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July 28, 2014

Back When We First Wrote Web Pages

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

One of the foundations of the World Wide Web is the hyperlink, which most people today simply refer to as a link. You click on it to supposedly visit another web page. The desire would be that the web page is somehow related to or in support of the linked text. That wasn’t always how it worked.

Before I get underway, the traditional hypertext link on the Web is blue text with a blue underline.

Like this.

That text above isn’t a link; it’s a format that looks blue and has a blue underline. Today, you can configure the web browser to show links in other colors. Web page designers can show the links in any color or text format they choose. Formats are available for unclicked links, previously-clicked links (already visited), and formats for while the mouse is hovering over the link.

Links were originally blue because the Web’s inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, figured that it’s the easiest color to see; color blind people have trouble distinguishing red and green. Blue makes sense.

The problem early web creators had was deciding what to link and how.

Today, links are mostly references. For example, I may refer to last Friday’s blog post and you would assume because “last Friday’s blog post” was a link that it most likely links to that blog post. That’s a good guess, and it’s based on 20 years of web history proving that most people anticipate that to be the case.

Back in the day, however, a web link could take you anywhere.

For example, in 1994 a link under the word diabetes may take you to a medical dictionary page that defines diabetes. Today you’d rarely see that type of link. In fact, I remember browsing back in the 1990s and typically a web page would have dozens of links randomly splattered all over the page. Contrast that with today, where a web page may have a few links, but most of the related material is listed and linked below the article.

In fact, a web page with lots of text links usually indicates those annoying pop-up ads. Granted, those links are usually green with a double-underline — and that text format serves as sufficient warning, but that’s kind of how the web looked back then. Figure 1 illustrates.

Figure 1. A screen shot of Netscape in 1996. (Click to embiggen.)

Figure 1. A screen shot of Netscape in 1996. (Click to embiggen.)

The Netscape home page shown in Figure 1 isn’t an obnoxious example. I remember one page where the author hyperlinked every single word! They all linked off to some other page with interesting information, but it all got so old after a while.

Today you wouldn’t see a link like “announced” shown in Figure 1. You’d probably see additional text with the link info. Likewise, the second column in Figure 1 contains links that you’d probably find on a navigation bar today. But that’s the way things were done way back when.

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