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What Do You Remember about the Early Days of webdev and HTML?

For some of our more seasoned devs: what memories or experiences do you have from the early days of HTML and web development? How has the landscape changed since then?

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Top comments (20)

madsstoumann profile image
Mads Stoumann

I made my first website in 1995. That was before CSS and JavaScript 😂
There was only one serious browser: Netscape.
I connected to the internet with a suite of applications called Internet in a Box, on 3 floppy disks.
The speed was 2400 baud. Today I have 1000 mbit. According to chatGPT that's more than 400.000 times faster!
My first encounter with JavaScript was in the form of jScript, Microsoft's variant of ECMAScript.
At that time there was typically one person, the webmaster, responsible for content.
I was a web developer: the frontend/backend separation did not exist yet.
CSS was mostly (or only?) inline to start with. Grid-design was in <table>s. In 2003, CSS Zen Garden was released — foreveer changing people's opinion of what was doable/possible with CSS.

jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy 🎖️

Sounds all too familiar

mattryanmtl profile image
Matt Ryan • Edited

Built my first webpage as a kid in the 90s to talk about Babylon 5. Hosted on Tripod.

So many blink and marquee tags.

Content was structured in a table. No div back then.

And webrings. I miss webrings.

parenttobias profile image
Toby Parent

I started coding in 1982, been a long strange trip. I remember writing content for Lynx, the text-based browser first released in 1992. I remember BBS and the alt newsgroups. I remember horrible nested tables, single-pixel transparent gifs, insane image slicing... trying to render content in early HTML that would look something like print content, but also have the 'interactivity' of this new tech.

Yes, I remember dialup. I remember the foam-rubber receiver in which we'd place the handset of the phone, and 300baud was crazy. I started on a TRS-80, then went to college to learn COBOL and RPG-II.

So glad those days are behind us. Except for Lynx - I'm delighted to see it is still alive and well and thriving!

sidane profile image
sidane • Edited

I started building websites in 1997. One of my first jobs was as a frontend developer at one of the first web design agencies in Ireland. It was full of very talented designers who designed websites like it was a print publication. They came up with very pretty, very stylish award winning designs but translating that into an actual HTML website? Very difficult.

I used to take great pride in being able to build complex HTML layouts using table tags and a pretty wild hack of using a single pixel transparent spacer gif. I think people referred to them as “magic gifs” but my memory is a little hazy on that.

This was long before CSS, Flexbox, Grid et al, so positioning and aligning elements on a page in any kind of interesting fashion was a real challenge.

The plain old table tag was king, with tables nested in tables, and all sorts of other hacky techniques that are, thankfully now, long redundant.

Getting pixel perfect positioning was really difficult and that’s where magic gifs came in. You could put one of these gifs in a table cell, using an img tag and make it whatever width or height you needed to create just the right amount of empty space to get your layout correct.

It was pretty wild but also took a lot of inventiveness and was very rewarding when complex layouts came together.

Front-end technology was in such an early stage you had to figure out clever ways of doing things which today are trivial.

Fun times but I wouldn’t want to go back! 😀

But don’t get me started on the Browser Wars and the complete lack of any standards for years! The same page could work perfectly in one browser (e.g. Netscape) but be completely broken in another (i.e. Internet Explorer 😡).

We sure have come a long way.

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

I made my first page in 1997 when I had NO IDEA that anyone could read it, like the ideas there, and even send emails to comment on something.

Cross-browser compatibility was a joke unless you had a pure text almost no images website. But we got something even better than react components at the time: java (not javascript, JAVA). Do you want a visitor counter? Java. A comment system? Java. SNOW FALLING ON YOUR PAGES? Java. Malicious code just by loading a page? Well, Java.

And iframes. Why try to make fixed parts of your layout when you can just load an iframe? OK, a frame loaded and others don't, but who cares?

We didn't have social media, sharing, etc. Do you want to make your site known? Join a WEBRING that lists thousands of sites.

