Business Technology

Ten websites that changed the world

13 min read

08 November 2011

What are the ten websites that changed the world? From Tim Berners-Lee's "The Project", through to the "Subservient Chicken", we've got the list.

As part of Internet Week Europe, and in a call to preserve the building blocks and history of the web, Story Worldwide are showing the ten websites that changed the world, on original hardware, from November 8-11. 

The ten websites include amongst others the first ever website by Tim Berners-Lee, running on NexTStep, which was developed by Steve Jobs post his split from Apple. 

“Since its invention 20 years ago, the web has totally transformed the way we live our lives. Yet, tragically, many of the early websites, the building blocks of today’s always connected world, are in real danger of being lost forever and with them the stories of the unsung heroes behind them – the visionaries that invented modern culture,” says Jim Boulton, partner at Story Worldwide and curator of Digital Archaeology.

“What’s different about this show is that it’s not just about the websites themselves,” he continues. “Archiving sites do exist, like archive.org, The Library of Congress’ digital preservation site and The British Library’s web archive but the sites are by necessity presented on today’s browsers, on today’s monitors and at today’s processing speeds. The context of the original site is lost. 

“The Digital Archaeology exhibition shows the complete package, reuniting the website with the browser, operating system, monitor, computer and processing speed they were designed on and for.”

You can view the websites on the original hardware in Clerkenwell in London – full details here.

In the meantime, read about the ten websites that changed the world below:

1. THE PROJECT – 1991

Organisation: CERN

Designed by: Tim Berners-Lee

Built in: HTML 1.0

It all began at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in March of 1989. Tim Berners-Lee recognized that although CERN was nominally organized into a traditional hierarchical management structure, it was in fact a “multiply connected web” and needed an information system to match. His proposal was to use hypertext (coined by Ted Nelson in 1963) to connect and share documents on personal computers (invented by H. Edward Roberts in 1974) via the internet (described by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn in 1974). 

In 1990 Berners-Lee realized The Project by creating a browser-editor that ran on the now obsolete NeXTStep Operating System. He called it the WorldWideWeb. The first website, describing The Project, was published the following year in 1991. The original website no longer exists and no screenshots were made. The earliest copy available, shown here, is from 1992.

2. ANTIROM – 1994

Antirom

Agency: Antirom

Designed: Andy Allenson, Joel Baumann, Andy Cameron, Rob LeQuesne, Luke Pendrell, Sophie Pendrell, Andy Polaine, Anthony Rodgers, Nicolas Roope, Tom Roope, Joe Stephenson, Jason Tame

Built in: Director 5

The Antirom art collective was formed in London in 1994 as a “protest against ill-conceived point-and-click interfaces grafted onto repurposed old content repackaged as multimedia.” With the radical vision to explore interaction as a media in its own right rather than as an interface for content, the collective changed the face of interactive design. 

Developed rapidly by multiple authors, Antirom’s interactive experiments often revolved around a single idea, such as sound mixing or scrolling. Although always entertaining, these playful, interactive “toys” could deliberately confound, forcing the user into an active relationship with the media. The original Antirom CD-ROM, now a collector’s item, was self-published and funded by a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain. Design agency Tomato contributed graphically, and the band Underworld provided the music. 

3. THE BLUE DOT – 1995

The Blue Dot

Agency: Razorfish

Designed and curated by: Craig Kanarick

Built in: HTML 2.0, Director 5 (Shockwave), Real Audio

Razorfish became one of the world’s most established digital agencies partly because of a bouncing blue dot. Created out of an apartment in the East Village, its homepage utilized the server-push GIF-animation capabilities of Netscape Navigator 1.1 to create the first animated website — crashing many a browser in the process. 

Razorfish founders Jeffrey Dachis and Craig Kanarick followed this milestone with one of the first online art galleries, The Blue Dot. Created “for our souls” rather than commercial gain, The Blue Dot was a playground of art, design, photography, and provocation, showcasing work by artists like Ryan McGinness, Spencer Tunick, and Jill Greenberg. It notoriously included such delights as “The Society for the Recapture of Virginity” and “Dick for a Day.” The Blue Dot is now in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

4. WORD.COM – 1995

Word.com

Organisation: Word Magazine

Edited by: Marisa Bowe

Designed by: Yoshi Sodeoka

Built in: HTML 2.0, Director 5 (Shockwave), Real Audio

Launched in 1995 by Editor Marisa Bowe and Creative Director Jamie Levy, Word.com was one of the earliest and most influential e-zines. Unlike many web publications of the time, which simply re-created the print magazine format online, Word.com was a true multimedia experience, incorporating games, audio, and chat. Its DIY ethos and first-person conversational style immediately appealed to its audience of “underachieving sub-geniuses,” and the site was soon receiving 95,000 page views a day. 

Its authentic content (notably the Shockwave game SiSSYFiGHT, often cited as one of the earliest examples of massively multiplayer online games) and Sodeoka’s icon-driven design influenced hundreds of other sites. Although never a commercial success, Word.com was far from naïve — a pioneer in the use of online advertising, it was the first website to integrate paid for branded microsites.

