The Evolution of Website Builders

800px-Evolution-des-wissens

Daily, we come across hundreds of website while surfing the net. Most of them boast amazing UX/UI design to provide a better users’ engagement and satisfaction. They feature an intuitive interface, beautifully designed buttons, high-quality pictures and videos, visual effects and animations. The web design has evolved over the last two decades bringing more flexible and easy-to-use tools in the face of website builders.

Such platforms were unimaginable some years ago. One would hardly think of a tool that would let create a website from scratch within a couple of hours. What is more, without any technical skills. Today, website builder provides award-winning mobile experience and latest technological tools to build, promote and deliver your website to a target audience effortlessly.

Like human evolution, website builders have moved from primordial, gooey systems with limited functionality to strong, complex machines capable of incredible things. Let’s go back to the origins of website building software to track its evolution over the years. We will highlight all turning points that defined the further development of web design.

Manually Built Websites: Before The Life Began

It is high time we hopped on our time machine and went back to 1991. It appeared to be a starting point for the entire website building industry. Our time machine takes us to London where Tim Berners-Lee was born. He actually created the first ever website after inventing HTTP, URL, HTML and other vital elements that form a website in the way we are used to even today.

At those times, building a website was a tough challenge. When we say, it was tough; we mean all websites were written manually. It means no drag-n-drop feature, add-ons, widgets or integration. All elements were created and added manually from simple texts and photos to buttons and backgrounds. The process required a deep knowledge of programming languages in addition to advanced web designing skills. It took about two weeks for a team of experienced specialists to build a website that was still far from being perfect from users’ experience perspectives. The main problems of manually built websites included:

  • The lack of UX features and unattractive design (blue links, white background, and black-aligned text).
  • High prices (most companies could not afford building a website due to a limited budget).
  • The lack of customer service (a few specialists could handle the process of building a website).
  • No or limited SEO instruments (the lack of promotion opportunities).
  • Unreliable hosting (it resulted in constant breakdowns).
  • Low-quality images, icons, and pictures.

Despite obvious drawbacks, the first websites took the audience by storm providing an easy access to information they needed.

Geocities: The First Sign of Life

Geocities Screen Shot

Geocities was originally founded as Beverly Hills Internet in 1994, the year the World Wide Web Consortium was founded to enact standards for web design and four years after HTML was first developed. Tat service was, for all intents and purposes, the first website builder. Conceived as the “Wild West” of the world wide web, Geocities was populated by “homesteaders” who were part of “29 Neighbourhoods” in different “cities”, each covering themes from conspiracy theories to celebrity fan pages. Their interface was clunky (and needless to say, achingly slow), but for many, it was also their first taste at joining the internet.

Websites were mostly text based but with some advances, like color changing text and early graphics. They also predominantly took on the “table” format, developed in 1992 as the most intuitive form of site architecture thus far (previously, website had looked more like lists). Yahoo! bought Geocities in 1999, and sunk into oblivion ten years later. Currently, Geocities is only available in Japan.

Websites Built in the 90’s

You can still find some good examples of websites built during 90’s. Some of them are still operating! We have conducted a list of sites that actually depict the situation around web design during its first wave.

Ask Dr. Internet

Aks-dr-interntet

A simple website that provides information on different popular issues. It is a so-called question-n-answer portal where a user can use different questions related to various fields from technical to real;-life experience. The design features colored texts. The background is still white. The links are blue.

Space Jam

Space Jam

Built in 1996, this website was dedicated for the iconic Space Jam movie. Michael Jordan teams up with Bug Bunny and the rest of Looney Tunes characters to play in the epic basketball game against outer space aliens. Here we have an example of some updated web design features like the starry background and cheesy graphics that refers to the movie style.

AngelFire and Tripod – Marine Life

AngelFire and Tripod

Both founded in the early 1990’s, AngelFire and Tripod evolved as slightly more complex website builders, albeit with slightly confusing mandates: AngelFire was originally offered as both a builder and a medical transcription service, while Tripod was conceived as “hip web site and pay service for and by college students”, offering tips for teens away from home, resume building tips, and of course, a homepage builder.

Even if AngelFire and Tripod were essentially awkward teenagers, Tripod was still the first website builders to offer a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) builder which, as far as the evolution of website builders go, is about akin to the first marine creatures transitioning to land. Meanwhile, the dawn of Flash and Javascript in 1995-96 brought the first glimpses of interactivity to website builders, introducing animation and effects to web design. Both services were bought by Lycos in 1999, but unlike Geocities, both are still operational.

AngelFire and Tripod

WYSIWYG and HTML Builders – The Reptiles

Amaya_inuse

As the Y2K scare came and went, and along with it the first major tech bubble burst, a slew of new website builders like Amaya, SiteSkins, and HighPowerSites began to emerge as the easiest way to build a website, with all new WYSIWYG and HTML capabilities. Although CSS had been around since 1996, it’s next version, CSS3, brought completely new capabilities to web design, as well as a more fluid HTML language.

As the precursors to drag & drop editors, early WYSIWYG website builders resembled Microsoft Word, making them by far the most approachable for young businesses aching to get “on the net”. Sites from early WYSIWYG and HTML builders differentiated themselves from AngelFire and Tripod sites with a distinctly more modern appearance, including more elaborate textures and layout.

Although some leading IT-companies like Microsoft have already released their first WYSIWYG website builders by that time (FrontPage in particular), they still featured HTML editors. This is where the need of overcoming all those challenges and shortcuts resulted in the development of the first-ever intuitive platform also known as Dreamweaver. Released in 1998, it appeared to be the leading website building platform in the industry.