Good times

aralroca profile image
Aral Roca

marquee, GIFs, JavaScript snow falling on the screen, using tables instead of divs, fighting with the page rank of Google, uploading the web vía FTP...

auroratide profile image
Timothy Foster • Edited

I started in 2008 (in high school), so not quite the early days but still old enough to have witnessed some transformations.

What I remember most is that smartphones were on the rise, and the ideas of mobile-first design were starting to take root. I also witnessed the death of Flash.

My first website was a "wiki" where I stored school reports, and I sometimes legitimately turned in a URL as my assignment submission.

ssukhpinder profile image
Sukhpinder Singh

I remember when a tag could mesmerize an audience and a marquee made you feel like a digital wizard.

Ah, to be a web developer today is to ride the rollercoaster of innovation, with only your keyboard

drewknab profile image
Drew Knab

I wasn't around for the truly early days of the 90s. I dabbled starting in 2000 at my local library on Wednesdays and got serious around 2003.

A few highlights:
Spacer gifs in table layouts for gutters.
Supporting 640x480.
Moving sites from static table heavy layouts to "elastic" or "liquid" designs.
Inheriting legacy VBScript.
Rewriting that VBScript into JavaScript with jQuery.
Optimizing and modularizing jQuery alphabet soup.

jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy 🎖️

Cross browser development used to be an utter nightmare. I still have nightmares about IE4 - IE6.

Shockingly, the number of websites these days stating that 'You need browser X to view this site' seems to be on the rise, which to me is a sad indictment of the skills of modern web devs. Cross browser development these days is an absolute breeze in comparison to what it used to be.

steeve profile image

All my HTML knowledge came from "le Site du Zero", one of the first online platforms for learning programming in France. In college, I had to create a CV for our first website, and it was so different than today:

  • Refresh and animate HTML elements with JQuery (super heavy and slow)
  • PHP was the way with MySQL as a database (with many security issues)
  • Web Browsers were not supporting CSS in the same way (still the case today tho)

Good times

drewknab profile image
Drew Knab

Yeah, a lot of that kind of jQuery was poorly optimized. Devs would just slam $("#some-id") everywhere without thinking. The engine had to traverse the entire document tree every time to find that specific tag or group of tags, really slowed things down when the browser was fighting over 256 meg of RAM.

jaloplo profile image
Jaime López • Edited

It was around 2000. I was delighted by HTML and CSS and something called CGI. I didn't know how to configure a web server either but, everything sounded like amazing. I created a HTML static page hosted in Geocities. Lot of work those days (or that is what I thought) but was worth it.

I can't forget Altavista, Ozu and so many others like Yahoo to find all websites.

Wonderful days!!!!

cicirello profile image
Vincent A. Cicirello • Edited

1995: I was an undergrad at Drexel University. I was updating the Admissions Office website. Another student had previously created it for them. Frontend was pure HTML, because well that is what existed. There was some AppleScript for processing form data (e.g. forms with info requests from prospective students). The website was served from a Mac that was literally just sitting on a table in the Admissions Office.

1996: Worked for a company Knight Ridder MediaStream. Neither MediaStream nor its parent Knight Ridder exist anymore. MediaStream developed applications to serve the news industry (e.g., mostly newspapers owned by Knight Ridder). I worked on a couple projects while there. Only one thing I worked on there was a webdev project, which involved some CGI scripting in Perl. The rest of my time there was developing a desktop app in C++.

dougmckechie profile image
Douglas McKechie

I started working as Web developer back in 2004. I remember my first job was on a corporate intranet application with HTML, CSS, JS, Perl CGI and an Oracle 9i DB replacing the Oracle Forms with web forms for adding and updating the data.

Also remember using a 1px high iframe at the bottom of the page to give the web application AJAX like features where updates could be sent off from this iframe, new data retrieved, and then the JS in the iframe would update the main page. This really did seem quite magical at the time; updates without a full page load!

I also remember getting invited to Gmail very early on and being limited to inviting only 20 others to it.

baenencalin profile image
Calin Baenen

Well, I may not have been around to experience it for myself, but one thing is for certain:  Spark wasn't around to give us high browser-compatibility and easy-to-use styles.