In the beginning there was gray, black and blue. Blue links, black text and gray backgrounds - that was it. That was a Web page, and Web sites really didn't exist. The World Wide Web (WWW, Web, W3) was built upon academic information with very basic structure, no color and very few graphics. The purpose of the Web was to provide  scholars a means of collaboration on massive scientific projects such as the Large Hadron Collider, an endeavor that  involves more than 5,000 scientists and engineers  from around the world dealing with matter and anti-matter. [1]

Early Web page creation involved mostly long pages of text with links to other long pages of text. A discussion of the nuances of navigation, user interaction and design principles were few and far between. Today, discussions regarding the World Wide Web are all about navigation, design and content, at least for Web design professionals. This site reviews one of those nuances, the icon. The site is intended to provide Web developers and those interested in building Web sites, with a general overview of Web icons, and supporting research to begin to use well designed and developed Web icons. This site does not trace the historical development of icons, which is a site unto itself, but instead focuses on how icons are in use today, so that those being designed for tomorrow's sites are designed with precision, and efficiency.

The Internet's infancy was not shaped by the Macintosh or Windows platforms, but was built primarily upon UNIX, an operating system developed by AT&T.  Early Internet applications, such as Gopher, used icons appropriated from various UNIX graphical environments and then eventually from the Mac and Windows 3.11. The Web has come a long way from those early ancient days, with their very large and ill fitting icons. Many late adopters of the Web are unaware that evolution in technology and design has even occurred, they just assume the Web was always as mature as it is now.

Icons have been used on the Internet and the Web from the beginning but  they have only recently started to behave similar to those of operating system icons, even if it is only in small ways. The maturation  of this innovation is diffusing into the Web development community and as a consequence Web icons are appearing on more and more sites.  Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system, in this instance the Web development community. An innovation is an idea, practice or object perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption.[2] What is new about icons on the Web, is that they are increasingly being used for specific functional tasks of Web-based applications. 

The emergence of real-time or near real time Internet computing is fundamentally changing the nature of the Web and thus affecting Web site design. Speaking of early installations in the financial industry, Sun Microsystems Chairman, President, and CEO, Scott McNealy said, "What we observed in that high-paced and high-stakes world has now begun infiltrating the halls of businesses everywhere - the extensive use of high-speed IP networks, powerful desktop computers, real-time information, and integrated information across many systems and sources are now increasingly the requirements of all businesses across all industries." [3] Web development efforts have expanded beyond content based informational sites and marketing sites (brochure-ware). This expansion is the result of the transition of the Web into a real-time computing environment. The demand for business to business transactional sites and specialized industrial verticals (ie. plastics, chemicals, medical etc.) affects the construction of site functionality and the presentation layer ( interface).

Listed below are the main sections of this site. Sub-topic sections exist in the Theories, Case Studies and Resources sections.

References on this pageSources:
  1. Smith, Chris Llewellyn. Scientific America, The Large Hadron Collider, July 2000, pg. 77
  2. Rogers, Everett. Diffusion of Innovations, pg. 35
  3. Ranadive, Vivek. The Power of Now, pg. ix

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Chris Snider

Dept. of Communication, GSU, Atlanta, GA


August 2000

Last generated: Saturday, August 19, 2000