The world's most popular websites are constantly looking for ways to improve, adding new features, services and designs on a regular basis.

These websites receive enormous amounts of traffic every day and users love them and regularly visit them because they are feature rich, easy to use and are well designed.

They may now be amazing websites, however this certainly did not happen overnight. Each one of them started with a great idea that has been gradually developed, optimized and improved over the years and this list will show you what some of these websites looked like in their infancy.

(The old images of the websites were taken using the Internet Archive Way Back Machine.)

1. Google

December 02, 1998

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

First up is Google, the most visited website in the world and number 1 in the Alexa rankings. Founded in September 1998 by Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin, Google was originally a research project after the pair theorized about creating a better search engine where backlinks would be used for search result rankings, instead of the conventional search engines that based search results on how many times the search term appeared on a webpage.

Google is not only the most popular search engine, but now offers a variety of services such as Google Analytics, Google Adsense, Google Mail, Blogger and many more.

As you can see there are still similarities between Google in 1998 and Google in 2011, however Google now has a more advanced and sleek layout, with a wider range of features and services.

2. Yahoo!

October 17, 1996

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

Yahoo! is fourth in the Alexa rankings and like Google, is another search engine.

Founded in March 1995 by Jerry Yang and David Filo, Yahoo! was originally called 'David and Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web' and was a popular web portal. Originally Yahoo! used Google for search results, eventually developing it's own search engine which has been used since 2004. Yahoo! also offers a variety of services such as Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Answers, which are now listed on the left sidebar of Yahoo's home page.

Yahoo have kept the same logo (changing the color to purple) that they used back in 1996, when the site looked far more basic. Yahoo! has changed and improved quite drastically over the years and you can see the difference from 1996 to 2011.

3. YouTube

July 01, 2005

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

YouTube is third in the Alexa rankings and is the most popular video sharing website in the world.

It is a relatively new site, founded in February 2005 by 3 former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim. YouTube is now owned by Google after being acquired for $1.65 billion in Google stock. In 2007, it was estimated that YouTube alone used as much bandwidth as the entire internet did in 2000.

Youtube looks similar in 2011 to when it started in 2005, with the same logo, however the homepage now sports a large video advertisement as well as a variety of new features.

4. Twitter

November 09, 2006

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

Twitter has an Alexa rank of 11 and is a very popular social network/microblogging service, particularly among celebrities.

Twitter was founded in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey and allows users to 'tweet' which are small posts of up to 140 characters and 'follow' other users. While eating Mexican food on a children's slide, Jack Dorsey came up with the idea of an individual using an online SMS service to communicate with a small group. Because of this, Twitter is often described as the 'SMS of the internet.' Many celebrities use twitter, some regularly updating millions of 'followers' such as Lady Gaga.

Twitter has a far more sleek and modern design in 2011 compared to the basic design used in 2006. This again shows how over time, websites are improved and optimized and how the most popular websites are started with a great idea.

5. Wikipedia

July 27, 2001

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

Wikipedia has an Alexa ranking of 7 and is the most popular general reference work on the internet.

Launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia is a non-profit website, with no advertisements or charges to use it. Most of the 17 million articles on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone visiting the site and donations are accepted and appreciated.

As you can see, Wikipedia has advanced and improved massively since 2001 when it was little more than a plain page with links to articles and is far more visually appealing and technologically advance in 2011.

And finally...

6. InfoBarrel

July 03, 2008

(web archive link)

January 31, 2011

InfoBarrel, the website you are on right now, currently has an Alexa ranking of 5006 (31 January, 2011). I know that InfoBarrel can't be considered one of the most popular websites in the world (yet) but I thought I would look up the website we are on at the moment.

I don't know whether InfoBarrel actually looked like that in July 2008, the web archive Way Back Machine may have captured the images wrongly, however if it did, then InfoBarrel's design has definitely improved. InfoBarrel is becoming increasingly popular and is climbing the Alexa ranks.

As InfoBarrel was only launched in 2008, the website is very new. We can watch it grow and develop, gradually improving it's functionality and design and with InfoBarrel 2.0 coming soon, the website won't look like the January 2011 picture for too much longer.