Let’s set the wayback machine to 1995, when I first learned HTML.
The company where I worked had an internal web server. Many of the other engineers had their own small work-related web pages, so I wanted one too. I decided to learn HTML.
Consider this very, very simple HTML page:
<html> <head> <title>My First Home Page</title> </head> <body> <p>Welcome to my home page!</p> </body> </html>
This very simple page would present an empty screen with one short paragraph.
Perhaps we want to add a list of links to some other pages:
<html> <head> <title>My First Home Page</title> </head> <body> <p>Welcome to my home page!</p> <p>Check out my other pages:</p> <ul> <li><a href="about.html">About Me</a></li> <li><a href="mydog.html">My Dog</a></li> <li><a href="poetry.html">My Poems</a></li> </ul> </body> </html>
…and thus, the world wide web as we know it began, with endless, simple home pages.
HTML gave us many things, like bold text and italics, and even ways to make simple tables. As web browsers evolved, so did web pages, and soon designers were creating amazing sites by abusing the very simple HTML language.
And boy was it messy.
Netscape might show a web page differently than Internet Explorer, so designers had to use all kinds of tricks to try to make their sites viewable on different browsers and operating systems.
And boy was it messy.
Over the years, web developers came up with all kinds of hacks and tricks to make pages look “pretty” like they wanted, and look similar on different systems and browsers. They were using HTML in ways the language was never intended to be used.
Web browsers came and went, and the HTML standard evolved with browsers slowly becoming more standardized and able to render the same webpages similarly without (as many) hacks.
Somewhere along the line, cascading style sheets (CSS) started getting used, giving developers a proper way to instruct a browser on how to render HTML. The wikipedia page says CSS came out in 1996:
…but it was many years before software supported it enough to make it widespread. I remember going through three or four expensive versions of the Dreamweaver web authoring program before finally getting one that sorta-kinda supported CSS.
I believe CSS finally came in to its own thanks to the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. This moved the world wide web from large desktop screens to tiny screens into our pockets. Since viewing full sized websites on a tiny screen wasn’t that fun, web standards continued to evolve with new approaches to make websites look less crappy on tiny screens while still looking nice on large computer screens.
And boy was it complicated…
Up next: How to make a modern looking website without having to learn (almost anything about) CSS.