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Why Old Websites Have Disappeared

If you're a regular citizen of the Internet, you must've once wondered about the reason why you don't see a lot of old-looking or even old websites on the Internet anymore. And you pondered about that question for a good while until you got a notification from your app/website, and just continued your way. I got that question, too, after reading about Tiffany's "hidden" Xanga blog, and, being the technologically-curious kid that I am, I wanted to explore and find the reason/s as to why that's the case. That brings me here, and here's what I found.


A famous old website, the Xanga blog of SNSD's Tiffany.

But before that, I want to give you a little bit of information about the web some years ago. Back then, the web looked different, and I mean really different. So much so that, to this day, we call those early website designs "primitive," "basic," "tacky," or even "nostalgic."


Websites like Apple's website back in 1997 were, at the time, one of "the most beautiful" websites on the Internet. It had all these fancy computer graphics, gradients, shadows, colors, pictures, it had everything that could be pleasing to the eye of your average 1997 Internet user. And, to be fair, websites like these would be revolutionary at the time. We take it for granted today but pictures and graphics, they were hard to come by back in the day. Almost everyone had a dial-up Internet connection, and the loading of "high quality" images took almost forever on a 56 kilobit Internet connection.

As such, much of the content that composed the "old web" was mostly text and some CSS to add flair to a site. Sure, there were a lot of sites that had their own unique design, but sites weren't as image-heavy as now. The web back then mostly relied on CSS or repeating 5KB PNG backgrounds as their design.

Today, the Internet is a much more different story. The websites of today are extremely different compared to their old counterparts. The core of websites—HTML and CSS (as well as Javascript)—almost remained the same, but the way websites are displayed have vastly changed. And sure, I could go on about how sites are different today compared to back then, but therein lies one of the core reasons as to why you don't see old-looking websites that much.

Designs and Presentation

Over the last few years or so, we've seen an enormous change in the way websites look. From the use of 8-bit repeating GIFs as the background to the use of high-quality (albeit compressed) JPEGs and PNGs, from the noble PNG to the use of SVG, and eventually the rise of web-oriented picture formats such as WebP. That's just in the images alone, and the web has changed so much today other than just in terms of image quality.

Sites today need to be fluid, they need to be dynamic—responsive. They need to be displayed correctly from any device you're viewing it from, whether it's from a 4K monitor, a 720p laptop screen, and even from your phone or tablet. Web developers today need to guarantee that their site can look great on all those devices; otherwise, they won't get as much visitors. And typically, less visitors means less ad revenue, and less ad revenue means less money. So, web developers and designers alike are in a constant battle to make their site viewable and, most of all, presentable on a variety of screen sizes, resolutions, and form factors.

Back then, websites didn't much worry about this. Phones didn't have the capability to fully load websites from the Internet yet. It was just an expensive commodity, something only the rich would have. If your phone could load a website back in the early 2000's, you'd instantly be thought of as rich, as the devices that could do those cost a small fortune.

So, the web designers back day only had a few compatibility problems to deal with. And, since most people owned a resolution of 640×480 or 800×600—a 4:3 resolution—monitor, it was the only resolution to develop for. Thus, sites looked rather "square" at the time or they made their content stick to one corner of the screen when viewed from a modern 16:9 screen.

The "infamous" Napster website when viewed from a 16:9 screen.

Also, most of the design trends in web design have changed. Everyone's moving to a more simplistic or minimalistic look. It's not that sites didn't look simplistic at the time (they had to look simplistic as their Internet speed wasn't that good), but it's just that sites today use a more "elegant" approach while maintaining simplicity. We don't often and almost never use dotted, dashed, double, groove, ridge, inset, and outset borders anymore, and some sites have ditched the heavy use of text shadows—both of which were heavily prevalent in the early days of the web.

Gradients are also making their subtle comeback in web design, but now people are now using them to make sites look more elegant, to add color and sense of vibrancy to a site. And not like something a kid made in MS Paint. Also, the same can be said with fonts. Comic Sans is now banned and antialiasing is applied to most, if not all, fonts nowadays, so no more "crispy-looking" pixelated fonts, but some old fonts like Arial and Times New Roman can still be integrated into the modern web if used correctly.

WebGradents, a modern site that shows gradients can integrate beautifully with the modern web.

In a nutshell, the overall design and presentation of websites is a huge factor as to why we don't see old-looking sites nowadays, to be honest.

Technology

We take for granted the immediately-updating notifications on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit, and we also take for granted the animations that come with them. The truth is, the entire technological landscape itself had a significant impact on the way websites—and even the entire web—are presented.

