The Columbus Dispatch – Earliest Internet Newspaper

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The Columbus Dispatch (www.dispatch.com) is one of the first news paper organization to go online in 1980 with CompuServe dial-up service. Though we cannot find screenshots of the online newspaper in 1980s, we can see how The Columbus Dispatch website looks in 1997 thanks to the Way Back Machine.

https://www.dispatch.com/ on 1997 March 31, on the Way Back Machine

As we can see in the screenshot, the website has a simple look. This is similar to most other websites in the Web 1.0 era where information is presented very simply in text and images only. Being a newspaper, the website design is clean and easy to the eye. Despite this, the few images that it does feature still have very stylized texts and colors. The background is reminiscent of paper newspapers, and hyperlinked texts are neatly organized into sections with minimal clutter. On the right side we can see some early online newspaper ads, composed of only an image and a hyperlink.

If we look a bit closer into the HTML code, we can see that the website does not include any javascript blocks or reference any javascript files. The entire website is composed of texts, paragraphs, hyperlinks, dividers, and images. Despite the simplicity of the code, the website still looks presentable as a news site. In fact, One could say that the simplicity is actually in the website’s favor.

Source code of the 1997 http://www.dispatch.com

Clicking into one of the stories, the content is just as expected – blocks of paragraphs with minimal visuals. The site uses text font size and accents only for stylizing, giving the consumer a familiar site due to its similarity to newspapers.

Now, we look at The Columbus Dispatch website in 2011, where Web 2.0 allows websites to have more interactive features as well as more styling options.

https://www.dispatch.com/ on 2011 November 03, on the Way Back Machine

Immediately, one can see the difference in the amount of images and varied layouts. In the middle we have the news, organized into sections just as before, but the layout is more compact with little whitespace. On the left is a list of headlines ordered by how recent they are. On the right are blogs and RSS feed, as well as some ads. You might notice that the ads are not displaying, and the reason is hiding in the source code.

source code for ads on 2011 http://www.dispatch.com

The website uses inline javascript to load ads programmatically, giving it flexibility and allowing the ads to change with no update to the website layout. Browsing the source code more, one could spot multiple instances of javascript used for loading interactive block.

source code for customer service

Here is another block for the bottom menu, where clicking customer service would open a new tab or window and allow you to chat live with customer service. This allows users to use that service without leaving the news site.

You might be surprised by the lack of ads on the news site. This is actually because most javascript does not work anymore due to resources and database no longer present. In fact, here is an example, where the empty space on top of the page used to be a gigantic javascript leaderboard ad.

Finally, as another indicator of increased complexity in the website, we observe that the old website’s HTML code only has 395 lines, while the new one has a whopping 6555 lines!

As internet technology gets more advanced, even newspaper sites that used to be known for its simplicity and plain information delivery gets more and more complex. This trend will only continue, and who knows what the future of newspaper sites will hold!

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