10 websites that changed the world

Ever wondered how the web got to be the all-encompassing phenomenon it is today? As part of Internet Week Europe, Story Worldwide, the content marketing whizzkids, have compiled the ultimate list of game-changing websites.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

From "The Project", built by Tim Berners-Lee to Antirom’s browser-crashing Blue Dot antics, these are the sites that re-invented how we play and interact online, the pioneers that paved the way for today’s net giants like Facebook and Google, and the visionaries that saw endless possibilities through the world wide web

1. THE PROJECT – 1991

Organisation: CERN
Designed by: Tim Berners-Lee
Built in: HTML 1.0

What it did for the web: Gave birth to it.

The original world wide web was born at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in March of 1989. Tim Berners-Lee was the visionary who saw the opportunity to share data through a "multiply connected web" and built an information system to connect and share documents on personal computers.  

By 1990, Berners-Lee had created a browser-editor that ran on the now obsolete NeXTStep Operating System. He called it the WorldWideWeb. The first website, or ‘The Project’, was published the following year in 1991. You can still see it here, albeit re-formatted for today’s computers. http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.

2. ANTIROM – 1994

Agency: Antirom

Designed: Andy Allenson, Joel Baumann, Andy Cameron, Rob LeQuesne, Luke Pendrell, Sophie Pendrell, Andy Polaine, Anthony Rodgers, Nicolas Roope, Tom Roope, Joe Stephenson, Jason Tame
Built in: Director 5

What it did for the web: Helped to create the 'meme' phenomemon. Think 'Lolcats' and 'badger badger'.

The Antirom art collective was formed in London in 1994 as a "protest against ill-conceived point-and-click interfaces grafted onto repurposed old content repackaged as multimedia." These digital idealists wanted to create playful, interactive "toys" that could inform, confound or inspire.

The original Antirom CD-ROM, now a collector’s item, was self-published and funded by a grant from the Arts Council.

Here’s a useful pub quiz fact: the soundtrack to the project was provided by electronic group Underworld.

3. THE BLUE DOT – 1995

Agency: Razorfish

Designed and curated by: Craig Kanarick
Built in: HTML 2.0, Director 5 (Shockwave), Real Audio

What it did for the web: Created one of the first online art galleries.

Razorfish became one of the world’s most established digital agencies partly because of a bouncing blue dot. No joke. Created out of an apartment in the East Village, its homepage was the first animated website — crashing many a browser in the process.

Razorfish founders Jeffrey Dachis and Craig Kanarick followed this milestone with one of the first online art galleries, The Blue Dot. Created "for our souls" rather than commercial gain, The Blue Dot showcased work by artists like Ryan McGinness, Spencer Tunick, and Jill Greenberg. It notoriously included such delights as "The Society for the Recapture of Virginity" and "Dick for a Day."

The Blue Dot is now in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

4. WORD.COM – 1995

Organisation: Word Magazine

Edited by: Marisa Bowe
Designed by: Yoshi Sodeoka
Built in: HTML 2.0, Director 5 (Shockwave), Real Audio

What it did for the web: Revolutionised publishing and began the craze for 'massively multiplayer online role-playing games'.

Launched in 1995 by Editor Marisa Bowe and Creative Director Jamie Levy, Word.com was one of the earliest and most influential e-zines. Unlike many web publications of the time, which simply re-created the print magazine format online, Word.com was a multimedia experience, incorporating games, audio, and chat. It pitched itself as the ultimate digi-rag for "underachieving sub-geniuses," and the site pulled in 95,000 page views a day.

Word.com didn’t only reinvent the publishing model, it also put a rocket up the games industry. The craze for MMPORGs started here: SiSSYFiGHT, an intense game whereby a bunch of girls tries to ruin each other's popularity and self-esteem, was one of the earliest examples of massively multiplayer online games.  

Although never a commercial success, Word.com was also a pioneer in the use of online advertising: the first website to integrate paid-for branded microsites.

5. NOODLEBOX – 1997

Agency: PlayCreate

Designed by: Daniel Brown
Built in: Director 6

What it did for the web: Changed the way we looked at and interacted with digital imagery.

Daniel Brown’s interactive landscape of building blocks, inspired by the computer games of the 1980s, introduced a playfulness to web design dominated by static features and block text. Noodlebox is still thriving 14 years on, under a new name: Play/Create.

Brown says of his invention: ‘At the time, I had the feeling that web sites were still perceived as page-based, almost brochure-like experiences. It was claimed by designers that this was a limitation of the technology; but while I was inclined to agree that the technology leaned in that direction, it was being overlooked that other things were possible.

