Since the internet’s inception in the late 80s and early 90s, it’s grown rapidly and exponentially. There are, according to estimates, more than a billion websites out there, and over 500,000 websites are being created each and every day. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, but it wasn’t always like this; in the early days of the internet, there were much, much fewer websites, and you had to know the address of the site you wanted in order to visit it.
With that in mind, we thought now would be a good time to take a look back at some of the internet’s earliest websites. Of course, it’s difficult to access pages from before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and the HTTP protocol, so we’ll mainly be examining sites from the early 90s and marveling in their primitive glory. Here’s our look at some of the internet’s earliest websites and what they offered!
CERN’s World Wide Web site
Appropriately enough, the first ever website was created by Tim Berners-Lee and the team at CERN in order to celebrate the launch of the World Wide Web. It was, in essence, a description of what the World Wide Web was and what it intended to catalogue. You can see a snapshot of that website right here; it was incredibly primitive, consisting only of text and a few hyperlinks, but at the time, it was completely revolutionary, as any user could access it no matter where they were.
This website, which was created by bluegrass music enthusiast Bob Cherry in 1992, wasn’t originally called “Cybergrass”. It was originally simply titled “Bluegrass Music News and Information” before being rebranded as Cybergrass in 1995. The site is currently “in the process of a major migration”, according to its homepage, so we’re not sure when we can expect to see it again. Still, it’s pretty impressive to think that one of the earliest websites was dedicated to bluegrass music!
Another one of the first websites – and one that remains online to this day – came about in the form of youngmonkey, a portal leading users to software products and music or writing projects. The early internet was much less specific in terms of its approach, so sites were often multimedia extravaganzas with lots of different pages to explore, rather than the highly specialised offerings we have today. Another early site was simianpress, which spun off from youngmonkey and which many believe offered the first website design services to users!
Founded in 1993, Doctor Fun is one of the world’s first webcomics. You can still read a huge archive of all of the webcomic’s content right here, and though some of the humour has arguably aged somewhat poorly, it’s still a treasure trove of early-internet hilarity. Doctor Fun stopped running in 2006, by which time it had run for 13 years and was probably one of the longest-running webcomic ventures for its time. It paved the way for modern webcomics like Penny Arcade.
That’s right – the IMDB, which remains a vital resource for movie lovers and aficionados around the world, was actually one of the world’s first websites. Obviously, its modern incarnation looks very different to its old-school iteration, but IMDB was founded in 1993 by Usenet users and was intended to help people find actors, directors, and other movie information. This makes IMDB one of the world’s longest-running websites, given that it’s still operational after almost 30 years.
Cool Site of the Day
By 1994, the internet was very much doing a roaring trade, with many users lining up to create websites and host them. Cool Site of the Day is a uniquely 90s product; it’s difficult to imagine such an innocent, innocuous portal being created today. You can still see the original announcement advertising the site from 1994, which is pretty impressive. Cool Site of the Day did exactly what you’d expect it to do; it highlighted an interesting website from the internet every single day. The site is now inactive, which is a shame.
Automatic Complaint-Letter Generator (2004)
This is one of the earliest websites that’s still available in its original form on the internet today. Automatic Complaint-Letter Generator, just like Cool Site of the Day, does pretty much what you’d expect it to; it generates a complaint letter based on parameters you input. You can specify whether the recipient is male or female, generate different numbers of paragraphs, and input the name of the company you want to complain about, and the site will automatically generate a complaint letter for you.
Museum of Bad Art
In many ways, the Museum of Bad Art website prefigured the outsider art YouTube boom of the 2000s and early 2010s, the one that gave rise to strange artists like Reh Dogg or Rebecca Black. In essence, this website showcased art that wouldn’t traditionally be considered “good”; it showed off art that, by its own description, was “poorly conceived or executed”. The museum itself was a physical place, of course, and it’s still open today, so you can visit it in Boston if you want to.
The Simpsons Archive
In 1994, The Simpsons was still enjoying its rather lengthy glory period, and so fan websites began to spring up cataloguing its many episodes and characters. The Simpsons Archive is one of the earliest examples of those fan websites. The site is actually still available today, and although it’s not being regularly updated (because who would want to admit to being a fan of modern Simpsons?), you can browse through its gloriously 90s design at your leisure.