The Evolution of the Homepage

Using the WayBack Machine, we looked back at how the homepage has changed since the early days of the Internet

Google homepage
Internet Archive: Wayback Machine

Yahoo!, October 22, 1996

Yahoo homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
Yahoo!’s method of indexing sites sent traffic to homepages, allowing users to navigate the Internet by specific areas of interest as opposed to a searchable index of pages. It’s pretty clear from this 1996 home page just how simple this indexing was, but it was one of the first sites to offer anything like it. In February 1994, founders David Filo and Jerry Yang, Ph.D. candidates at Stanford University, came up with the concept as a way to categorize their personal interests on the Internet. They started out "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web" working out of a campus trailer, but as the number of interests increased and branched off into more categories, Yahoo! ("Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,") was born.

The New York Times, December 30, 1996

New York Times homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
Though web-journalism was just emerging in 1996, the next few homepages hint at the start of the seismic shift in the newspaper industry. If you look to the top left corner, of this New York Times page, users were invited to “Join the discussion in the new Forums.” Based on the Bulletin Board System, these forums were among the first instances of “user generated content” on the web, allowing people to post messages and comment on other messages. The “Classifieds” section (also found at the top left) was one of the only methods for posting ads before resources like Craigslist became a web-based service in 1996.

National Public Radio, December 10, 1997

NPR homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
A highlight of this ’97 version of NPR’s web page: “This site is best viewed with Netscape 3.0 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0”

BBC, May 20, 1998

BBC homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
A sign of the times: “Catch criminals on the Net…this is your chance to turn detective and solve serious crime. Can you help?”

LEGO, November 9, 1996

LEGO homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
This homepage from ’96 is just plain fun. The site offers a membership to the “LEGO Surfer Club,” with “free downloads of Wallpapers screensavers and Videoclips,” but it wouldn’t be complete without the LEGO animated .gifs.

Apple, July 14, 1997

Apple homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
Five days before this homepage was updated, Apple’s board of directors ousted CEO Gil Amelio in a boardroom coup and Steve Jobs stepped up as the interim CEO. Over the next decade, Jobs oversaw the development of tools like iTunes, the iPod and the iPad. By the time he would resign in 2011, Apple had completely restructured its product line and services.

But before the iPads and the iPhone 4Ss, a few then-high-tech-now-obsolete programs held center stage. In ‘97, you could “Register today for a free CD-ROM”—though, you’d probably have to pay someone to take one off your hands these days.

Google, January 25, 1999

Google homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
When search engines like Google and FAST (Fast Search & Transfer) hit the scene, surfing the web became more sophisticated. Instead of requiring users to type in painfully long URLs and directing traffic to homepages, Google rated the relevance of a web page to a particular search query based on how many other web pages linked to it. With prototypes for products like computerized glasses, a part of Project Glass, currently under development, Google has come a long way since ’99. We’re guessing they still party like it is though.

LiveJournal, 1999

LiveJournal homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
Witness: the birth of the web blog (aka “blog”). Blog usage, which evolved from an earlier type of thread using the Internet from software, grew in popularity thanks to hosted blog tools like LiveJournal and Xanga (launched in 1998). Suddenly anyone could write anything they wanted on the web for free—which today is arguably both a good thing and a bad thing. This homepage features Frank the goat, LiveJournal’s mascot, whose popularity may have outlasted that of “Clippy,” Microsoft Office’s animated paperclip.

GeoCities, November 28, 1999

GeoCities homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
In January 1999, Yahoo! purchased GeoCities, which granted users the ability to develop free home pages within its web directory, organized thematically into neighborhoods. The sites helped build web territory, opening up the Internet to those who were not necessarily among the ranks of “geeks” in the know. The site became extremely unpopular when Yahoo! changed its terms of service in 1999. When Yahoo! announced its plan to close GeoCities service in the U.S. on April 23, 2009, Internet archivists scrambled to collect GeoCities material before it shut down for good three days later.

Wikipedia, July 27, 2001

Wikipedia homepage
(Internet Archive: Wayback Machine)
The simplicity of Wikipedia circa 2001 is striking. But what made Wikipedia groundbreaking then and now is that “You can edit this page right now! It’s a free, community project.” The love child of the “wiki” (open editing software) and the encyclopedia, Wikipedia was one of the first sites to encourage democratic use of the web. Four million articles later, you can look up or add information to anything—and we mean anything—from George Washington to the History of Cheese. And while there is plenty of room for error, volunteers like Sarah Stierch, the Smithsonian’s Archives’ new Wikipedian-in-Residence, police the databases and edit the articles for accuracy. Put this screen shot circa 2000 up against the site’s homepage today and you’ll find that it’s stayed true to its simple navigation system.