A (Brief) History of Web Development

web development history

It’s often been said that the best way to know where the future is headed is to look at the past. Though in the technology field, as we are constantly facing forward, always trying to determine what the “Next Big Thing” will be, it helps to stop and take a moment and see just how far things have come in a relatively short amount time. It’s of particular interest to note how much has changed, but also, how much has not.

No tour (even a brief one) of the web would be complete without a stop where it all began – the very first web site. It went live on August 6th, 1991. In it, we see many of the same links that appear on modern web sites – a help section, an FAQ, policies, even a link to help with ongoing projects, likely one of the very first reference to open source projects online (we’re big fans of open source at Shift One Labs). From there, the web developed at an uneven pace, punctuated by dramatic moments in advancement followed up by slower times of little significant change to outside users. Some major milestones include:

  • 1992: The first ever photo is posted to the web. One could argue that web photography has not vastly improved since that date.
  • 1993: Easily one of the most important moments in the development both of open source software, as well as the internet itself, CERN (the research organization generally credited with inventing the World Wide Web) puts the technology and software into the public domain. Also in 1993, a kid named Marc Andreessen creates the first web browser called Mosaic. He would go on to found Netscape one of the very first dotcom companies that helped set off the IPO boom of the mid to late 1990’s.
  • 1994: PHP is invented. PHP has proved to be one of the core technologies of the web – Shift One Labs, for example, currently offers PHP hosting.
  • 1995: JavaScript is created.
  • 1996-1997: Some of the web’s largest players are founded, including Amazon and eBay in 1996, and Google in 1997.
  • 2000: The much-hyped Y2K bug ended up being mostly inconsequential.
  • 2003: WordPress is founded. Much like PHP, WordPress continues to be a key player in web development.
  • 2004: Some kid named Mark Zuckerberg creates a web site at Harvard called thefacebook.com
  • 2005: YouTube is founded.
  • 2006: Twitter is created. It gained a huge following in 2007 at the South by Southwest Festival.
  • 2008: HTML 5 is introduced. The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that the previous version, HTML 4, was announced in 1997.
  • 2010: Shift One Labs was founded!
  • 2011: The second generation of social media websites are launched, including Pinterest and Instragram.
  • 2012: E-commerce sales top $1 trillion dollars for the first time.
  • 2013: SugarCRM releases their latest version of their customer engagement platform Sugar 7.
  • 2014: Though it has been many years in the making, 2014 was the first year that people spent more time accessing the internet on mobile devices than desktops. This has particular implications for companies as they begin to focus greater time and attention on their mobile web development strategy. Clearly this trend will continue as the number of smartphones, tablets, and even watches allows greater mobile connectivity wherever users happen to be.

Despite these developments, some sites – at least visually – appear to have changed very little from the early days of the web. Perhaps most famously, Craigslist still looks nearly identical to its original layout, though many people have offered suggestions on how to update it. Google’s homepage is still much the same as it was during the earliest days of the web, in fact, the number of words appearing on their famously sparse home page is closely monitored and tracked.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down (virtual) memory lane. We’d love to hear from you on some of the things you remember most about the early days of the web. Reach out to us any time!