Websites - Wayback™ When
It is interesting to see how familiar websites have evolved over the years. If you began using the Internet when I did back in the early 1990s, you remember the 4800 baud dialup connections and watching the little globe on the Mosaic browser spin round and round while waiting for a website to appear. Your anticipation with each new website was a mixture of emotions - willing to suffer the long download times for the treat of seeing cool looking graphics (VGA quality in 256 colors if you were lucky), but being somewhat relieved by all text in order to have a reasonable page load time. Still, it was a big improvement over dialing into local bulletin board services, using a copy of Kermit in hopes of finding a useful file. CompuServe and AOL made things a bit better for the layman... for a while.
Page content has greatly increased over time for a number of reasons, mainly due to larger display sizes, faster connections, and the importance of conveying as much relevant information as possible on a single page. As recently as the year 2000, standard computer display screen resolution was still somewhere around 800 x 600 pixels (today it is 1024 x 768). Also as of 2000, most home users had a dialup connection with speeds in the 56k baud range, although actually getting a connection anywhere near 56k baud was rare. Even wireless portable devices of today are realizing data transfer speeds better than what we had ten years ago, so tolerating loading of modest size pages is fairly easy. Finally, as the Internet became an increasingly important venue for conducting business, gathering information and, more recently, personal relationships (sigh!), web page content increased in hopes of wowing and capturing the interest of visitors, thereby having them realize that yours is the best page they have ever found and is worth bookmarking for frequent returns.
In the early days of the Internet, conscientious web designers attempted to use minimal graphics and rely on thoughtful page layout using HTML formatting to place text and tables in strategic areas to give the illusion of a graphical page without the bandwidth burden. Unbelievably, there were websites that consisted of a single large graphic that contained all the pictures and text; they took forever to load and presented you with a blank screen until all the bits had transferred. Overly wasteful Flash type entry screens are modern day equivalents of that. Many of us studied reports on Web user likes and dislikes for site features, and attempted to accommodate those wishes so as to maximize the visitor's positive impression.
As time went by and broadband connections sped up, it became possible to integrate a larger amount of graphics and text to present more information to the visitor without the time penalty. Search engine optimization (SEO) now dominates web page design philosophy more than anything else since it can profoundly affect the order in which pages are returned during searches. While page ranking algorithms (PageRank) are very complex, the most highly weighted factor is the number of websites that link back to your website, although existing traffic to the page is also a strong contributor.
The Wayback™ Machine, provided by the website Archive.org, captures and stores snapshots of web pages over time, so you can go there, enter the website address of interest, and probably discover what the website looked like many years ago. It contains almost 2 petabytes of data and is currently growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. "This eclipses the amount of text contained in the world's largest libraries, including the Library of Congress." Records begin around 1996.
For those how are not familiar with the concept, the Wayback Machine was first a feature of a cartoon from back in the 1960s. It was used by Mr. Peabody (a talking dog) as part of his "Peabody's Improbable History" program where he and his trusty boy companion, Sherman (no, he doesn't bark), travel back in time to explore an inane version of bygone world and U.S. events. It was corny.
Archival websites like Archive.org, Google, and others, are used quite often by law enforcement and legal researchers to gather evidence for trials. Recent events in U.S. politics have exposed situations where websites would pull down information after a public outcry had challenged a person or organization for their statements and/or policies. People are learning that in this Information Age, everything they say can and will be used against them, even if they thought it was only to be seen/heard by a privileged few. Even employers are searching archives of web pages in their vetting of potential employees. You have been warned.
I decided to take a look at what the websites of RF Cafe's advertisers looked like in the days of yore. Most had at least one screen shot in the archives. All screen captures are done in the same browser window size (just wide enough to enclose the RF Cafe screen), and then proportionally resized to a common height, so the change in page width is apparent. Some web pages were (and still are) set up to automatically fill the available browser width, like RFMD's, so a width comparison is not possible. They are in random order below, so you might want to do a Crtl+F to search for a company name on the screen.
In some cases the company is a conglomeration of multiple other formerly independent companies, like with Spectrum Microwave which includes the former Salisbury Engineering, Q-Bit, Amplifonix, and others. With those, I tried to find examples of the former company's web pages. Also, for some reason the Wayback™ Machine does not always capture the graphic images associated with the page, so in the place of the intended images are the white placeholders and the annoying little red "x." Because of that, I do not always have the earliest available screen shot here, but instead used the most complete page available. Some websites are so new that the Wayback™ Machine has not found them yet.
You can see in the first example that RF Cafe has changed just a little since its inception in 1999. It was originally a step up from my RFTools website on the AOL personal homepage system. RFTools.com was not available, and the [Something]Cafe.com type names were popular at the time, so RFCafe.com was born. It has since grown to be a major player in the RF engineering web space. Because of dedicated visitors (like you), my many advertisers have provided the opportunity for me to run RF Cafe on a full-time basis. Thanks to them and to you.
Let me know if you would like to have your company's website added to the list.
Posted September 8, 2009