Web & communication software

5 Websites That Used to Rule the Internet

The Internet generation is stunningly disloyal. Brands mean very little to us. Our parents might never have bought anything other than a Ford car, or a Westinghouse refrigerator, but we switch online services without a second thought.

So join me as I take a look at five Websites that, once upon a time, we simply couldn't live without, but which are either no longer with us, or have perhaps seen better days.

1. GeoCities

Once of the original Internet startups created back in 1995, GeoCities offered everybody their very own homepage. Although HTML at the time was pretty easy to master, GeoCities offered tools that made creating pages a matter of a few clicks. And it was all free.

Back then declaring you had your own home page would stop a conversation. Women would swoon and men would regard you jealously.

Just about anybody could create a Website using GeoCities. Sadly, nearly everybody did. It became clear that graphic design skills are not a dominant characteristic among the American population. Most pages looked like somebody had taken a load of animated GIFs, put a stick of lit dynamite under them, and retired to a safe distance.

GeoCities' gimmick was to build its online community around a geographical location model. Pages of a supposedly financial orientation would end-up under the WallStreet heading, for example, while celebrity gossip would end up in the Hollywood section.

This was a potent concept back in 1999, weak as it might sound today--so much so that GeoCities claimed one third of all Web visitors as the 20th century came to a close. Then again, AOL accounted for even more at the time, so you have to question our priorities back then.

So what happened to GeoCities? Yahoo. Conditions and rules were imposed to tame what was turning into the wild west of the Internet; in the late 90s and early 00s, searching for illegal stuff, such as pirated software or dodgy MP3s, would invariably lead to a GeoCities page. The ease of creating pages had turned into a hindrance. Policing so many pages was a logistical nightmare.

But, most of all, the Internet simply moved on. Fashions changed. Blogs and wikis came along, and it just wasn't cool any longer to have a static home page. Home pages belonged to an era of 14-inch monitors and floppy diskettes.

In 2009, Yahoo! discontinued GeoCities, although--like many of the best things in life--it's available in Japan. Its demise was greeted with dismay.

Several commentators suggested that GeoCities was the first example of how it's impossible for an online service to make money. But we must never forget how important GeoCities was in the evolution of the Internet. It showed people were willing to express themselves online. It proved the Internet was first and foremost a community. And it was the best place to find dodgy MP3s.

2. MySpace

Somebody transported in time from 1999 might be forgiven for thinking that MySpace was GeoCities' natural successor. They would have a point. Home pages are replaced with MySpace Profiles, and the whole thing is glued together via a social networking overlay, but there are distinct similarities.

In particular, the same eye-scratching, soul-destroying design is still a feature, although a typical MySpace profile benefits from music that starts to play automatically and reflects the individual's taste in music (or lack thereof).

Both sites are or were about creating communities. However, the key difference is that users can choose to make their MySpace profiles private, so that only people they've "friended" can access it. Additionally, MySpace features other social networking tools such as messaging, the ability to create groups of friends, blogging, and so on.

MySpace has always been rough and ready. It's about putting your personality online. This should have succeeded but it didn't, and Facebook's more rigid approach focusing on status updates has ultimately proved more appealing. Perhaps the biggest difference was setup: MySpace was all about personalization, which had to be done before you could get down to the business of finding friends, while Facebook let you get going straight away.

Over recent years MySpace has become most popular with musicians and performers, who appreciate its multimedia-friendly orientatio, something that's still largely lacking in Facebook. This ultimately led to MySpace being rebranded as an entertainment portal, although some have questioned its decision to focus exclusively on the under 30s age group.

MySpace is still a giant in the social networking space, but it's losing visitors by the handful as time goes on. Tie-ins with Facebook aside, the writing appears to be on the wall.

Next page: An e-mail service that keeps ticking, and a search engine that has wound down

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