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What was the internet like in 2003?

Date: 07/12/2023

Stuart Watkins

In December of 2003, I left my previous agency, ArtScience and set up Devstars to focus on providing bespoke web development services to creative agencies and start-ups. Twenty years on, we thought it would be interesting to look back on the Internet in 2003 and how it has evolved alongside us.


WordPress was launched in the same year and just a few months earlier than us. A bare-bones platform at first. WordPress began as a simple blogging platform and evolved into a comprehensive content management system, significantly expanding its user base. WordPress continues to maintain its position as one of the world’s most popular content management systems (CMS).

At Devstars, we started our journey with WordPress with a website for the Adventurerbar in Clapham in 2005. Since then, we have utilised the platform for sites like Nokia’s press centre, Cutler & Gross and Moton Brown in the UAE.

internet like 2003

MySpace and the Birth of Social Media

MySpace was launched in August 2003. It was created by Tom Anderson, Chris DeWolfe, and a team of programmers. Initially, it was conceived as a social networking site to compete with sites like Friendster. MySpace quickly grew in popularity, especially among musicians and artists, allowing users to customise their profiles extensively and share music. By the mid-2000s, MySpace had become one of the most visited websites in the world, particularly famous for its influence in the music industry and its role in popularising online social networking.


Facebook wasn’t a public platform in 2003. Mark Zuckerberg, along with his college roommates and fellow Harvard University students Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, founded the social networking service originally known as “Facebook.” They launched it on February 4, 2004.

Initially, Facebook limited its access exclusively to Harvard students. It then expanded to other Ivy League universities, Stanford University, and gradually to most universities in the United States and Canada. It wasn’t until 2006 that Facebook became available to the masses.


Macromedia still owned Flash at this time, and it had swept the web with its storm of innovation, delivering animation and interactivity levels previously unseen in traditional HTML. We created versions of games for clients like Slug & Lettuce based on old-school computer games like PacMan (Slugman), and Frogger (Slugger). 

Sites like Gabbocorp showed what a future web might look like.

Flash was a powerful tool that enabled creative and interactive web experiences, but it was also beginning to show limitations that would eventually lead to its decline, especially with the advent of more advanced web standards like HTML5.


In 2003, Google was already establishing itself as a major player in the Internet and technology sector, but it was considerably different from what it is today. Here are some key aspects of Google in 2003:

Search Engine Dominance: By 2003, Google had become the world’s leading search engine, known for its simple interface and effective search algorithms. It rapidly outpaced competitors like Yahoo and MSN in search engine market share.

AdWords and AdSense: Google had launched AdWords, its online advertising platform, in 2000, and AdSense, a program that allowed website owners to display Google ads and earn revenue, in 2003. These platforms were significant contributors to Google’s revenue.

Innovative Culture: Google gained recognition for its innovative and employee-friendly culture, emphasizing creativity and autonomy. This culture played a crucial role in attracting top talent and nurturing innovative projects.

Emerging Products and Services: While most people knew Google for its search engine, the company also expanded into other product areas. In 2002, it launched Google News, and in 2003, it acquired Blogger, a blogging platform.

In 2003, Google introduced Gmail.

Google Labs: Google Labs was an incubator for new projects and ideas, some of which would become key products in Google’s portfolio.

In 2003, Google was still a private company. It went public in August 2004 with a well-publicized IPO (Initial Public Offering).

Instant Messaging

In 2003, the key players were AOL IM, MSN and ICQ.

Message Boards and Forums

If you didn’t have a WordPress blog or a MySpace page, posting on message boards like PhpBB would have been your most likely option. At Devstars, we hosted message boards for Sir Paul McCartney, Queen and Coldplay.

The Internet in 2003 had no…

Twitter, Dropbox, Google Docs, iTunes, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram etc.  


We would need to wait another four years for the iPhone. In 2003, we had to make do with Palm Pilots, Orange SPVs, Sliding Nokias and Blackberries.  

Orange M600 SPV

Our relationship with the Internet in 2003

The pace of the internet has changed our relationships with computers. No longer the preserve of geeks or something you used in the office. Now, the masses (and their parents) often had home PCs or laptops tucked into a corner where we checked the web and emails. 

It’s clear how profoundly the digital world has evolved since we launched Devstars in 2023. Fast forward to 2023, and the landscape is almost unrecognisable. The tools and technologies of 2003 laid the groundwork for today’s advanced digital experiences. Our relationship with technology has deepened, becoming an integral part of our daily lives. 

Looking back at 2003, what stands out the most to you in the digital evolution? How has your interaction with the web and technology changed since then? How will AI, crypto, privacy, metaverse and supercomputing affect the next 20 years (or sooner!)

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