'I wanted to create an experience which was more engaging, more like a computer game to use, and more like a product in perception, like a CD of music that one can actually hold. The same way that people talk about music CDs, I wanted people to see Noodlebox as a piece of content rather than as a website.'

Noodlebox appears in the San Francisco MOMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

6. HEAD-SPACE – 1997   

Agency: Head New Media

Developed by: Jason Holland, Felix Velarde, John Lundberg, Matthew Glubb
Built in: HTML 3.2, Director 5

What it did for the web: Created the blueprint for intranets everywhere - and Youtube.

Head New Media was founded by Jason Holland and Felix Velarde in 1997. The pair met while working at one of the very first web-design agencies, HyperInteractive, which was co-founded by Velarde in 1994.

They created Head-Space, Britain’s political answer to The Blue Dot. This free, hosted environment gave Head employees an outlet for scribbles, musings and brainstorming sessions. The site was also an incubator for some prominent sites of the time including Brixton-based community website Urban 75 and John Lundberg’s CircleMakers.org. However, it was probably most famous for the interactive game "Slap a Spice Girl"…


Developed by: Han Hoogerbrugge

Built in: GIF, Flash 3

What it did for the web: Broke new ground for artists hoping to get famous and make money through the web.

Starting as a comic strip in 1996, Dutchman Han Hoogerbrugge began publishing his Modern Living / Neurotica animations to his website as a series of looping GIFs in ’98. Soon afterward, he progressed to Flash, which introduced an interactive element to his art.

Describing his work as an ongoing self-portrait, the central theme of Hoogerbrugge’s work is his battle with modern life. The repetitive, jerky nature of the animations that so accurately reflected his neuroses was actually a result of the bandwidth restrictions of 1998. A 28k modem necessitates the short, low-frame-rate animations he has become famous for. The series concluded in 2001 when the 100th episode was published. Subsequent work includes the non-linear interactive story "Hotel," developed for the Submarine Channel.


Agency: Joshua Davis Studio

Developed by: Joshua Davis

Built in: Flash 4

What it did for the web: Pioneered the use of Macromedia Flash as a tool to generate Art.

Joshua Davis wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. After his first two attempts received rejection letters, a friend told him, "You don’t need them anymore — there’s this whole internet thing happening. You can self-publish." Davis went out and bought a book on HTML and changed the face of interaction design forever.

PrayStation was Joshua Davis’s sketchbook — it was also one of the first sites to provide its source files free. Fuelled by his obsessive nature, the site evolved at an astonishing rate, and Davis built a devoted audience and a deserved reputation as the most exciting web designer on the planet.


Agency: Hi-ReS!

Designed by: Alexandra Jugovic and Florian Schmitt
Built in: Flash 4.0

What it did for the web: Hi-ReS! was the vanguard of Adobe Flash technology.

Hi-ReS! leapt onto our computer screens in 1999 following the launch of their experimental website soulbath.com, "an exhibition of anti-banners." Twelve million page views later, the site caught the attention of the film director Darren Aronofsky, and he gave founders Alexandra Jugovic and Florian Schmitt their first commercial project: building the website for his new film Requiem for a Dream.

Like all Hi-ReS! film websites since, the result is much more than a trailer: It’s a cinematic gem in its own right. Requiem for a Dream is about addiction, compulsion, and the inevitable descent. The website investigates similar web-based behaviors, particularly online gambling and the "morbid patterns the medium is able to create in its users." As the user descends deeper into the malfunctioning website, it gradually deteriorates and finally falls apart, ejecting the visitor in its death throes. Compelling stuff.


Agency: The Barbarian Group

Developed by: Keith Butters
Built in: Flash MX

What it did for the web: Played with video production, creating an interactive, fun and memorable new medium.

When ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky wanted its creation for Burger King brought to life online, it turned to long-term collaborator The Barbarian Group. Its response was to create an interactive video-based site that allowed visitors to control a chicken via their keyboards. Playing on transgressive webcam culture, more than 300 different clips were tagged with all manner of commands, and, a year before YouTube existed and six years before the Tipp-Ex bear, a much-imitated format was born.

With 25 million visits in the first 48 hours and, crucially, before the above-the-line campaign had launched, this was the site that signified the rupture in marketing. The game had changed: The balance of power had shifted permanently toward digital.

The ‘Digital Archaeology – Ten Websites that Changed the World’ exhibition runs from 8-11 November. Venue: 91-94 Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, London, EC1 8QP.

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