The World Wide Web turned 30 this week, and everyone celebrated the best way they know how — by coming up with big lists of all the internet-related topics we’ve dealt with (or obsessed over) the past few decades.
That includes dial-up modems, AOL, avatar- and comic-based chatrooms, and Homestar Runner, which are just a few of the items that come to mind when I think about what the web was like when I was growing up. Oh, and Happy Puppy. Remember getting games from Happy Puppy? Sigh.
Instead of taking a few moments to remember what it was like to browse the web on a 13-inch CRT monitor, I have another idea. You can still peruse one of the many wonderful, nostalgic roundups and reflect fondly on the digital days gone by. But while you’re doing that (or soon after), visit Google’s Timelapse site.
Timelapse, pictured above, is a a function of Google Earth Engine. It has absolutely nothing to do with the history of the internet. It does, however, give you a way to view what the actual world looked like 30 years ago — 32, technically. As Google describes:
It is made from 33 cloud-free annual mosaics, one for each year from 1984 to 2016, which are made interactively explorable by Carnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab’s Time Machine library, a technology for creating and viewing zoomable and pannable timelapses over space and time.
Using Earth Engine, we combined over 5 million satellite images acquired over the past three decades by 5 different satellites. The majority of the images come from Landsat, a joint USGS/NASA Earth observation program that has observed the Earth since the 1970s. For 2015 and 2016, we combined Landsat 8 imagery with imagery from Sentinel-2A, part of the European Commission and European Space Agency’s Copernicus Earth observation program.
You can now see how both worlds have changed over the past 30 years: The real world, that is, and the World Wide Web. While Google highlights a number of interesting locations on the Timelapse site that are worth checking out, you can pan around Google Earth to visit any location to see how everything has shifted over time.
The satellite images aren’t always the best — at least, not compared to the high-resolution shots you have nowadays in Google Maps — but it’s a great way to visualise humanity’s slow, steady march. And you’ll have more fun navigating around Timelapse than trying to remember your old Neopets password.