IBM’s Website Evolution 1996-2013

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The 1990s was one of the most transformative decades of modern human history. This period saw the birth of and rapid development of the internet, the proliferation of personal computers, and a general increase in levels of communication between humans to an extent unseen throughout the history. One of the pioneers of the computer technology even before this decade was International Business Machines, better known as IBM. This monolith of technological development had slowed towards the beginning of the 1990s, posting a rare loss in a quarter, but still was widely recognized as a leader into the mid-1990s, during the rise of web 1.0. IBM’s fall, however, came at the turn of the millennium, when smaller personal computers became far more lucrative and successful than the large supercomputers IBM produced. Despite IBM’s efforts in entering the market (with the ThinkPad and other computers and laptops), the company could not keep up and ended up selling the personal computing division to Lenovo. From then until the present-day, IBM has mostly focused on cloud computing, developing supercomputers, and catering to businesses. On October 8th, 2020, the company’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, announced a split in the company, with the IT infrastructure unit splitting off from the cloud computing, software, and artificial intelligence sector, to become an independent company by the end of 2021. This blog, however, will address the earlier evolution of IBM as represented through the website from the year 1996 to the year 2013, chronicling changing times, focuses, and ideals of the company as well as the purpose of the website in the context of the time it was used in, how site users could interact with the website, and the general purpose of the site.

            The two crucial aspects of the IBM website that can be analyzed and compared between the two years are consumption and representation. The first example of the website is from December 20th, 1996. Using the Wayback machine, we can observe the design of the website and, from this information, take away purposes, how IBM represented itself, and how users of the website consumed the information on the website.  After observing the 1996 image from the era of web 1.0, the internet was still in the early stages of development. The main page immediately brought the user to the IBM news section, with the latest IBM news and tech news from around the world, followed by IBM press releases, financial information (quarterly earnings as well as a “live” stock quote which was on a 15 minute delay from the exchange), and upcoming events. Each dropdown at the top of the page yielded a results page which looked like an HTML sitemap with a list of results and a “find it fast” dropdown allowing the user to find products or solutions quickly. Tabs for support and information about IBM were also available with a “contact for help” option available at the bottom of the page.

IBM Website Capture from 1996 (Source: Wayback Machine)

In comparison to this, the 2013 version of this website is far more advanced in terms of aesthetics, far more focused in terms of subject matter, and far more streamlined overall, which was to be expected. While the 1996 website was possibly meant more for investors, employees, businessmen, or others who would be interested in  IBM and have access to the internet, the 2013 website showed far more attention to current IBM pursuits, news about the company, and included a broader scope of fields in which IBM was making progress in on the website. The 2013 website had actual pictures, videos, and interactive material (such as surveys, pop-out user interfaces for the menu rather than drop-downs, and gifs). In addition to this, the 2013 website was far more friendly to the public than the 1996 one. The website discussed news which affected more than just technology as well as how IBM was planning to address them (specifically discussing the “Smarter Planet” initiative, the ways in which IBM helped in urban settings , development of analytics, consulting and solutions for computing on a large scale in different sectors. In addition to this, the website offered online shopping options and more information about IBM, its history, and its future through information pages for the general population.

The 2013 IBM website, with the menu and main screen up (Source: Wayback Machine)

IBM’s decision to modernize had been a necessary change, as the 2000s saw more manufacturers of personal computers gaining prominence and profit. IBM’s decision to cut its losses in the computer manufacturing division allowed the company to both streamline its vision for the future and diversify at the same time. This allowed the website to evolve from a really simple and (at times) less useful domain into a website which a 21st century company could use to advertise itself, inform the general public of its purpose and work (and attract investment), and communicate with other entities effectively. Analyzing this from a standpoint of consumption and representation, IBM users of the website consumed the information from the website differently from the 1996 version to the 2013 version. The 1996 version of the website gave barebones information about only current events with a timeline of +/-1 year, without much two-way interaction besides the “contact us” option. However, the 2013 version of the website allowed the user to consume the information and the changes effected by IBM through not only walls of text, but also through images, videos, gifs, and interactive material to gain feedback and perspective. The representation of IBM on the 1996 website was strictly as a business entity reporting products, quarterly earnings, some brief information, and upcoming events. The 2013 website actually made the user feel like they were part of (or at least a front-row observer of) the computing and software that IBM was conducting through more information, interaction, history, and general involvement of the user, while also hitting all the main points necessary to be a successful corporation, delivering earnings reports, stock information (without a delay), and news in the particular sector of the economy in which IBM was involved in.  The 2013 website was the perfect representation of a website developed in Web 2.0. Through its expansion of audience (to include international users and the public at large) allowing for more consumption, streamlining of business to cope with changing needs, increasing ease of access to the website, and increased usage of audience-friendly material, IBM’s website changed from a barebones investor news report site to a far expanded, more interactive and aware, and improved website from 1996 to 2013.

Sources:

https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/history-of-ibm

https://www.computerhistory.org/brochures/g-i/international-business-machines-corporation-ibm/

https://www.reuters.com/article/ibm-divestiture/ibm-to-break-up-109-year-old-company-to-focus-on-cloud-growth-idUSKBN26T1V1

Featured Image Source: IBM/PCMag

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