What was the Internet of the early 2000s

5 min readMar 6, 2024


Chaos, disharmony, rock and roll, and absolutely no rules in design. But still, it was charming like the Wild West.

Today UX/UI design has become almost an exact science, with an expert community, recognized authorities, and trends to follow. But 20 years ago, web design had no rules. UX evolved along with the internet itself and the appearance of the mobile internet.

Let’s take a tour back to the early 2000s and have a look at how web design was developing and how diverse it was until flat design overcame it all.

Stone Age of web design

The first internet revolution happened in the early 2000s. The global network was no longer the privilege of technically advanced geeks and became available to anyone with a personal computer.

Nowadays, you can carry the internet in your pocket. But 20 years ago you could only access it from a PC using a dial-up connection. This process involved telephone wires and was accompanied by this magical sound.

It was far from the internet as we know it today:

  • The speed was extremely low. A simple website with no animation could take up to a minute to load. And you had to wait all night to download a movie.
  • Internet access was limited by traffic or even by time. And it was cheaper and faster at night.
  • Web design did not exist as a thing. Professional web designers were rare species. Developers made the websites by themselves using only HTML code and it was up to them how these sites would look.

Websites were mostly text-based back then. Moreover, many people purposely turned off images in their browsers to save traffic.

Here’s an example of a typical site from the early 2000s.

Typical signs of the websites in the dawn of web design were:

  • weird color and font combinations
  • glittering images
  • animated pixel art

There were no streaming platforms or torrents. People searched for music and videos on special websites. There were no menus, search bars, filters, or sorting tools. Manual scrolling was the only option. But despite all this, websites with media content were extremely popular.

Here is the website of Britney Spears, a top pop star of the time.

And here’s what the Apple website looked like.

A few words about browsers in the 2000s. There were no tabs. You had to open a new window for each website. It was hardly possible to open a dozen sites at once, considering the RAM size of those computers. On the other hand, the developers did not have to think about responsive design and other complicated things. All users surfed the web from monitors with the same screen resolution.

You can still feel how internet surfing was back in the early 2000s. Go to OldWeb.Today, choose any browser emulator and type a familiar URL, for example, apple.com or google.com. You can try to open a present-day website with this tool, but you probably won’t succeed.

To get a better sense, you can check Web archives or Web Design Museum. Touch the history.

2003–2006. First design standards

The companies began to realize that their website is not a business card but a business tool. Some website creators got concerned with the usability issues once they found out that users were not reading, but rather scanning web pages. The concepts of F-pattern and Z-pattern appeared.

In 2003 came WordPress, a content management system based on PHP and MySQL. Creating websites was no longer the privilege of people with a technical background.

WordPress used a template-based system, so users could customize website design and functionality even without coding skills.

And then came social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace.

It was a period when everyone wanted to put as much information on the screens as possible. At the same time, website creators had to think about readability and navigation. Ascetic design with soft colors, shadows, and a modest palette replaced the festivity of colors.

In 2005, YouTube was launched. The story of the world’s largest video hosting service began with an 18-second “Me at the zoo” video by Jawed Karim, one of the YouTube founders. You can watch the top 10 oldest videos on YouTube here.

User-generated content rapidly flooded the web. And with the rise of social media, people were eager to share it. So in the mid-2000s web design has become more content-focused. The era of Web 2.0 began.

2007–2010. Mobile internet and the rise of Skeuomorphism

By the mid-2000s, mobile had developed into a separate branch, but it had little interest from the general user. Most websites didn’t have a mobile version because most of the internet surfing was on personal computers. Yet, some companies created WAP versions of their sites.

Here’s what they looked like.

Everything changed in 2007 when the first iPhone came out. It featured the first full-fledged mobile browser Safari.

It was a real breakthrough! The need to adjust content for different devices has emerged. After the iPhone’s success, Apple became a trendsetter in user interfaces.

Their favorite feature was to make the interface elements look most realistic. And that trend has spread from mobile to web design. Skeuomorphism ruled everywhere. Perhaps at that time, the borderline between web and mobile began to fade.

Wrapping up

Web design has come a long way from its wild, unruly beginnings to today’s sharp, user-centric scene. Think of it: we jumped from glittery, text-heavy pages to sleek, intuitive designs. It’s like comparing a bulky, old-school TV to a latest-gen smartphone. This evolution isn’t just cool history — it’s a call to keep pushing boundaries and nailing those designs that’ll define tomorrow’s web.




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