Digital Archaeology: 12 Forgotten Designs That Changed The Web [Slideshow]

A brand new exhibit shows just how far we’ve come since the internet was invented 20 years ago.

Twenty years from now, will anyone look back at the the explosion of touchscreen and tablet designs and marvel at what we thought we knew? Let’s hope so, because history is a difficult thing to hold onto in the digital age. Luckily, an art exhibit called “Digital Archaeology” has artfully excavated some highlights of the last two decades of website design to give us some perspective on where we’ve been, where we are, and hopefully where we’re going next.


The web was invented in 1991, yet many of the early sites can’t be seen.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Jim Boulton, Deputy Managing Director of “post-advertising” agency Story Worldwide, and just opened as part of Internet Week New York. Ever wonder what the world’s very first website looked like? Wonder no longer as you look at Tim Berners-Lee’s 1991 document-sharing utility for CERN. Or, one of the web’s first influential e-zines. (Let’s hope makes an appearance too.) The World Wide Web was invented in 1991 and over the last 20 years it has totally transformed the way we live our lives, yet many of the early sites can no longer be seen. In fact, no copy exists of the very first web page, not even a screenshot,” Boulton tells Co.Design. “I am not saying the sites in the show are the only 28 sites that need archiving. They are a collection of some of the most significant sites over the last 20 years, but the purpose is to raise the profile of archiving websites [in general].”

“Digital Archaeology”‘s selections, unsurprisingly, skew heavily toward interactive advertising. But by pointing out the technologies that made these early experiments possible — like Flash (shudder), HTML2.0 (you may have heard we’re up to 5 by now), and PHP (they mention it in The Social Network if you pay attention) — the exhibit paints a valuable portrait of the truly blistering pace of design innovation online.

[Read more at Story Worldwide | Slideshow captions from exhibit materials by Story Worldwide]

[Homepage image by Karen Roe]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.