I’ve been collecting screen shots of web applications and web sites since 1994, when I was working at Netscape. I’ve got an iPhoto library of about 12,000 screen shots. A few years ago I went through and picked out my favorites from 1995. Most of them were web sites, but there were a few web applications there, too. Then I went to visit the same sites in 2006 and then again in 2009. The sites include Amazon, Yahoo!, UPS, ESPN, Sun Microsystems, a number of auto manufacturers, NPR, Salon, Quicken, and many others. I’ve put them all together in a Slideshow deck.

Fidelity, January 1996

Fidelity, January 1996

One of the images I include in my “Then and Now” deck is a screen shot from Fidelity in 1996 (if you want to see these at full size they are in the Slideshow deck).

Remember the default gray background, the crappy fonts, the web-safe palette, and the target screen size of 640×480 pixels? That banner image is just 570 pixels wide—these days we usually work at 900+ pixels.

The writing is typical of that era—there’s a lot of help text explaining how to use a web site, such as “we’ve included menu bars at the top and bottom of each page” and there’s a  “gee whiz, we’ve got a web page” tone to it.

I also noticed that the writing treats Fidelity’s web site as being separate from Fidelity itself. “Our server contains more than 800 pages…”. We don’t really make that distinction any more.

Fidelity, December 2009

Fidelity, December 2009

Contrast that with the screen shot below, taken in December of 2009.

There have been a lot of technical changes that have sculpted our modern designs: wider monitors, more colors, more font choices, and higher bandwidth have all played a huge role.

But there are also changes in our users: gone is the text that carefully explains how to use the Back button and links. We don’t have to explain all that stuff anymore (thank goodness).

All the new designs in the “Then and Now” deck are much more information dense, use columns, have lots of artwork, and tons of links (compare the 1996 Fidelity with 14 links to the 2009 Fidelity with 35+ links).

As I look through this deck, I generally see good progress. And I see some of the same mistakes still being made. And sometimes, it makes me nostalgic for one column, a few links, and just one simple image.

What do you see as you look through these then & now images? Do you think things are better? Have some things gotten worse? I’d love to hear your thoughts.