Article

Nick Watt
Nick Watt 18 March 2016

25 years since the first website went live...

Today is the 25th anniversary of the first Internet site, created by the father of the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, going live.

It's 25 years since Berners Lee and his colleagues at CERN launched the first website, which you can still find at http://info.cern.ch. It’s hard to believe how from such a humble start, how the internet economy has grown from zero to an estimated £82 billion a year in the UK, and now accounts for 12.4% of our GDP, higher than any other country in the world (the average for the G20 countries is 5.4%).

My first experiences of the web in the early 90s, was like most, less than impressive - everything took an age to load and most of the web pages made Ceefax look glamorous  - but those of us who were in at or near the start were amazingly excited by the possibilities it offered. No social media or Google, your choice of browser was either Internet Explorer or Netscape, our mobile devices were less than smart (and the size of a brick), and 50mbps broadband seemed as sci-fi as the Star Trek transporter. But if offered up something that hadn't been done before.

I first rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty in 1995. I’d worked in magazine publishing, mainly on the music weekly – the NME – for 10 years. The brave new world first came to us in 1995 when the then IPC Media launched New Scientist magazine online. NME was identified, as the next title to be launched onto the web, as it was hoped that its young audience would be early adopters of this new technology. We had no idea what impact it would have on the print title, or how much it was about to disrupt the industry we worked in. Twenty years on the publishing industry is still trying to come to terms with the impact that the web has had on its business model.

In 1996, when NME.com was launched, the online world was a far simpler place. Only half a dozen agencies in London were actively buying media, while a bunch of new creative agencies had sprung up to create sites and banner ads for sites like ours. There wasn’t much else you could do back then from a marketing perspective. The expected click-through rates were between 15 and 20%, and woe betide you if you came back to the agency with anything less. We built the first banner ad to include a 30 second sample for Polydor act Shed Seven, which took an age to download and sounded like it was beamed from Jupiter (which was probably an improvement!). NME.com was also the first time I experienced the power of communities. The big traffic driver for the NME site was the chat room. Once every few weeks we’d get a band like Supergrass or Elastica into the office for a live chat, allowing fans to ask the bands questions, and even went into the wilds for out first live chat at the V festival in Chelmsford in 1997.

So here we are almost two decades later in a very different world. There are now more mobile phones in the world than toothbrushes, Facebook has a bigger ‘population’ than China, mobile is now the predominant way we access the web, and young people are spending more time playing and socialising online than watching TV. And as marketers our priorities have also changed. We’ve went from the year of search to the year of social, then onto the years of mobile and content, and our latest obsession is the customer experience or CX. We are learning how to join up the digital and physical worlds, and put the customer at the centre of our businesses. In some ways it feels like we are back where it all began, and where we should have been aiming all along.

It therefore seems rather apt that we launched this, the new Digital Doughnut site, exactly 25 years on from Tim Berners Lee launching the first website. We hope you like, and that you'll tell us what you think of it - good or bad.

So raise a glass to Tim today, and give him your thanks!

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