I once thought of a prank so brilliant it was stupid. Blockbuster displayed massive bins of free AOL download CDs. Instead of forking someone’s yard, teepeeing their house or egging their car, why not AOL their yard?
I was never able to convince anyone to help me out with this prank, but man did I think I was brilliant.
Mention an AOL CD to anyone under 25 today and they’ll look at you as if you mentioned an eight-track tape. That along with dial-up, Yahoo, and any other internet term from the 90’s will earn you looks of incredulity and confusion.
Maybe I’m getting old. Or maybe technology moves ever faster. But the truth is, one company that’s here today could be bits lost in the etherspace tomorrow.
What happened to the internet giants of the 90’s? Let’s see where they are today.
1. Back in My Day, Sonny, America Online 56k Dial-Up Was the Only Internet We Had
My parents still have AOL accounts. They’ve not gotten a new e-mail since 1995. But AOL is no longer the king of the internet it used to be.
Although, apparently you can still get dial-up if you want some nostalgia, but it will cost you some pretty bad headaches. And don’t forget all those AOL download CDs. If you have some laying around, they might actually be worth something today.
Before AOL went a flat monthly $20 pricing model, you actually had to pay per minute or per hour of the time you spent accessing the world wide web. Young boys discovering porn in their parent’s basement got found out way easier when their parents got the AOL bill in the mail.
But access to the internet was worth the price in the early 90s and before AOL came along, it was extremely hard to connect to the web and surf it. Google definitely didn’t exist back then and nobody had indexed all those web pages yet.
AOL isn’t the same kind of internet giant it was in the 90’s but it does own a large piece of the pie. They own both The Huffington Post and Engadget, two content giants everyone knows about.
2. Compuserve: The Daddy of AOL
Compuserve was originally an in-house computer network support service. Hence the words Compu(ter) and Serve sown together. But they hit upon a gold mine when they figured out they could use the then baby internet and their servers to help people exchange large files electronically.
They were one of the first popular email services and in 95′ they were the largest online service provider.
But pressure mounted from new competitors on the market and they began to implode.
AOL was one such competitor and their market share increased to shark size while Compuserve stagnated. AOL decided to just gobble up Compuserve and Compuserve submitted in 1997.
But Compuserve continued to decline under AOL and within 12 years, Compuserve decided to close its doors. RIP Compuserve.
3. GeoCities or The Basement of the Internet
Ok, maybe in the mid-90’s Geocities wasn’t the basement of the internet. But when I found it in the late 90’s that’s where you could find all the things you couldn’t find elsewhere.
But that makes sense because GeoCities was essentially MySpace before MySpace was a thing. And the pattern for GeoCities is essentially the same as Compuserve.
A successful launch in the 90s, a buyout by Yahoo, a successful run, and an eventual crash in 2009.
But it made Yahoo a lot of cash during that time and a lot of people used it. But if you want to relive the glory days, just Geocities-ize any website. You’ll spend hours.
4. Netscape, The Grandaddy of Firefox
In 1994 nobody had heard of the words “internet browsers.” You accessed the internet through AOL or Compuserve and that was it.
When Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark created Mosaic Communications Corporation, there was no competition on the market. And their Mosaic Netscape release the next year entered the market unchallenged.
The company went public at $28 a share and jumped to $3 billion by the time the closing bell rang. It was an incredible success.
But Microsoft was waiting in the background to toss in their champion. Windows 95 was on the books and it featured its own browser Internet Explorer.
The two companies duked it out for a few years. Netscape moving to grab the enterprise market with Communicator. When this didn’t take off as planned, they released the source code for free in 1998.
You might recognize the name of the company that now develops free open-source software that anyone can tinker with: Mozilla.
And then Internet Explorer finally overcame Netscape. Netscape found a savior in AOL in late 98′ when they got bought for $4.2 billion dollars. But the euphoria didn’t last long. Within five years AOL would shut down Netscape and place it on the shelf of history forever.
5. How to Index the Web: AltaVista
I remember going to Barnes and Noble with my dad when I was six and watching him pick out an “internet address book.” He had just purchased a Macintosh computer and a subscription to AOL. There was no Google. Nobody had indexed the web yet.
And then came AltaVista and that changed everything. Sure, you could have paid some company to help you search the internet, but AltaVista was fast and it was free.
It was termed a Super-spider by the fledgling company and the term stuck. There were 30 million web pages in 95 and it was really difficult to find anything you wanted back then.
This is where the term “web-crawler” originated. It’s a creepy mental picture and they even called their host of crawlers a “brood of spiders” in 1995.
AltaVista changed hands several times and they eventually landed in the hands of Yahoo in 2003. They lasted another ten years fighting Google, but finally shutttered their servers in 2013.
The Glory Days
The early days of the internet were glorious. The tech bubble grew and lots of people made a lot of money. And thanks to those people, we’re still able to communicate today.
If you enjoyed this, check out our other articles on internet-y things here on Shoemoney.