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A brief history of the web and what lessons it teaches us

man reading a book

A brief history of the web and what lessons it teaches us

The history of web development is one of rapid change. By reflecting on that brief history, we can learn valuable lessons about web development today, and its future.

The inventor of the web, Tim Berners Lee, created it as an open source project for the free exchange of information. No one owns the web, and it can be extended by anyone. Though this is under some threat from certain governments, it is hoped that the principle of an open source internet will remain.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

HTML is the language in which websites are written. Tim Berners-Lee first described HTML in 1991 which, at the time, consisted of just 18 tags. In 1994, the Internet Engineering Task Force was created to establish and expand HTML. They were accused of being too slow. The internet browser developers decided to come together to speed up the HTML development process and the Task Force was disbanded.

HTML is now up to HTML 5 and is a long way from the original HTML standards.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

All design elements used to be incorporated into HTML until CSS came along. CSS separated style elements from content elements. This made it much easier to edit and change styles for many web pages at once, as you would edit a single style sheet to ‘cascade’ the changes across multiple pages. In HTML only, changing the colour of every H1 heading meant changing the colour code in every occurrence of the H1 tag. With CSS, changing a single colour code that governed the H1 tag changed the text colour on all H1 headings on every page.

It was a revolutionary time!


JavaScript first appeared in 1995 to add more interactive features to websites. JavaScript is continuously being developed, with updates appearing at regular intervals.

Social networks

In the early days of the internet there were bulletin boards where users could log on and exchange text-only messages. These were the origins of social networks. Between 1995 and 2000, many social network sites were developed, and some even caught on for a time. Do you remember Myspace and Friends Reunited?


Then Facebook came along and became the most widely used social network site, with well over 1.5 billion members.


The biggest growth in the internet in recent years has been the mobile web. People now view websites on a variety of screen sizes, from largish 27-inch monitors, down to small 4-inch mobile phones. This has resulted in the creation of responsive website design, so that website displays adjust themselves to the screen size in order to work perfectly on any screen.

Is the future of web design pageless

The lessons from history

The main lesson that the history of the web tells us is that web development is constantly changing. Whatever is current now will be superseded by elements that are faster and more complex – or perhaps more simple, if Google has its way. Web developers need to be up to speed on all the latest developments in order to do their jobs properly. A web expert today that does not keep up with new technologies will soon no longer be a web expert; they’ll be a web historian.

If a business wants a modern effective website, it is important they choose a web development team that keeps abreast of all the latest technologies and can change and adapt a website as new technologies emerge.

Another lesson from history is that it is difficult to predict what the next trend will be. Few anticipated the impact of mobile on web use. Perhaps virtual reality will play a big part. Artificial intelligent and language recognition systems are being developed and these could change how people interact with the web too.

The next generation of web developers may be working in an internet world that is vastly different to that of today.

Darren Jamieson

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