Is There a Web 1.0?

By: Jonathan Strickland  | 
John Legere from AT&T Asia-Pacific
John Legere from AT&T Asia-Pacific talks about the company's new internet service which was introduced on Oct. 10, 1995. The website on his screen is a good example of Web 1.0 style and graphics. PAUL WAN/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

When Dale Dougherty of O'Reilly Media coined the term "Web 2.0," he probably didn't know he was stirring up a hornets' nest. He was trying to come up with a catchy name for an internet conference focused on the most effective ways to use the web. The term caught on, and some people began to use it beyond its original purpose. Ever since the phrase "Web 2.0" gained traction, people have debated its definition. More than a few internet experts question whether Web 2.0 even has a meaning at all.

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, took a stab at defining Web 2.0 more than a year after the first Web 2.0 Conference. He posted an explanation on his blog that spanned five pages of text and used a lot of marketing terms and jargon. Some people might find O'Reilly's explanation more confusing than helpful, but his main point was that Web 2.0 refers to people making connections with other people through the web, as they do on these websites:


­But defining Web 2.0 was only half of the problem. The other half had to do with the use of "2.0." The number suggested that this was a new version of the World Wide Web. If Web 2.0 was real, what was Web 1.0? Were there still web pages on the internet that fell into the Web 1.0 classification? If you search the Web, you'll find no shortage of answers to these questions. Unfortunately, there's no agreement on the answers.

We can understand what Web 1.0 is only if we assume that there's a Web 2.0. In this article, we'll use O'Reilly's definition of Web 2.0 to figure out what Web 1.0 means. In the next section, we'll look at the definitive explanation for Web 1.0.


Web 1.0 Defined

2007 Web 2.0 Summit Page
Ironically, the webpage for the 2007 Web 2.0 summit works more like a Web 1.0 page.
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks 2008

It's hard to define Web 1.0 for several reasons. First, Web 2.0 doesn't refer to a specific advance in web technology. Instead, Web 2.0 refers to a set of techniques for webpage design and execution. Second, some of these techniques have been around since the World Wide Web first launched, so it's impossible to separate Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 in a time line. The definition of Web 1.0 completely depends upon the definition of Web 2.0.

With that in mind, if Web 2.0 is a collection of approaches that are the most effective on the World Wide Web, then Web 1.0 includes everything else. As for what it means to be "effective," Tim O'Reilly says that it's providing users with an engaging experience so that they'll want to return to the webpage in the future. Here's a collection of strategies O'Reilly considers to be part of the Web 1.0 philosophy:


  • Web 1.0 sites are static. They contain information that might be useful, but there's no reason for a visitor to return to the site later. An example might be a personal webpage that gives information about the site's owner, but never changes. A Web 2.0 version might be a blog or Myspace account that owners can frequently update.
  • Web 1.0 sites aren't interactive. Visitors can only visit these sites; they can't impact or contribute to the sites. Most organizations have profile pages that visitors can look at but not impact or alter, whereas a wiki allows anyone to visit and make changes.
  • Web 1.0 applications are proprietary. Under the Web 1.0 philosophy, companies develop software applications that users can download, but they can't see how the application works or change it. A Web 2.0 application is an open source program, which means the source code for the program is freely available. Users can see how the application works and make modifications or even build new applications based on earlier programs. For example, Netscape Navigator was a proprietary web browser of the Web 1.0 era. Firefox follows the Web 2.0 philosophy and provides developers with all the tools they need to create new Firefox applications.

Is it always a bad idea to take a Web 1.0 approach in web design? Find out on the next page.


When Web 1.0 is Right
The Amazon website was quick to embrace Web 2.0 concepts in features like its customer book reviews.
Screen shot by

If Web 2.0 is a collection of the most effective ways to create and use webpages, is there any reason to make a page that follows the Web 1.0 model? It may sound surprising, but the answer is actually yes. There are times when a Web 1.0 approach is appropriate.

Part of the Web 2.0 philosophy is creating a webpage that visitors can impact or change. For example, the Amazon website allows visitors to post product reviews. Future visitors will have a chance to read these reviews, which might influence their decision to buy the product. The ability to contribute information is helpful. But in some cases, the webmaster wouldn't want users to be able to impact the webpage. A restaurant might have a webpage that shows the current menu. While the menu might evolve over time, the webmaster wouldn't want visitors to be able to make changes. The menu's purpose is to let people know what the restaurant serves; it's not the right place for commentary or reviews.


Another example of a good Web 1.0 approach is information resources. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia resource that allows visitors to make changes to most articles. Ideally, with enough people contributing to Wikipedia entries, the most accurate and relevant information about every subject will eventually be part of each article. Unfortunately, because anyone can change entries, it's possible for someone to post false or misleading information. People can purposefully or unwittingly damage an article's credibility by adding inaccurate facts. While moderators do patrol the pages for these acts of vandalism, there's no guarantee that the information on an entry will be accurate on any given day.

World Book Encyclopedia
World Book Encyclopedia's webpage is an exampleof a Web 1.0 information resource.
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks 2008

On the flip side of the coin are official encyclopedias. Encyclopedia entries are fact-checked, edited and attributed to a specific author or entity. The process of creating an encyclopedia article is very structured. Perhaps most importantly, there is a stress on objectivity. The author of an encyclopedia entry must present facts without being subjective; a person making an edit to a Wikipedia article could have a personal agenda and as a result hide certain facts or publish false information. While Wikipedia can be a good starting place to find information about most subjects, it's almost always a bad idea to use it as your sole source of information.

The boundary between what counts as Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 isn't always clear. Some websites are very static but include a section for visitor comments. The site as a whole might follow the Web 1.0 approach, but the comments section is a Web 2.0 technique. Even web experts disagree on how to classify webpages, and some think that it's a mistake to even try labeling them at all.

There's no denying that some Web strategies are more effective than others. In the end, whether or not there's such a thing as Web 1.0 is a moot point. The important thing is to learn how to use the Web to its full potential.

To learn more about the World Wide Web and other topics, check out the links on the following page.


Web 1.0 FAQs

What is Web 1.0?
Web 1.0 refers to the earliest stage of the world wide web. It mostly consisted of static pages that ran on ISP-hosted web servers or on free web hosting services.
Why is Web 1.0 is classified as flat and stationary?
Web 1.0 is commonly referred to as a flat page in the sense that the user cannot manipulate the elements on it. You could argue that Web 1.0 was "read-only" web and kept interaction to a minimum.
What is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 is a name given to the second stage of the world wide web where users had greater ease of use and there was greater compatibility across most devices, as well as user-generated content, like comments. Experts often refer to this era as "participatory” or "social” web. Examples include Amazon, Facebook and Uber.
What are some examples of Web 1.0?
Some of the most prominent examples of Web 1.0 are sites like MySpace and LiveJournal. These websites were mostly of a personal nature and didn't have much of a corporate presence as today's sites do.
What is Web 3.0?
Web 3.0 is referred to by experts as "semantic web" because the pages can be read by computers rather than humans. Web 3.0 also includes artificial intelligence (AI) and computers not needing to go through centralized databases to process data.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Alden, Chris. "Looking back on the crash." The Guardian. March 10, 2005.
  • Fienberg, Jay. "The era of web 2.Over." the iCite net. October 1, 2005.
  • Graham, Paul. "Web 2.0." November, 2005.
  • O'Reilly, Tim. "What is Web 2.0." O'Reilly Media. September 30, 2005.
  • Shaw, Russell. "Web 2.0? It doesn't exist." ZDNet. December 15, 2005.