The 16 Greatest Moments in Web History

Blogs to Wikis

In 2005, five bloggers did a heckuva job in real time tracking a natural disaster and its unnatural aftermath. A decade earlier, a Web site opened the world's largest ongoing garage sale. And at the turn of the millennium, a Web visionary began piecing together a compendium of all knowledge out of the clamor of thousands of contending keyboards.

14. Blogging Katrina

August 28, 2005; 12:01 p.m. CST: The Survival of New Orleans Blog debuts.

Disaster as it happens--an image in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
photograph: courtesy of DirectNIC.
As what was then a Category 5 hurricane bore down on New Orleans, Michael Barnes blogged: "We're on the 10th and 11th floor of a corporate high rise on Poydras Ave., right near St. Charles. We have generators and tons of food and water. It is 5 of us total. I am not sure how the Internet connection will be affected. I have a camera and my gun. .... Sustained winds are 175, gusts to 215. The real danger is not the wind, though, it's the storm surge the wind will be pushing into the city from the Gulf through the lake. The city might never recover. Honestly, this thing could be biblical."

Thus began what was for many the only eyewitness account of the worst natural disaster in our nation's history. For five days, Barnes and his coworkers rode out the storm and its aftermath, providing live reports and photos from their refuge in the downtown offices of Zipa Hosting and DirectNIC. Tens of thousands of Netizens visited the blog each day, getting a kind of personal coverage unavailable on CNN or inside The New York Times.

Barnes's moving account was proof that blogs could be more than just unsolicited opinions and self-obsessed ramblings--they could serve as a valuable tool for recording and understanding the human experience.

13: Bidding for Stardom

September 3, 1995: eBay completes its first auction.

The eBay logo.
Not so long ago, the only way to get any return on the junk in your garage was to hold a yard sale. eBay changed all that. Now tens of thousands of small and medium-size businesses use eBay as their primary storefront, bringing e-commerce to the people.

According to eBay lore, the first item auctioned was a broken laser pointer that sold for $14.83, proving that someone somewhere will buy just about anything. Several billion dollars' worth of transactions later, the proof is on firmer ground than ever.

But eBay was also the first site to create a working reputation system on the Net, according to Chris Dellarocas, a business professor at the University of Maryland who studies how online reputations are formed. And as we move toward a world where your online reputation can make or break your ability to garner a job offer, get accepted into a school, or find a mate, this may ultimately prove to be a greater legacy.

"The fact that eBay was able to build a marketplace of 60 million people that works smoothly is a fundamental accomplishment," Dellarocas says. "They've built in enough trust so I can send money to a guy in Germany I've never met and expect to get what I've paid for in return. It's enabling us to have smoother transactions from any location--to truly take advantage of the flat world the Internet provides."

12. Something Wiki This Way Comes

January 15, 2001: Wikipedia posts its first entry.

The Wikipedia logo.
Everybody's an expert. That phrase has never been truer than on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia where anyone can add or edit entries on any topic, regardless of their personal expertise. Wikipedia now boasts 2 million articles in English (over 7 million total) on everything from Aaargh! (a computer game) to ZZZap! (a TV show for kids).

Think of Wikipedia as an endless series of arguments, filled with edit wars and revisions to revisions, archived and identified by contributor. The result is a sprawling, anarchic, constantly changing resource that serves as many people's first stop when researching something on the Web (though, given the controversy over the accuracy of many entries, we hope it's not their last).

Creator Jimmy Wales doesn't remember the first Wikipedia entry, though he does remember the first words he typed into the wiki software: "Hello world."

"I think Wikipedia had a big impact on how people think about collaboration and knowledge, as well as the thinking about how to design security into social systems," says Wales. "We emphasized accountability and transparency over gate keeping. It was a philosophical change to leave things open, to make sure things can be fixed easily and you can see who did what, rather than pre-vetting contributors at the start."

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