A trip through the HTML time machine that is Warren Buffett's company's website.
You expect some weird things out of Berkshire Hathaway. Helmed by that quirky billionaire Warren Buffett, he of the 'Sausage McBuffett' and a deep commitment to value investing, the company has not been afraid to zig when others zagged. They are big on freight rail, for instance, and their sexiest holding is an industrial lubricant maker.
All that to say, perhaps we should not be surprised that the company's website was built in the 1990s, and hasn't really entertained a redesign since. The biggest change to its interface came in 1999, when the design switched from a single bulleted list of 11 links to a two-column bulleted list with a teensy bit more white space around its 14 hotlinks.
The header is an enduring feature of the page, in place since 2002. It looked and looks like this, only changing to accomodate a new company headquarters' address.
In case you're wondering, the clever big B and H effect is generated by simply increasing the font size (FONT SIZE=6) on those first letters and then decreasing it for the rest (FONT SIZE=4).
Another fixture on the BH homepage is its footer, which I reproduce in full: "If you have any comments about our WEB page, you can either write us at the address shown above or e-mail us at email@example.com. However, due to the limited number of personnel in our corporate office, we are unable to provide a direct response." That was put into place in the year 2000 and hasn't changed by a single word.
But the most charming of all the web strategy decisions that Berkshire Hathaway has made is its inclusion of advertisements for various BH companies. The web, after all, is just a glorified marketing platform, so you might as well throw up some direct response ads on any page, even the home page for a company with a market cap of over $200 billion.
A nearly identical version of that advertisement appears on the 1997 version of the page. The only thing that's changed, actually, is that the URL for the insurance company's webpage got added in 2005. The other ad that's stayed put for the entire duration of the site's history is for Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, Fechheimer, an activewear company that makes polos, oxfords, t-shirts, jackets, hats, and kids clothes with Berkshire's name printed on them.
As someone who built websites in the mid 1990s for a variety of realtors in southwest Washington State, this WEB page nearly brought me to tears. I can practically see the Geocities template it knocked off, and it made me wish life could be as simple as its <tr><td></td></tr> structure. Or, perhaps life really is simpler in Omaha. If you're the billionaire owner of infrastructure companies.
Via Dylan Matthews
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Alexis C. Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.