The Most Popular Websites from 1996 through 2013 Will Make You Feel Really, Really Old
If, like myself, you’re of a certain generation, odds are you have some mighty fond memories of the early days of the Internet. In spite of my rose-colored glasses, though, I found myself woefully unprepared for what happened when I looked back at this list of the most popular websites from 1996 to the present. Seriously, you guys. Nothing makes you feel quite as ancient as realizing that the first email address you ever had was through a site that has been defunct for at least 15 years. I am a dinosaur. But hey, at least we’re probably all in a similar boat, so come. Let us alternately bask in nostalgia’s gentle glow and weep over how old we’re all getting. It’ll be fun. Or something.
The list, arranged in a handy-dandy infographic, comes to us courtesy of the Washington Post. WaPo recently gathered data on the 20 most popular websites each December going aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back to 1996 — and it actually gives us a pretty interesting snapshot of how both the Internet and out usage of it have evolved over time. It’s neat, for example, looking at the patterns surrounding some of today’s most popular sites: From the infographic, we can see, for example, exactly when eBay first gained prominence (1999) and how its fared in the years since (rather well); what Amazon’s trajectory has been (similar to eBay’s, with consistent popularity from 1999 onward); how Facebook grew between 2007 and now (a lot); and so on.
But in some ways, I actually think it’s more interesting to look back at the websites that used to be incredibly popular, but which have now been mostly forgotten. Here are a bunch of my favorites, along with the years they ranked in the top 20. How many do you remember?
Head on over to the Washington Post for more.
1. Infoseek (1996 – 1998)
As hard as it is to imagine a world without Google, it did actually once exist. Founded in 1994, Infoseek was one of the first search engines I remember using. It was bought by Disney in 1998, who then shut the whole thing down in 2001. Easy come, easy go.
2. Angelfire, Geocities, and Tripod (1996 – 1998)
When we say something follows the ‘90s webpage aesthetic, we’re talking about the eyesores created using these three hosting services. Amazingly, they’re actually still around: Tripod and Angelfire were acquired by the search engine Lycos in 1998; GeoCities, meanwhile, is available as a Yahoo! service, although only in Japan. One of my favorite creepypastas, the legendary “Ted the Caver” story, makes its home on Angelfire, prompting me to wonder if I have accidentally stumbled into a time machine every time I read it.
3. Classmates (2001)
Before there was Facebook, there was Classmates, which was created in 1995. CEO Mark Goldston realized in 2010 that the only people using Classmates were… how shall I put it… old; accordingly, he refocused the site on the nostalgia angle and rebranded it “Memory Lane.”
4. Altavista (1998 – 2000)
Like Infoseek, Altavista was a search engine — but the company was perhaps best known for its language translation software, Babel Fish. Besides generally being one of the better translation tools out there, Babel Fish also had the advantage of drawing its name from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Altavista got folded into Yahoo! by 2003; and somewhat amazingly, Babel Fish is still around. These days it’s part of Bing’s translation service, although there’s also another web-based translator called Babel Fish I use quite a bit. Old habits die hard.
5. AOL (1996 – 2002; 2008 – 2013)
Curious about why AOL mysteriously vanishes from the chart in 2003, only to reappear in 2008? It’s because that’s the era during which it was owned by Time Warner. Honestly I’m a little amazed it’s still so high on the list; I would have thought Google represented the proverbial nail in the coffin, with Gchat killing the one AOL tool people still used (AIM). Apparently I was wrong. Still, though: The dulcet tones of the “You’ve got mail!” guy remains one of my favorite early Internet memories.
6. Juno (1999), Prodigy (1996 – 1997), and CompuServe (1996 – 1997)
Ah, the ancient days of Internet service providers! Mostly I remember these guys for the email addresses that came along with the services — although notably, I knew exactly one person with a Juno email address when I was a kid. Everyone else had gone with CompuServe, AOL, or Prodigy. Hilariously enough, Juno still operates an email client today; whoever actually bothers to download an email client these days, however — or at least, one that isn’t Outlook — remains to be seen.
7. eUniverse (2000 – 2002)
I never hopped on the MySpace bandwagon, but its parent company’s website was super popular in the early aughts right before its launch in 2003. For the curious, the company is called Intermix Media now. Who knew?