Turn back time online: See how the web, the cost of living and your neighbourhood have changed

The past few years have been tough; numerous celebrity deaths, the imminent threat of nuclear war, Donald Trump. 

Turn back time online: See how the web, the cost of living and your neighbourhood have changed

If you pine for the good old days, or simply love a bit of nostalgia, we’ve rounded up the best online tools to help you take a trip back in time, whether it’s to see how the web looked a decade ago or to rediscover your musical youth. 

See how the web looked 10 years ago


Some websites never seem to change (we’re looking at you, Reddit), but others are constantly evolving to reflect the latest technology and design trends. You can find out how 15 popular sites looked in November 2007 by visiting Ten Years Ago. Click a logo such as YouTube, BBC or IMDb to jump back a decade from today.

READ NEXT: The best time-wasting sites on the web

For a more thorough exploration of the past, head to the amazing Wayback Machine, which powers Ten Years Ago and now has more than 306 billion pages saved in its archive. Just search for a URL and select a date to view the site as it appeared back then. Note that some images and design elements may be missing from older snapshots.

See how your area looked 130 years ago


There’s no shortage of historical maps to explore online, but few sites put them to such interesting and effective use as the National Library of Scotland’s georeferenced maps viewer.

 Search for a location in the UK or choose a county from the drop-down menu, then select a historical map or map series to apply it as an overlay.

The available data goes back as far as Ordnance Survey one-inch maps from 1885 and includes maps showing railways, roads and population change. You can zoom right in to explore in detail and – best of all – use the transparency slider to adjust the opacity and see how that area looks today, in either map, satellite or hybrid view. The NLS also offers tools for comparing historical maps side by side, not just for the UK but the whole world.

Take a trip backwards in Street View

If you want to see how an area has changed at street-level over the past few years, Google Street View can be your TARDIS. Search for a place in Google Maps, drag the pegman to the map to activate Street View, then look for the clock icon in the top-left corner. Click the down arrow next to this to open a panel showing archive Street View imagery of that location, which has been updated over the years.

Drag the slider to one of the dots to jump to that point in time, then click the image to display the past view full-size in the main browser window. Some of the imagery dates back to 2008, when the Street View cars started capturing the UK, and it lines up perfectly with the most recent shots.

Compare living costs then and now


Remember when you could buy a pint of beer for a quid, or a house for £20,000? But then wages were lower back then, and it was all pounds, shillings and pence, so how can you compare? Well, you could take a look at The Year You Were Born, an online tool from interior-design company Hillary, which shows you living costs for any year from the last century, helpfully adjusted for inflation.

Its figures include the cost of a car and fuel; the average house price and mortgage rate; and the average salary and cost of a weekly shop. Flick the ‘Compare to today’ switch to see if a specific outgoing is cheaper or dearer today, along with other interesting information such as the highest-grossing film, the English football champions and notable news events.

Rediscover the music of your youth


If, like us, you find today’s pop music a bland, uninspired, auto-tuned, nerve-shredding racket, you’ll love Spotify’s new Your Time Capsule feature. As we explained in last issue’s What’s New Online, this generates a personalised playlist from songs in your library that it deduces you would have been listening to when you were a teenager.

Spotify’s selection comprises at least 30 tracks and lasts for around two hours, and we found its choices to be mostly bang-on and delightfully nostalgic. As for how the streaming service knows your age, this may have slipped your mind but when you first started listening to Spotify, you will have either provided your date of birth or signed up through Facebook and granted it access to your profile.

Your Time Capsule can be found in the Made For You section of the Spotify app, in the Web Player and by searching the service for your time capsule.

Play number-one songs from any year


Lots of websites tell you what song was number one on the day you were born – ‘If’ by Telly Savalas, since you’re asking – but Birthday Jams goes a little further. It lets you search for any date from 1953 to 2010, to see what was topping the hit parade on that day in both the UK and US (and the American alternative and dance charts). What’s more, it displays a YouTube video for the song, for your instant audio gratification (or mortification, as the case may be), and lets you share it on social media.

View historic photos of your community


It’s always fascinating to look at old black-and-white and sepia photos of your area, if only to marvel at the lack of traffic or to try to spot someone not wearing a hat. Historypin brings together historic images and personal stories from communities around the world, but particularly in the UK (where the site originates). Search for a town, city or county to see where relevant archive content has been pinned on the map, either in the form of individual photos and videos or collections of local material. Ingeniously, pictures are superimposed on Street View imagery of the exact locations they were taken.

If you’d rather look down on the past from above, the brilliant Britain From Above has more than 96,000 aerial photos and videos of England, Scotland and Wales, from the years 1919 to 1953.

Turn off Facebook’s On This Day feature


Although it goes against the spirit of this feature, we’re not fans of Facebook’s On This Day notifications, which tell you when you have “memories” to share of a post you made or were tagged in on this day in the past. Sometimes such memories can be notable but more often they document unremarkable events such as eating chips or watching a film with someone you no longer like. 

To control your On This Day notifications, go to facebook.com/onthisday, select Preferences and specify if there are certain people and date ranges you don’t want to be reminded of. To banish the memories altogether, choose Notifications and select None. Alternatively, choose Highlights to only see memories involving your top friends. 

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