Do the words “dial-up modem” make you think of a screeching sound? Do you remember deciding whether you’d sign up for Prodigy or America Online? Did seeing an entire set of encyclopedias presented on one CD-ROM disk (complete with sound and video snippets) blow your mind?
If so, you probably had firsthand experience with some of the most successful innovations of the early internet. If not, you’ve probably heard of at least some of them.
Read on for a nostalgia trip to the heyday of slow connections, clunky site design, the dawn of chat and celebrity search engine mascots.
What Happened to Myspace?
What didn’t happen to Myspace? Myspace, founded in 2003, went from zero to world’s biggest social network in four years. In that brief time, it won millions of users and launched countless careers (and derailed at least one) before slowly sliding into irrelevance.
Teenagers and young adults flocked to Myspace to connect with each other and find new artists. Because users could upload songs and embed YouTube videos, Myspace became a hub for budding comedians, filmmakers and musicians who wanted to reach a big audience. Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys, Ke$ha, Skrillex and Katy Perry all used Myspace to share their early work.
In 2004 Myspace had the chance to buy Facebook but passed, because Mark Zuckerberg wanted a seemingly outrageous $75 million. The next year, Myspace spawned an epic bidding war between Fox News parent company News Corp. and media titan Viacom. News Corp. won, Viacom’s CEO got fired for failing to land the deal, and Rupert Murdoch got to hang out with Myspace’s creators.
By the mid-to-late 2000s, the social network had more than 100 million users worldwide. Myspace’s time at the top was brief, though. Its site, according to a former VP, was a “spaghetti-ball mess” that was hard to manage and maintain, as the Guardian reported in 2015. It was also increasingly unappealing to users, compared to the sleek design of Facebook.
Once Facebook started gaining traction, Myspace started to fade. Sold numerous times after it peaked, Myspace was briefly owned by Justin Timberlake and a group of co-investors who were sadly unable to bring MyspaceBack.
But don’t let Myspace’s sad tale of lost fame and fortune fool you. The site still gets about 8 million visitors per month. And it’s still focused on music and videos–although it did lose 12 years’ worth of content during a botched server migration revealed earlier this year.
The lessons of Myspace: Buy Facebook at $75 million, streamline your site and back up your data before you migrate to a new server or host.
What Happened to Netscape?
Compared to Myspace, Netscape practically emerged from the primordial mists of the early World Wide Web. Launched in late 1994, Netscape Navigator was the first web browser available to the average home or small business computer user—until Microsoft countered with Internet Explorer in the second half of 1995 and kicked off the browser wars.
By 1998, Netscape was falling behind Explorer, which Microsoft bundled with its Windows releases. That same year, Netscape made its source code public. Even though Netscape had lost market share to Microsoft and gave away its code, AOL (remember them?) spent more than $4 billion to buy Netscape in 1999. What followed was a decade of staff cuts, outsourcing and attempts to keep Netscape and AOL relevant. In 2008, Netscape was finished as a browser.
However, several of Netscape’s innovations are still with us.
- The Mozilla Foundation–named for Netscape’s mascot–used Netscape’s open-source code to develop Firefox, which topped TechRadar’s list of 2019’s best browsers.
- Netscape also developed the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol. So the next time you renew your site’s SSL certificate, thank Netscape for protecting your customers’ data from man-in-the-middle attacks.
What Happened to AIM?
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) debuted in 1997. It gave everyone, AOL user or not, a way to chat with people on their “Buddy List” and later with AIM’s chatbots. At a time before social media and smartphones, AIM turned users’ desktop computers into portals for real-time conversations. As its popularity grew, AOL released more versions of AIM for everything from the Palm Pilot and BlackBerry to iOS and Android devices.
It’s hard to overstate what a huge deal AIM was, especially for kids and teens who wanted to keep in touch with their friends. Typing away at the family computer didn’t rack up long-distance fees, and it was less disruptive (and more private) than trying to have a conversation on the kitchen phone.
AIM was also the Millennial generation’s introduction to using the emoticons and abbreviations that are second nature to smartphone and social media users today. Among AIM’s fans was a young Mark Zuckerberg, who credits AIM for planting “a lot of the seeds of what would become Facebook.” By 2001, according to Technology Review, there were 36 million AIM users.
Alas, AIM never made much money for AOL, and as AOL’s star began to fade, so did AIM. When Facebook Messenger and Twitter came along, AIM suddenly looked stale.
AOL pulled the plug on AIM in 2017, but AIM made chat part of our daily lives.
What Happened to Ask Jeeves?
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in internet history when the only way to search was by typing keywords into a browser like Netscape or searching through different levels of information in a directory like Yahoo.
If you wanted to ask a regular question instead of thinking like a computer, you were out of luck—until Ask Jeeves arrived on the scene in 1997. Jeeves, a cartoon butler, was happy to find answers based on either written questions or keyword searches.
Like today’s internet users who happily use voice search on their mobile phones and assistant devices, ‘90s web surfers appreciated the humanity Jeeves brought to a jumbled and overwhelming internet. Within two years of launching, Ask Jeeves was answering a million questions a day. Soon, Jeeves had an agent in Hollywood and his own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
So why isn’t Jeeves still answering our internet questions? The dotcom bubble burst, the company’s value tanked, and Google started its march to domination of the search engine market. Eventually the company showed Jeeves the door, rebranded as Ask.com and focused on listicle-type content.
Still, the idea that drove Ask Jeeves – letting users communicate naturally to get information online – lives on in Siri, Alexa and other voice assistants today.
Need more internet nostalgia? Check out these hallmarks of 1990s website design.