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Are Webmasters An Endangered Species? (Part 1 of 2)

Once upon a time, any business that wanted to create a website called on the expertise of a uniquely qualified individual. Times are changing, however, and the role once known as webmaster is changing with them.

'Webmaster' doesn't mean what it used to mean.Back before the 1990s, you would have been justified if you thought the term "webmaster" referred to a certain friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The World Wide Web was in its infancy prior to 1990, a hypertext-centric collection of webpages primarily created and accessed by people in academic and scientific communities.


The public internet began to gain traction during the 1990s. E-mail was the killer application at the start of the Web 1.0 era, as people and businesses embraced the ability to send and receive written messages in relative real time. As the number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) began to grow, more home computer owners became interested in experiencing the nascent World Wide Web.


The Web 1.0 era birthed an early example of the webmaster role, from a type of amateur website known as a BBS. These sites took their name from the Bulletin Board System software used to create and manage them.


A typical BBS was run from a single PC connected to the public internet via a dial-up modem. A registered member of a BBS used their PC's modem to directly dial up and connect to the BBS host machine—resulting in the anachronistic beeping and static sounds forever associated with 1990s dial-up internet access.


(Side Note: Usually only one user could be logged on to a BBS at any given time. Imagine today if you tried to stream a Netflix show, and received a message saying, "Another member is using the service at the moment, please try again later.")


To be a webmaster of a BBS, you needed to know how to install and configure the host software and keep it properly updated. You had to manage the add-on applications your BBS members used to play games, submit posts in online forums, and exchange software with other users ... historically, the slowest form of software piracy ever known.


And you needed to know enough about PC hardware and operating systems to be able to troubleshoot and fix connection issues between your BBS host machine and the users who were dialing in.


The BBS webmaster experience was interesting and educational, but it was quite primitive compared to what future ecommerce giants like Amazon and eBay would require. Big business would have great influence over the evolution of the webmaster role, as the internet entered a new millennium and a new phase: Web 2.0.


Web 2.0: Meet the New Web


Early websites were mostly static entities composed of individual webpage files coded in HTML. These files were arranged in a hierarchical folder structure that ideally matched up with the structure of the site's content. Images were separate files gathered into their own separate directory, where they were called by < image > HTML tags to appear on individual pages.


In 2004, a new movement called Web 2.0 aimed to change the static nature of the web. Evolving web technologies made it possible to create more dynamic websites, where the content was served up using databases rather than inert file trees. Rich content like streaming video and audio became more popular as high-speed broadband internet service expanded across the world.