The internet has transformed exponentially since its inception, but a handful of sites remarkably still exist today in some form after being launched over 30 years ago. These pioneers of the early internet provide a unique window into web history. By examining these surviving relics of web antiquity, we can better understand the online world‘s origins and evolution.
The Web‘s Revolutionary Beginnings
Today the internet serves over 4.5 billion users and has over 1.7 billion websites, making it an unfathomably massive network. But in the late 1980s, it was just taking its first steps.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while working at CERN. He developed the first browser and server software, laying the groundwork for the web as we know it. On August 6, 1991, the very first website, info.cern.ch, went live on the open internet.
In October 1991, there were only 100 total websites online worldwide. But growth exploded as browsers became more user-friendly. By late 1993, the web had over 600 sites, and millions more followed in subsequent years.
Given the web‘s exponential growth, it‘s incredible that any sites from those pioneering early days still exist today. Let‘s examine 10 of the oldest still-active websites to appreciate internet history.
1. ITcorp.com – September 1986
Launch Date: September 18, 1986
The absolute oldest existing site, ITcorp.com, was registered in September 1986 by Interop, Inc. as a virtual business card. The site layout is hilariously minimalist, with plain blue text on a white background displaying a joking message about the expectation for companies to have a web presence.
According to a Wired article, Interop was run by experimental programmer John Gilmore, who later co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Registering this site in 1986 required special arrangement with domain operator Jon Postel since formal registration didn‘t exist yet.
Given that the web didn‘t exist until 1990, ITcorp couldn‘t offer much functionality in 1986. But the site‘s exceptional longevity gives it a place in web history.
2. Vortex.com – October 1986
Launch Date: October 27, 1986
Hot on the heels of ITcorp was Vortex.com, registered in October 1986 by internet pioneer Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of the advocacy group People For Internet Responsibility.
Vortex.com remains online today but is sparse. The retro site displays basic local weather info, some social media links, and photos of Weinstein.
Like ITcorp, Vortex predated the World Wide Web but staked an early claim as HTML and HTTP were being developed. While lacking functionality, Vortex‘s prescience secured its place as one of the web‘s oldest sites.
3. TIC.com – April 1987
Launch Date: April 23, 1987
The Texas Internet Consulting website went live just before the web‘s 1991 launch. The site promotes founder Smoot Carl-Mitchell‘s internet consulting services with descriptions of his work in Linux, Unix, networks, and security.
Despite being last updated in 2004, TIC retains its retro 1990s appearance. Its longevity highlights how early adopters claimed their space. The site does not use HTML but rather an even older markup language, LaTeX.
Online since 1987, TIC touts itself as the "Oldest Internet Business in Texas." While outdated in design, this site‘s early roots are still apparent.
4. Toad.com – August 1987
Launch Date: August 18, 1987
Toad.com is a site dedicated to EFF co-founder John Gilmore. He registered the domain in 1987, four years before actually launching the site in 1991.
This site is quintessential early 1990s web design, with fluorescent green hyperlinks and black background. Content includes Gilmore‘s bio, links to his open-source projects, and blog posts on digital liberties.
In an era before search engines, the prescient move of acquiring this domain gave Gilmore a memorable online identity that persists today.
5. CFG.com – November 1987
Launch Date: November 2, 1987
CFG.com is a site for software consultancy Caine, Farber & Gordon, registered in late 1987. The site displays contact info and references work done for clients like NASA, USC, and UCLA.
Links describe the company‘s software products, like PDL/81, one of the first program design languages.CFG recognized the marketing potential of staking a claim online prior to the web‘s launch.
While the site is bland by modern standards, it pioneered commercial web presence and still represents CFG today.
6. Acme.com – April 1991
Launch Date: April 17, 1991
Unlike other rudimental early sites, Acme.com embraces its retro status, framing itself as the website of the fictional "Acme Labs" of Wile E. Coyote fame.
The site‘s content consists of joke links related to Acme products shown in cartoons, like Acme Jet-Powered Pogo Sticks. Each page also displays an under construction gif, a common artefact of early web pages.
Registered just a month after the first website went live, Acme combined novelty humor with an early online presence. Unique personality helped this site outlive many peers from the early 1990s.
7. Info.cern.ch – August 1991
Launch Date: August 6, 1991
Info.cern.ch is arguably the most historically significant site on this list. Hosted on the first web server, it contained the very first web page and site available on the open internet.
Today Info.cern.ch provides a re-creation of that pioneering page, viewable here. It consists only of text explaining the World Wide Web project and some links.
As the original location of the first web server and site, Info.cern‘s significance has kept it online, essentially unchanged, for over 30 years. It represents a literal starting point for the web.
8. The Tech – May 1993
Launch Date: May 1993
The Tech is MIT‘s student newspaper and was one of the first newspapers online. A May 1993 article in Wired magazine documented its launch.
The Tech can credibly claim to be the first newspaper electronically delivered over the web. Today it serves as the paper of record for MIT, with archives of issues going back to 1881 scanned and available to read.
Maintained by students, The Tech pioneered digital news and outlasted contemporaneous attempts like the Chicago Tribune‘s short-lived Digital Ink site.
9. MTV.com – August 1993
Launch Date: August 1993
Originally started as an unofficial fan site, MTV.com quickly grew into an immensely popular music and entertainment portal in the mid-1990s.
Conceptualized by MTV VJ Adam Curry in 1993, MTV sued to gain control in 1994. Curry can be credited with foreseeing web video‘s potential.
Early versions of MTV.com were text-heavy like other sites of the era. But its music and pop culture cachet, along with introducing the first online videos, cemented its significance.
10. Bloomberg.com – September 1993
Launch Date: September 1993
Bloomberg was comparatively late to the web but quickly realized its potential. Bloomberg.com began offering financial news and market data to subscribers in September 1993.
The site grew significantly during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. Bloomberg harnessed the web‘s power for real-time financial data delivery, becoming a market leader.
In the early 2000s, interactive charts, analytics, and trading functions were added. Bloomberg now provides financial data services to over 325,000 subscribers.
Appreciating Internet Relics
These pioneering sites may appear primitive compared to the dynamic, multimedia sites of today. But they provide a fascinating glimpse into the primordial web‘s early days. Their enduring existence pays tribute to internet innovators who saw potential in connecting computers globally.
By claiming memorable domains and launching basic sites in the 1980s and early 1990s, these visionaries paved the way for the exponential growth that followed. They should be appreciated as internet trailblazers who shaped the always-on world we inhabit today.
The longevity of these relic sites is thanks to diligent renewals and recognition of their historical value. Beyond nostalgia, they offer perspective on how far web technology has progressed in just 30 years. The sites are artifacts that teach us where the online world originated and where it may head next.