We have faster Internet connections than ever before, so not only does today's sites look more image-heavy, they're also information heavy. Some sites update in real-time without having to click the refresh button. Some sites utilize jQuery, a Javascript framework made to help web developers make their site more customizable, easier to use, and things like that, and it has since been used by millions of sites on the Internet, including this one.

CNN's site from 2000 compared to CNN's site in 2017. Notice the presence of more high-quality images.

Browsers also not only exist in your standard desktop computer, but phones and even seemingly "displayless" devices like the Raspberry Pi or the Microsoft Hololens can and do have browsers within them. As I said earlier, most people want their websites to adapt to the user, and since old and static designs don't really scale well on other devices, they've since been thrown into the trash.

Plus, we have more computing power available, and browsers allow more versatility to a site. We're now able to display complex, moving animations that only require 10% or even 5% of our CPU. That's a luxury the people of the early web didn't have.

These factors contribute to how websites are designed and developed today. We have new technologies to help us build sites easier and make them look better. Also, we have more processing power and browsers have all these new features to make websites look and perform better.

Search Engine Optimization

Finally, the main reason as to why you don't see a lot of old-looking or even old websites on the Internet: search engine optimization or S.E.O. for short. We've all encountered that term at least once, and even a lot of times if you own or run a business on the Internet, are an entrepreneur, or a web developer. At its core, search engine optimization is self-explanatory: it's the discipline of making your site appear at a higher rank or position within web search engines, such as Google, by optimizing or tweaking your site.

It's a given that there was A LOT of content that was put into the Internet from 1990–2005, but we're not seeing those content that much because of how search engines crawl and "categorize" the web.

You see, your standard search engine, take Google for instance, doesn't just show results based on the order of time they were indexed by Google—that'd be a bad idea—and instead results are shown in order of relevance. If Google showed us results based on the time they indexed or crawled that site, then we'd see more websites that were from the 90's to early 2000's popping up in the search results, but Google doesn't do that, and they wouldn't be successful if they do so. Instead, they show you results based on a plethora of different factors.

First and foremost, results on Google are mostly sorted based on the relevance of the site's content in regards to your query. To properly sort things, Google adds some extra variables to improve their search result sorting algorithm. According to most people, they take into account a site's page load times, performance, the number of clicks it gets, and possibly whether the site is served through HTTPS. Google, of course, won't disclose its actual formula for improving search rankings because then we'd have an epidemic of scam and malicious sites showing at the top of search results.

That's really the main reason as to why you don't see old websites that much on the Internet anymore. They're still there, of course, just in the 8th or 9th page of Google. And, admit it, no one ever looks at the 9th page of Google.

Sure, you'd still see some old sites on the web if you search on Google, provided your search query was relevant enough. If you go and search up the name of your old blog, if you have one, from the early 2000's, you'd still see it (if it was still up).

And even if your query was relevant, search engine optimization will obviously prioritize more modern, faster, and secure sites over old sites. Even if your search query was about a timeless topic that, for sure, was written about in the 2000's or 90's like depression or anxiety, it's still highly likely that Google will show you an article from a modern site that got a lot of clicks, loads faster, has more relevant information, and supports HTTPS.

Search engine optimization is, what I believe, the core reason as to why the first site you'll see when you search for "how to make mashed potato" will surely be a modern, responsive site, and not just some janky 2001 blog post made by some guy who just found out how to make a blog on Xanga.

They're Dead

As a bonus tidbit, I just want to point out that most of those old sites and blogs are now dead. Open Diary, the first major blogging platform on the web, is dead, and the old blogs in it died as well. Xanga, the "Facebook before Facebook" is, well, technically dead, not to mention that the Wayback Machine has seemingly deleted all Xanga blogs from its web archive.

This Xanga 2.0 "ad" has been up for AGES and they still haven't released it yet.

Blogs weren't the only sites to go down, other independent sites have also died in the years since. I'd love to say that starting your own self-hosted, independent website is free, but it actually isn't. You'd have to pay for servers, and, if you had one, you'd pay for your domain. Now, paying for a domain isn't a one-time thing, oh no, it's a yearly or monthly subscription. And so, those who really didn't have a lasting interest in keeping a site just let their site go down rather than fork up money.

Most of the sites, as I've seen, that have survived from the mid-late 90's to early 2000's are mostly from companies or large corporations, like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and CNN. To my knowledge, I haven't heard of a site that was relevant back then, and still is today, that's not by a company. If you do, kindly tell me in the comments below.


And that's basically it, those are all the reasons as to why we don't see old websites, or old-looking websites for that matter, on the Internet that much anymore. I hope you found this blog post educational or entertaining, and I hope you had as much fun reading as I did researching. See you all next time.

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