The year was 1997. Apple was a struggling computer company, AOL was a booming Internet service provider, Microsoft was on the verge of releasing Windows 98, and the Web was a very different place. Through the magic of the Wayback Machine, we can travel back in time and revisit the past.
Take a walk down memory lane with us as we journey back in time and take a look at what the Web used to be. If you were there at the time, you’ll feel nostalgia – if not, you might be surprised just how far we’ve come. Feel free to follow the links and do your own exploring, even revisit your own old haunts and marvel at how dated they look.
Apple, now the most valuable company in the world, was a struggling computer company back in the ‘90s. Apple’s website from 1997 seems like it’s about a completely different company from the Apple we know today. But even back then, Apple was pushing mobile devices – the eMate 300 in this case, which used Apple’s Newton platform. (It was a flop.)
Google didn’t even have a website in 1997, so I’m cheating a bit here by showing you the page from 1998. The iconic, minimalistic design is present here. Here’s a little-known fact: the only reason Google started with such a simple design is because they didn’t have a webmaster or anyone that knew HTML.
1997 was the pre-Google era, so people used other search engines – like Yahoo. Yahoo was a pretty basic search engine and directory back then, nothing like the jam-packed front page it would become. But then, Yahoo just couldn’t be cluttered back then. It would have taken too long to download over those old dial-up modems.
Microsoft was working on Windows 98 at the time, and their “Where do you want to go today?” slogan featured prominently on their website. The top headline – “Internet Explorer 4.0 Debuts to Critics’ Applause” – seems hilarious in retrospect, with Internet Explorer ultimately becoming a drag on the Internet. At the time, Microsoft was actually trying – and they would keep developing IE until they released version 6, after which they stopped development, leaving the Web to stagnate.
I’m going to cheat again because the Wayback Machine doesn’t have any snapshots of Amazon.com from 1997, so here’s a screenshot from 1999. The old Amazon actually looks surprisingly modern. Of course, a big part of this is because Amazon’s website had changed so little until the recent redesign.
AOL’s website really is a blast from the past. The front page advertises the beta release of AOL Instant Messenger, which ultimately became very popular. It even offers a free AOL trial, which brought many people online for the first time.
If you were around in the ‘90s, I’m sure you remember GeoCities. Instead of creating blogs, people created their own personal websites – and they usually looked horrible. GeoCities was shut down in 2009, but it faded away and died many years before.
The New York Times shows us what a newspaper website used to be like. The website attempts to bring the familiar newspaper-style layout to a browser – luckily, newspaper websites have advanced since then. It’s also amusing to see that the early versions of Internet Explorer were considered “complex” in their time.
If you weren’t using Yahoo, there’s a good chance you were using AltaVista. AltaVista now just redirects to Yahoo’s search results, and Yahoo is just a frontend to Microsoft’s Bing.
The White House didn’t have a shiny website back then – the website’s front page was the “White House Virtual Library.” It offered the ability to browse and search a variety of documents. No splashy front page with the latest news and high-resolution images of the president here, just a glorified search engine with a background that made the content harder to read.