Happy 25th Birthday WWW!

Digital Media
March 13, 2014

Congratulations Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the 25th birthday of your baby, The World Wide Web, which turns 25 this week. Who would have thought that 25 years on we would be so reliant on the results of a bit of collaborative code sharing?? So, as speculation and debate continue as to what the WWW should be in the future and Berners-Lee himself calls for a digital bill of rights to protect the independence of the medium, we are taking a look back into the V&A digital archives at our contribution to this vast mesh of information.

We like to think of ourselves as relatively early adopters with this first iteration of the V&A website, launched way back on 19 October 1996:

V&A website 1996

Strictly factual and with a rather fetching background akin to the grid in a PacMan game… The pages were hand-coded using HTML 2.0 and optimised for a predominantly Netscape audience. The homepage is lavishly adorned with the one and only image on the entire site and there’s no sign of the strict style guidelines that we adhere to now, as is highlighted by the font free-for-all.

V&A website 1996

By 1998 it was decided that the site needed a re-design and the age of jauntily-angled multicoloured text was born! Optimised for the screen resolution that was popular at the time, the site was small but included much more colour and images as well as the iconic V&A logo:

V&A website, 1998. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A recent discovery, reported at the time, was the Entarte Kunst (Degenerate Art) typescript – a document listing works of art which were seized from museums and galleries across Germany by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. This significant document was recently published for the first time (January 2014), in full, on the current website:

V&A website, 1998. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

By 2002, it became free to visit the V&A. The website had undergone another facelift and the new incarnation was much better at shouting about the public programme of exhibitions and events. The shift had been made from strictly factual content to a marketing-led approach, complete with flashing (in case you didn’t spot the neon rectangle) newsletter sign-up gif:

V&A website, 2002. © Victoria and Albert Museum

By 2004, the site was bursting at the seams and another regeneration was overdue. As screen resolution increased, so did the size of the site. The homepage became a window to everything and the struggle for this newly available real-estate was evident. The age of the ‘above-the-fold’ vs. ‘the scroll’ user had dawned…

V&A website, 2005. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For the next seven years, the above design served the ever-growing desire for a web presence around the museum. Meanwhile, mobile phones were reducing in size and becoming ‘smart’, tablet devices were invented, social media was not simply a description of ‘Hello’ magazine and search engines were becoming all powerful. I feel a redesign coming on…

V&A website, 2011. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

And this design brings us up to the current day. A site that is mobile responsive, highly searchable, SEO optimised, fed by and promoted through social media and smattered with blog posts from hidden corners of the museum. The paired-back, navigation-light modular homepage changes regularly to highlight museum activity and the slick digital map is on hand to guide museum-goers through their visit. We’re not resting on our laurels though, as the debate and speculation over what the next 25 years may mean for the World Wide Web rages on, we’re planning, consulting, connecting, testing and developing at a faster pace than ever. So, watch this space, and many others, as our transformation continues…

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