"The last time we took a TV station on the road -- this time we are taking a supermarket."
-- Bono, on Popmart, 1997
@U2 turns ten years old today (October 23, 2005), and what better time to look back at where we've been? Sure, it'll be embarrassing, but birthdays usually are, especially at this age.
Had we known all along that there'd be a 10th birthday celebration like this, we would've been saving memories like photos in a picture book (or whatever analogy you prefer). A lot of stuff from the "old days" is long gone, but we did manage to find a few gems that, hopefully, some of you will remember. Like this animated GIF from '97-'98, when we devoted a huge section of @U2 to covering the PopMart Tour. Anyone remember?
PopMart animation with Photoshop's "Trace Contour" filter. Good times.
With thanks to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, we were able to piece together all of the designs this site has had since 1997 -- since 1996, technically, because what you'll see below for 1997 had been the design for some time. Having put these together, I'm sure I know how Bono feels when seeing photos of himself in the Mullet Era.
Even the Wayback Machine doesn't go all the way back to October 23, 1995, when this site first launched as "Matt's (Mostly U2) Music Page." But I have a pretty good memory at least of what the main graphic looked like -- if not on the day the site launched, certainly soon after. Here you go:
What a thing of beauty, eh? That's me, the (formerly skinny) guy on the left. The photo was taken in 1994, as I recall. I know that's the correct photo, and I know the graphic had yellow text on a red/black gradient - but that's not the correct font. I don't have the Klang MT font anymore, and what you see above is the closest thing I could find.
So, yeah, we've had some pretty dodgy looks over the years. But we're okay with that. Let's toss pride out the window and present, for your viewing & laughing enjoyment, the history of @U2's web site design over the years.
(click the thumbnails to see larger versions; links will open in a new window)
A real blast from the past. "The U2 Web Ring" -- that was on every U2 site you'd see back in the day. And look right below that - it says the current date is June 14 and the last update of the page was May 16. Could you imagine if we went a month without updating @U2? You'd all desert us. Daily updates on your favorite band. Ain't life grand? (I remember thinking I was incredibly clever with the link to my home page at the bottom, and the "Do not pass GO" text.)
This was when we went through our mock newspaper phase. There's the "INSIDE" block in the upper right previewing articles and info. elsewhere, and then the "FREE" thing right below, where you might see "50 CENTS" or whatever on your local paper. (And anyone remember CDNOW? I loved them....) The design here is a lot more colorful than the original design, and you can see that the menu has expanded to include several new sections. But read the fine print under the poll and you'll see we had all kinds of problems with CGI -- bad vote counting, bad visitor counting (up above).
What stands out for me with this design is that it's really the beginning of the way we still present home page content to this day. The "With a Shout" stuff is now what we call "Bits & Bytes", and the featured article is now the list of 10 recent articles. It also marks the debut of the "Soundbytes", which we still do today. We used to have big banner ads at the top of the site, which earned us a couple bucks a month ... as well as our first-ever email from U2's management, objecting to the banner ads. (I kindly explained there were small costs involved with running a web site and that the banner ads helped defray those costs, just like subscription fees helped print fanzine editors pay their costs.) And I have no idea what the deal is with the goofy yellow triangular dot designs in the header.
By now the site menu has expanded dramatically. And even though the 1999 design had three columns, this is really the beginnings of the three-column approach we have now -- where all the news and info. is in the middle, and the two sides are used for navigation and extra features. This design also introduces the scheme we're still using today, where our logo anchors the upper left and an image of the band anchors the upper right of the header. (Kinda fun to see the poll results on this one...)
The black-themed design continues, but now the entire site has been upgraded behind the scenes. At this point, we now have a "backend" with a half-dozen databases to manage our content. "Bits & Bytes" debuts, along with the 10-headline "News Today" section above it. And if you scroll down, you'll see -- in the middle section -- a few of the database content we still present today on the home page: Calendar, This Date in History, etc. But now we've moved those to the side columns. This design remained in place for some time, until our biggest makeover ever in early...
And this is when our current design made its debut. We went from the most graphic-heavy design we ever had to the least graphic-heavy design. Our bandwidth requirements dropped by about 75% immediately, though we're now using more bandwidth than ever simply due to having more visitors than ever. Several months ago we invited readers to share new design ideas for our upcoming move to a new machine, but -- as the song goes -- we haven't found what we're looking for yet, so who knows what the future holds.
Thanks for sticking with us for 10 years ... 8 years ... 5 years ... 5 months ... or however long you've been visiting.