Despite the fact, Dreamweaver and other similar apps delivered plenty of benefits out of the box, the world turned to W3C Standards of the Web Consortium. Platforms like Dreamweaver found themselves on the outskirts of the web design industry due to a lack of flexibility.

Flash and Drag & Drop Website Builders – The Mammals

Flash Website Builders

Though Flash had been around since 1996, by the time the earliest Flash and Drag & Drop website builders emerged in the early 2000’s, users were starting to get the hang of creating more dynamic sites. Slow to load and even slower to be picked up by search engines (Google couldn’t read Flash), websites created with early Flash and Drag & Drop editors were clunky if fairly representative of what we know websites to have looked like up until recently.

By 2003 – when 38 million websites already populated the internet – web2.0 made its debut, and along with it came social media, and blogging platforms such as WordPress. Suddenly, the clunkiness of a personal website could be replaced by the relative simplicity of a blog, ushering in a whole new wave of user-generated content.

At that period, all website building platforms were divided into two main categories:

  • Online website builders – designed for amateurs and beginners with no coding skills. As a rule, online platforms provided web-hosting facilities and were less complicated. A user only need to sing up and get an access to all available features;
  • Offline website builders – the software was more complicated. It was designed for experts in the web niche as well as experienced web designers. The building process required an understanding of HTML, CCS and other technical issues.

After all, users still got a chance to choose between two major types of building platforms depending on their goals, skills, and acknowledgment. Those apps evolved to bring some new features and tools to make the building process more flexible and easy.

HTML5 and Drag & Drop Website Builders – The Homosapiens

Drag and drop website builders

As the fifth generation of HTML, HTML5 is the current WWW standard, and comes with a range of features we’ve come to perceive as normal, such as <video> and <audio> syntactic features and scaleable vector graphic (SVG) integrations. With HTML5 (as well as its counterparts, CS3 and Javascript) came another generation of website builders like IM Creator, that are capable of creating beautiful, highly functional, and – most importantly for today’s devices – responsive websites.  More importantly for users, HTML5 website builders offer a far more intuitive Drag & Drop interface, making it possible for just about anyone to create a professional website without any coding or design knowledge.

The new wave of website builders introduced platforms that successfully integrated W3C technologies and delivered a bunch of tools to edit and customize websites with ease. They included some crucial features:

  • Ease-of-Use – a simple drag-n-drop feature made it possible to change and customize pages, add content, remove or change elements, change fonts and background, etc.;
  • Themes for Different Goals – users can now choose from a selection of templates for business, portfolio, company’s page, blog or any other types of the website;
  • Features and Add-ons – new website builders include SEO settings, eCommerce tools, widgets and third-party integration capabilities;
  • Affordable Prices – the times of expensive websites are gone. Today, companies and individuals with limited budgets can choose a plan to suit their wallets.

The evolution of website builders resulted in emerging of such recognizable platforms like IM Creator, Wix, Squarespace, Weebly and many others. They can meet expectations of users and do not require any coding or designing skills to build a solid site from scratch. Most platforms implement up-to-date technologies to exceed customers’ expectations.

Optimized Mobile Viewing – A New Branch of Evolution

With the rise of mobile devices, the necessity of optimized mobile viewing has become the core issue for website builders. They deliver mobile responsive templates that ensure smooth website running on any device despite the carrier, OS, screen resolution and other specs. Whether you are surfing the site from your PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet, it should operate at its fullest with no breakdowns and malfunctions. This is what modern website builders do.

The Future

Keeping our Jetson’s fantasies at bay, the future of the website builder (and indeed, the future of web design) is still very much up for discussion. For some, the future lies in page-less, “native” websites, ones that stray from the archaic “print” format that websites grew from and move to experiences that can only exist on the web. Advances in HTML5 (or 6, or 7, or…), CS3, and Javascript will also allow users to make websites that are far more maleable even by today’s standards, making updates as fluid as, say, tweeting.

AI-Based Website Building Software – the New Wave

Artificial Intelligence affects different fields. From the Internet of Things and mobile development to web design and website builders in particular. Although some AI-based software has already been around for a while, the technology implementation is still in process. However, it has a great potential when it comes to minimizing any physical involvement when building a solid site. The main idea is pretty simple:

  • A user describes the type of content he or she want to display.
  • AI-based platforms comp like the info.
  • The platform offers colors, blocks, section and other elements according to the info a user provides.
  • The website builder completes the process after user’s approval of an offered layout.

The main problem about the AI-based software is that it still learns to think more creatively. At the same time, it still requires some user’s involvement. So, it cannot be actually called 100% AI software now, but it’s on the way.

Summing Up

Website builders still have much to offer. Modern technologies are evolving even faster than the software reserving plenty of space for optimizing and implementing new features.

For us, here at IM Creator, the future is something we think about all the time and we are working hard to bring the future towards the present. We see the future of website builders as being even more simple and approachable for novices, and yet, being the ultimate tool for web designers, allowing them to provide a full solution to their clients with no need for any coding at all. The future is closer than you might think, so follow us on facebook to stay tuned for coming  updates.

Howard Steele

I'm a webmaster and a blogger with over 15 years of website building experience. I'm also the owner and the editor-in-chief of SuperbWebsiteBuilders.com. Feel free to ask any questions about DIY website creation.

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