at the new Windows 10, one can see how powerful the design and branding of MSN has influenced the web (most companies are mimicking the square minimalistic appearance of the Windows 10 platform).

The current webpage has been clearly designed by experienced web designers. It makes use of tables and is very formulated and a bit boxy in the design. However, in my opinion too much information is presented on the page, which may discourage viewers from using the site. As the Microsoft brand has several tangents of the company, users are more prone to just go to that area (for example Skype).

  1. Bing

Microsoft’s Bing is one of the newest and biggest search engines out there. The search engine started with a simple image and search menu, mimicking the Google and Yahoo SERPs with its layout.

Early BING website screenshot

However, as the site has grown in popularity, it has categorized their website searches as well as added interactivity to the site by offering daily desktop pictures, sound, and video images on the landing page’s background, which seems to be a popular trend. Also added to the site are rewards programs and app integration. The site offers the popular tab information links (news, media, entertainment, sports, etc.) common to modern websites.

  1. Google

Google has been a presence on the internet since 1996. The site was very limited, allowing you to specify the number of results on the page and keyword searches. There was not much more than a “form” format to the search. In credit to Google, they have stuck with their logo and forced the public to realize their vision of a fun and friendly brand.

Early GOOGLE website screenshot

If you look at the site today, you’ll see more integration to Google’s multiple services. Yet, the visuals of the site have not progressed too much from the original launch. If you do not know how to find the material you may have issues, but your accounts: Gmail, Hotspots, Youtube, and Google Drive, are still easily accessible. Apps can be directly downloaded and the landing page customized to your personality. The site has also integrated subtle ads and suggests links based on search history.

  1. Yahoo!

Yahoo! is one of the oldest search engines on the internet. Looking at the original website, you can clearly see that the site has progressed a great deal from when it started.

Early YAHOO website screenshot

The layout is very primitive, with the bullet points and the mundane font. However, the current site has addressed these issues. The bubble font has been replaced with a practical font which can be used on multiple applications. The hyperlinks are still present, but the page is user-friendly, encouraging engagement from the user and minimizing the corporate feel.

  1. Facebook

While you may have used Facebook when it first launched (making MySpace obsolete) in 2004, the odds are that you’ve blocked the site’s extreme simplicity from your memory. Seems Mark Zuckerburg didn’t have any tips for hiring web designers. Where now we have the iconic F in the blue box as well as Facebook banners, friends, games, interactive content, customer oriented ads, shares, likes, and the rumored sympathy button, the original site only had a login section and a sort of journalistic look and feel.

Early FACEBOOK website screenshot

Clearly, Facebook understood that their branding was more than just providing a space to interact; they had to be engaged with their clientele and make users want to stay on the page for more than just a status update. Clearly, they have done just that.

  1. Amazon

Amazon launched in 1995 when the commercialization of the internet really started to take off. Like many of the sites of that time, there was a very definitive grid and table layout. While this was the standard then, it is by no means the method now. Amazon has worked somewhat to navigate away from the grid layout.

Early AMAZON website screenshot

However, there is still an underlined grid which can be noticed by anyone visiting the site for more than 10 minutes. The addition of the ads, sliders, larger product pictures, and the suggestive selling has made the page more desirable. The integration of the company into the technology device market and the amazon app store has also helped to maximize the overall branding.

  1. Ebay

Greatly imitated and never really duplicated, the Ebay site is the grandfather (so to speak) of commerce sites. Yet, looking back on the original design, you will notice that there is more of a yellow pages selling style.

The current site offered a variety of ways in which the visitor can not only purchase items, but display and sell items. PayPal integration as well as credit card acceptance has boosted the amount of participants on the site, while the customer store feature has allowed for sellers to brand their own merchandise within the website.

  1. AOL

Do you remember when AOL would send out the internet CDS in the mail and everyone was excited about the “You Got Mail” feature of the website? What happened? If you look back on AOL you see that they had quite an engaging site in an era where engagement was limited to forms and tables, grids, and minimal interactivity. Granted, in today’s world this site would look novice, but consider the time in which it was made and you will see it was ahead of most sites.

I think what made AOL fizzle out somewhat among the other web powerhouses is that their branding took a step backwards. Their site has become too minimal in terms of color and font and too cluttered with content. The user is not engaged with the content and there is little encouragement to keep a person on the page unless you click on the apps. Add to this the AOL, logo which looks like it was typed with Arial font or some other basic generic font, and you can see why its following has dwindled.

  1. Airbnb

Airbnb is a site dedicated to renting out loggings from individuals around the globe. Where this may appear to be a tough market to cater to, the website has branded itself well since its beginnings in 2008. If you visit the site you are presented with video as well as information. As the reader wants to see what is next on the movie slide they are more apt to stay on the site. The information provided is easily accessed and clear.

Early AIRBNB website screenshot

The logo is current but can be upgraded if needed. What I particularly find beneficial to the Airbnb branding is that they have diversified their brand to other social media outlets and have dominated the SERPs as a result. If you type “Airbnb” in a search engine you get the main page, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. The site is engaging but not limited to just the website or to the logo and that is what branding is all about.

  1. PayPal

The original PayPal layout was much like the online tellers and bank pages are today (which is rather sad for the “modern” banks). There are a number of tabs and the font is dull to say the least. Hyperlinks are everywhere and there is little to really draw the person in. The site was made for business and it is very clear that they were not concerned with anything but facilitating business transactions at the beginning of their life.Early PAYPAL website screenshot

Fortunately, the PayPal brand partnered up with several businesses which forced the company to revamp the way in which they were branded. That iconic yellow button was added to the site, as well as a total facelift to the site to make it more 3D and engaging for users. A simple visual comparison will show that there have been leaps and bounds as far as PayPal is concerned.

Want to check out historical versions of various websites, including your own? Browse Internet archives using the free website, Wayback Machine.

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