5. NOODLEBOX – 1997

Noodlebox

Agency: PlayCreate

Designed by: Daniel Brown

Built in: Director 6

Daniel Brown’s interactive landscape of building blocks, inspired by the computer games of the 1980s, introduced a playfulness to web design largely absent at the time. Instead of using Shockwave to create an interactive piece within a page, Brown used it to create an entire website out of Director and, in the process, created a more immersive, holistic experience.

Brown was named Designer of the Year by the Design Museum in 2004, and Jonathan Ive said of him, “Daniel Brown’s work changes the way we look at and engage with digital imagery. It is technically innovative and emotionally engaging but also gives us an extraordinary amount of freedom in the way we experience it.” Noodlebox appears in the San Francisco MOMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

6. HEAD-SPACE – 1997

Head-Space

Agency: Head New Media

Developed by: Jason Holland, Felix Velarde, John Lundberg, Matthew Glubb

Built in: HTML 3.2, Director 5

Head New Media was founded by Jason Holland and Felix Velarde in 1997, both previously at one of the very first web-design agencies, HyperInteractive, which was cofounded by Velarde in 1994. While at Head New Media, Holland and Velarde sponsored a non-commercial online creative community called Head-Space. 

Britain’s more political answer to The Blue Dot, this free hosted environment gave its employees room for creative expression and inducted them into the company. The space incubated several prominent sites of the time including Brixton-based community website Urban 75 and John Lundberg’s CircleMakers.org but was perhaps most famous for the interactive game “Slap a Spice Girl”.

7. MODERN LIVING – 1998

Modern Living

Developed by: Han Hoogerbrugge

Built in: GIF, Flash 3

Starting as a comic strip in 1996, Dutchman Han Hoogerbrugge began publishing his Modern Living / Neurotica animations to his website as a series of looping GIFs in ’98. Soon afterward, he progressed to Flash, which introduced an interactive element to his art. Describing his work as an ongoing self-portrait, the central theme of Hoogerbrugge’s work is his battle with modern life. 

The repetitive, jerky nature of his animations that so accurately reflect his neurosis are actually a result of the bandwidth restrictions of 1998. A 28k modem necessitates the short, low-frame-rate animations he has become famous for. The series concluded in 2001 when the 100th episode was published. Subsequent work includes the non-linear interactive story “Hotel,” developed for the Submarine Channel.

8. PS2.PRAYSTATION – 2000

PrayStation.com

Agency: Joshua Davis Studio

Developed by: Joshua Davis

Built in: Flash 4

Joshua Davis wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. After his first two attempts received two rejection letters, a friend told him, “You don’t need them anymore — there’s this whole internet thing happening. You can self-publish.” Davis went out and bought a book on HTML and changed the face of interaction design forever. 

PrayStation was Joshua Davis’s sketchbook — an experimental personal site of digital exploration, a place where, success and failure were both documented, learned from and generously shared. Lessons weren’t all that were given away: PrayStation was one of the first sites to provide its source files free. Fuelled by his obsessive nature, the site evolved at an astonishing rate, and Davis built a devoted audience and a deserved reputation as the most exciting web designer on the planet.

9. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM – 2000

Requiem For A Dream

Agency: Hi-ReS!

Designed by: Alexandra Jugovic and Florian Schmitt

Built in: Flash 4.0

Hi-ReS! leapt onto our screens in 1999 following the launch of their experimental website soulbath.com, “an exhibition of anti-banners.” Twelve million page views later, the site caught the attention of the film director Darren Aronofsky, and he gave founders Alexandra Jugovic and Florian Schmitt their first commercial project, building the website for his new film Requiem for a Dream. 

Like all Hi-ReS! film websites since, the result is much more than a trailer: It’s a cinematic gem in its own right. Requiem for a Dream is about addiction, compulsion, and inevitable descent. The website investigates similar web-based behaviors, particularly online gambling and the “morbid patterns the medium is able to create in its users.” As the user descends deeper into the malfunctioning website, it gradually deteriorates and finally falls apart, ejecting the visitor in its death throes. Compelling stuff.

10. SUBSERVIENT CHICKEN – 2004

Subservient Chicken

Agency: The Barbarian Group 

Developed by: Keith Butters

Built in: Flash MX

When ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky wanted its creation for Burger King brought to life online, it turned to long-term collaborator The Barbarian Group. Its response was to create an interactive video-based site that allowed visitors to control the chicken via their keyboards. Playing on transgressive webcam culture, more than 300 different clips were tagged with all manner of commands, and, a year before YouTube existed and six years before the Tipp-Ex bear, a much-imitated format was born.

With 25 million visits in the first 48 hours and, crucially, before the above-the-line campaign had launched, this was the site that signified the rupture in marketing. The game had changed: The balance of power had shifted permanently toward digital.