The internet has come a long way since its inception in 1983, and when it was actually publicly accessible in 1991. Since then, we’ve seen trends, designs, improvements in functionality and content. We’ve also seen thousands of award-worthy websites every year. Curiously, there are ugly websites that persist, and they are for surprisingly big businesses.
This holdout from way back in 1995 remains the top performer for ugly websites. Despite the human race entering a new decade, Craigslist has remained largely unchanged, keeping the fire burning for websites that ought to be set on fire. Craig Newmark envisioned his list (Craig’s list. Get it?) to be the go-to classified advertisements website for everyone around the world looking for jobs, houses, secondhand items, services, and the odd discussion forum. As ugly as it is, Craigslist has consistently raked in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue.
But in 2018, Craigslist made a breakthrough—it’s estimated to have brought in over $1 billion in revenues, up by 50% from the previous year. Ninety-nine percent of its revenue comes from its US site alone, and Craigslist never reveals revenue figures—revenue estimates are made by other researchers.
Not bad for a 50-man company that used to make only $7 million a year in 2003.
From staring at the Times New Roman font used for the company’s name on the landing page, you wouldn’t think this website was owned by Warren Buffett. One of the world’s most famous billionaires, it’s strange that Buffett’s company’s website looks like it was made for $100. It’s an online time capsule that has seen minimal updates or enhancements since 1995.
The reason it’s remained so simple and downright ugly is that it only exists to fulfill legal requirements. Reports, shareholder letters, SEC filings make up most of the content on the site. It’s not exactly instrumental to the company’s earnings, so sprucing up the design may well be a waste of both time and money. And since Buffett became a billionaire by making the right investments, perhaps for him a pretty website for his company isn’t one of them. If Buffett ever stopped by Illinois, let’s hope someone tells him Berkshire Hathaway could use a website design shop like this one in Chicago.
The Boring Company
Controversial founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and PayPal Elon Musk owns the Boring Company. The Boring Company is an industrial juggernaut that specializes in digging really long tunnels in cities to solve traffic problems. Musk’s other companies, SpaceX, Tesla and Paypal all have better-looking and better-functioning websites, so what gives? It could well be the same reason Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is a bore—for legal industry compliance. Or it may be that Musk is showing the world he has a wicked sense of humor—by having dreadfully boring website for a literally boring company.
Can Google’s website really be deemed ugly? Maybe in certain design circles, yes, but Google has had flashier competitors before, and they’re gone. As the king of the hill of online search engines, Google takes pride in getting rid of unnecessary clutter. Google may occasionally feature animations, and change the doodle that serves as a minimal backdrop when there’s a special day or occasion to commemorate. Google’s earnings have hardly ever dipped, and it’s likely you found this article with Google. They’re surely doing something right despite having an “ugly” website.
While these websites are ugly, by no means can they be labeled as failures. Their drab appearances have little or nothing to do with how these websites make their money, so any improvements to them are unnecessary. Meanwhile, most ugly websites out there might do better with major overhauls in both appearance and functionality to increase traffic and revenue.