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Ten old-school Middle East websites

Before we went all Web 2.0, the internet was an altogether less colorful place. Kipp checks out how things looked back in the ancient days of online (that is, circa 1996).

April 8, 2010 4:36 by

  • “Disable donations: Children donate equipment to Paediatric Centre” ran a slightly confusing headline on the Gulf News website on 2 February 1999. The UAE newspaper launched its site in September 1996, and the version illustrated here is the second incarnation of the site. It boasts a classified section, a weather section with satellite images of the Gulf, and a ‘live’ webcam image of the Abu Dhabi corniche (although that’s dated 16 July 1997). This image – like the others old website shots in this slideshow – is from the Wayback Machine, an archive of old websites.

  • How the site looks 11 years later.

  • The “first Arabic free web-based email” service, Maktoob, was founded in 1998. Here’s how it looked on 8 April 2000. Key features included e-cards, TV guides, and a games section.

    British comedian Armando Iannucci once did a sketch in which an old man reminisced about the days when “the internet was in black and white… it was only on for three hours a day.” Though a joke, this doesn’t seem too far off the mark when you look at some of these sites.

  • Last year, Maktoob was bought out by US web giant Yahoo! – which some commentators said marked the ‘coming of age’ of the Middle East digital industry. Internet advertising has certainly moved on, as illustrated by the site’s current sponsorship deal with Visa.

  • Dubai classified website Dubizzle launched in August 2005. Though it has a snazzy feel to it today, things were not always so. This screenshot from 1 October 2005 shows a sludgy brown logo and basic clipart-based design. One of the listings, in the Boats for Sale section, includes a 70ft yacht for AED4 million. Those were the days.

  • Dubizzle’s sludgy brown logo is no more. The site, which has expanded to Abu Dhabi and plans to launch in other Gulf cities, is altogether more colorful, with lots of pictures and – crucially for a free site – prominent advertising (in this case, for drinks company Oasis).

  • This is Emirates Airline’s website on 20 June 2000. It’s the welcome screen to the site, complete with italic fonts denoting the beauty and undeniable sophistication of air travel. Or something like that.

  • How the Emirates site looks ten years later.

  • Here’s what business news website AMEinfo looked like on 2 March 2000. Starting out as a directory of Middle East businesses, the site was less orientated towards news content back then. And it was clearly ahead of its time: The site was also accessible via WAP mobile phones (even though it acknowledged that “no countries in the Middle East” supported the technology).

  • How the site looks today.

  • Low-tech meets high-tech with the UAE telco’s website as at 16 February 1998, the earliest record of the site as recorded by the Wayback Machine. An old telephone is displayed, on which you’re invited to ‘dial your selection’. See what they’ve done there. We went straight for ‘Cool Links’ (remember them?).

  • How the telco’s website looks today. The company says its ‘vision’ is “a world where people’s reach is not limited by matter or distance”. Although we found the previous motto, WE ARE AT YOUR SERVICE, a little more punchy (although the motto was displayed in flashing capital letters on the old site. Gets us every time.)

  • Mineral water firm Masafi may have picked up the Brand of the Year award at Superbrand’s event in Dubai last year, but it wasn’t always sophisticated in this regard. However the animated logo on their website (dated 28 December 1996) was quite swish.

  • Masafi’s website today.

  • Hmmm. This doesn’t look like the website of Dubai’s hotel chain and owner of the Burj Al Arab. And it’s not, as it turns out. Back in September 2000, was operated by Jumeirah Trading Establishment, which was (apparently) a Saudi-based franchisee of Baskin Robins. The website is certainly a treat. There`s an entire section devoted to ice cream jokes, headed ‘STRESSED SPELLED BACKWARDS IS DESSERTS’. Joke 1: “An Ice-cream man was found dead in his van. He was lying on the floor covered in nuts and raspberry sauce. Police believe he topped himself”. Or what about: “Almonds are the oldest, most widely cultivated and extensively used nuts in the world.” We like the latter the best, mainly because it’s not a joke.

  • It appears that, sometime in 2005, Dubai’s Jumeirah chain took over the domain And all the ice cream jokes are gone. A loss to us all.

  • A fairly impressive early website, for its time. (The Wayback Machine does not archive all images, which is why some are missing here). On 2 April 2004, Dubai Police had a highly objective poll, asking visitors to rate their “role against crime”. The four choices of answer were: Excellent, V.Good, Good and Not Bad.

  • The Dubai Police’s website today.

  • The Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) is one of the Gulf’s largest listed companies. This is their website from 2 February 2001.

  • SABIC’s website today.




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