This is the second article in a two-part series exploring the internet at 30. To read part one, click here.

Today, connecting to the internet is nothing short of instantaneous. But 30 years ago, it was a much longer process, playing a symphony to dial up and connect to servers and other computers via public telephone networks. Remember that AT&T ad we mentioned last week? It significantly increased the time it took to load the webpage—and yet, here we are, tuning into new content in mere milliseconds.

While today’s internet is characterized by immediacy, it actually rests upon a series of progressions in infrastructure and technology, which are largely invisible to us. Every milestone has reshaped the landscape, forging a free and open internet that is fast and smooth for content creators, advertisers, and end users alike.

Web Design Transforms the Internet Experience

In 1991, when the first-ever webpage was launched, developers worked solely in HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to define and structure content. HTML is considered the most basic building block of the web, with the “block” metaphor rather apt, as it only allows for content to be organized horizontally and vertically, with no images or color.

In 1994, Håkon Wium Lie proposed Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which told the browser exactly how to render a page. CSS enables developers to shape the appearance of content and websites, with a rich design palette that includes colors, layouts, and fonts. For advertising, this meant that designers could create static banners, exercising their creative muscle to grab user attention across the internet. This milestone also opened up a breadth of opportunities for display advertising.

Visual design became a whole new medium. With emerging technologies such as Flash and HTML5, designers could be more creative and playful. The rise of these technologies meant that designers could create video and animation, making advertising across websites much more engaging. As smartphone usage rose, so did responsive web design, which enabled websites to automatically adjust, regardless of device. The need to design banners for a multi-device world transformed display advertising, as ads were no longer annoying pop-ups but integrated within web pages to create a seamless user experience.

Decades in, modern web design has settled on a less-is-more philosophy, opting for graphically rich websites with streamlined content so that information is quickly—and easily—digested. However, this means that design is more crucial than ever before, and designers must cater to these new standards when designing websites as well as the online ads that sit within them. While the future of the webpage and display advertising is sure to evolve with internet behavior and innovations, the importance of having websites and display ads that are mutually inclusive in design is here to stay.

30 Years of the Free and Open Internet

The Rise of Web 2.0

The emergence of Web 2.0 in 1999 was itself a revolution in the short history of the internet. This massive shift occurred when websites evolved from being informational to behaving more like an interactive application, enabling creativity, secure information sharing, collaboration, and other functionalities. Web 2.0 changed the way consumers used the web and gave rise to social media and other interactive, crowd-based communication and sharing tools. Wikipedia, YouTube, WordPress, and Facebook are just some of the names to emerge from this era.

Web 2.0 paved the way for more user-generated content and greater usability. Consumers were now actively encouraged to create content, rather than just view it. They could create their own videos, publish blog posts, sign up for social media, and comment on content. Today, these features are the norm!

The Age of Consumer Consent and Privacy

Following decades of development at breakneck speed, recent legislation and evolving consumer expectations are requiring advertisers to rethink their strategy. We experienced the force of impact when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was instituted in Europe in 2018 and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in California in 2020, with other states and geographies following suit.

As a result, advertisers in various geographies have adapted and are continuing to adapt, seeking consent where required and looking to respect consumers preferences. This has changed the user experience for many. It has made privacy a leading, global issue and allows consumers to exercise greater choice when it comes to their personal data.

The Next Chapter: 2022 2023 and Beyond

Like everything, the internet is an unfinished project that will continue to evolve. Digital marketers are, by now, well aware that Google intends to end the use of third-party cookies by the Chrome browser in 2023, following in the footsteps of Safari and Firefox. As Chrome is the most widely-used browser in the world, this will impact advertising in a major way. While delayed, this cookie depletion is a big change for the free and open internet because it will shake up the space for all advertisers and publishers and reshape the playing field.

Will it lead to a much-needed reset of the web? For years, third-party cookies have been heavily relied upon for performance and brand marketing campaigns; they enabled us to understand consumer behavior, measure campaign success, and show attribution. Their deprecation now poses a massive challenge—or opportunity—for advertisers, publishers, and ad tech providers.

This seismic shift provides an opening for the cream to rise to the top. Tech providers built with AI and machine learning technologies will be able to navigate this change and use alternative signals to serve strong performance campaigns, achieving reach and scale in real time. New alternatives are being developed and will emerge over the coming years.

This is Not the End, Merely the Beginning of a New Era.

I will leave you with a fun fact: Berners-Lee was born in London in 1955, which was the same year as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! There must have been something in the water.

To learn about the Quantcast Platform and how you can plan, activate, measure, and innovate your ad campaigns in a single platform to reach your audiences on the open internet, click here.