You would be forgiven for thinking the fluorescent text, pointless GIFs, and eye-popping colour schemes of the early internet had been erased from existence — replaced with sleeker, more design-conscious updates.
But the National Library of Australia has been keeping track of how Australian websites have evolved, snapshotting and archiving websites ending in “.au” since 1996.
The resulting archive, which came online this month, shed a light on the good, the bad, and the ugly (mostly the ugly) of late-90s, while keeping a record of what was said and done during the infancy of the internet.
John Howard was the first PM to have an official website
Alison Dellit, who was in charge of the National Library’s Trove service, said the archive began collecting information in the 1990s in part to protect Australia’s cultural history, and government publications.
She said that also entailed capturing the primitive design of early government websites.
“It tends to change fairly frequently, the pm.gov.au site,” she said.
“The first PM to have a website at that address was John Howard, it as a very cute site in the early days.
“[It has] kind of a wood panelling background which manages to look like fake wood panelling even in very low levels of resolution.”
Ms Dellit said the archive had snapshots from every year since 1996, so users could see a progression through the years as websites slowly become more modern.
“We go through a period of graphic design — where there’s very heavy features of people’s faces, lots and lots of close-ups, lots of different pictures on the pages — through to a much more modern, clean and linear design,” she said.
‘You see the different style of the individual PMs through that page, but you also see the evolution of contemporary design.”
The Wiggles were really, REALLY keen on yellow
Australia’s favourite kids’ four-piece adopted a colourful approach to web design — in the most literal sense of the phrase.
“One of my all time favourites is actually The Wiggles’ site,” Ms Dellit said.
“While their modern website is really well designed, the original website is in canary bright fluorescent yellow with moving Australian flag GIFs.
“As soon as you click into one of the sites you’ve got a range of about five or six different highlighted text colours that come back at you.
“You can navigate right through to the current site, watching year-by-year as the website design updated and changed.”
The archive has been recording Australian websites since the mid 1990s, and operated in a similar way to other internet archives.
But Ms Dellit said the Australian Web Archive was fully searchable.
“There was such a recognition early on that the internet was going to change the way Australians communicated with each other, the way that we shared information, what we had access to and how we did it,” she said.
Ms Dellit said the National Library’s mission was to collect documents and resources of national significance, and she said that meant it was essential to collect online information, poor design choices and all.
“What you start to see by the late 90s is that a lot of other forms of publications don’t appear anymore,” she said.
“If libraries don’t collect that, and don’t make that accessible, then there’s a whole piece of our history in the 90s and the 2000s … where we just really don’t get that picture of Australian history and culture.”