by Shane O'Neill

First-Gen Design of Top Websites and Gadgets

Oct 31, 20115 mins

What did YouTube look like in 2005? How ugly was the first BlackBerry pager in 1999? Remember when it just sold books? Even the greatest products have awkward beginnings. Let's take a look at your favorite websites and gadgets when they came into the world.

Facebook – 2004

Facebook was famously concocted by the crafty (though some would say shifty) Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard dorm room in 2003. The site officially launched in 2004 — then called “The Facebook” — as a bare-bones social network for colleges and universities. Needless to say, Facebook has expanded in the past seven years to be one of the most visited sites on the Web. It currently has over 800 million active users. Teardown: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook Bible: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook

BlackBerry – 1999


The first ever RIM Blackberry device, the BlackBerry 850, launched in 1999 as a two-way pager. It had a full keyboard, which was unique at the time, and could send messages, access e-mail, send and receive pages, serve as a calendar, and schedule and organize appointments. The 850 was not, however, a mobile phone; RIM did not release built-in phone capabilities until 2002, with the 5000 and 6000 series devices.

BlackBerry Bible: Everything You Need to Know About Your RIM Smartphone

Google – 1996


Before Google became the search king, it was just a humble little Web page back in 1996. The design was so simple because founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had no experience with Web design and HTML. At the time, Google was a research project for Page and Brin, who were both PhD students at Stanford. Google was incorporated in 1998 and went public in 2004. Yet even as Google has grown into a tech behemoth, its homepage is still as minimalist as in the early days.

Google’s 5 Biggest Hits (and Misses)

iPod – 2001


The first iPod model was released on October 23, 2001, and in the decade since has taken on various shapes, colors and sizes. The iPod 1 only had 5GB of storage and looked cumbersome compared to today’s tiny iPod Nanos that have triple the storage space. The iPod 1 was the first MP3 to catch fire with consumers, and with iTunes, released in 2003, Apple transformed how we purchase and listen to music.

YouTube – 2005


Video-sharing juggernaut YouTube started out modestly in 2005 with this basic Web page. It officially launched in November 2005 and grew about as quickly as any website in history. By July 2006, users were uploading 65,000 new videos every day, and in November of that year, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in Google stock. The logo has not changed, but today YouTube is filled with flashy ads and video thumbnails and bears no resemblance to the vanilla Web page we see here. – 1995

amazon-100343335-orig.jpg came into the world in 1995 looking, well, pretty damn good for the mid-’90s, the earliest years of the Web. The site has grown from simply an online bookstore in its formative years to the world’s largest online retailer of just about any product you can imagine. Amazon has also successfully branched out into cloud services, e-readers and tablet PCs with the Kindle devices. The site is much more polished and wide- ranging now, but the basic structure remains.

iPhone – 2007


The first iPhone really was a game-changer when it debuted in June 2007. Ridiculously priced ($599 for 8GB model, $499 for 4GB), the device still managed to redefine what a mobile phone could be: a touchscreen-enabled smartphone with access to thousands of apps and features. Though the 5th generation iPhone, the iPhone 4S, is thinner, lighter and cheaper than the original, with boatloads of more apps and an updated OS, the iPhone has not changed much physically in its four years of life.

The iPhone’s Evolution

Wikipedia – 2001


Collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has never been much to look at aesthetically, but in its early, unknown days, it was just a big old ugly pile of links. The site has picked up scores of contributors and has become the go-to resource for information on the Web. Wikipedia will never win any design awards as it is all about substance over style. But at least now the site has some color, unlike this dreary link farm from 2001.

Twitter – 2006


As you can see here, the wildly popular microblogging and social networking site once had a stripped-down Craigslist-esque look. The site has evolved since its inception in 2006, with more categories and a more refined look and feel. But simplicity and ease of use still rule the day in the Twittersphere.

Twitter Bible: Everything You Need To Know About Twitter

Epson HX-20 (the first laptop) – 1981


Now we’re going waaaay back — to the Epson HX-20, regarded as the first laptop computer. The HX-20 was announced in Nov. 1981, and started selling in 1983. Thankfully there have been many advances in portable computers since ’83. The Epson HX-20 featured a full-transit keyboard, rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, a 120 × 32-pixel LCD screen that allowed 4 lines of 20 characters, a calculator-size dot-matrix printer, the EPSON BASIC programming language, two Hitachi 6301 CPUs at 614 kHz, and 16 KB of RAM, expandable to a whopping 32 KB. It ain’t pretty, but you have to start somewhere.

A History of Portable Computing