The internet dream of the 1990s is still alive, if you look at it from reasonable angles.
More than 17 million Americans regularly use MapQuest, one of the first digital mapping sites long overtaken by Google and Apple, according to data from research firm Comscore. The dot-com Internet portal Go.com closed 20 years ago, but its ghost still exists in “Go” that is part of a web address for some Disney website.
Ask Jeeves, a web search engine that predated Google, still has fans and people who type “Ask Jeeves” into Google searches.
You may mock AOL, but it’s still the 50th most popular website in the US, according to data from SimilarWeb. The Second Life virtual world of the early 2000s never disappeared and now is have a second life as a brand backing the metaverse.
Some one-time online stars have been around much longer than we might expect, suggesting that it’s possible to create a long online life after the star’s demise.
“These are pretty close to being cockroach brands,” said Ben Schott, a columnist for advertising and branding at Bloomberg Opinion. “They’re small enough and resilient enough that they can’t be killed.”
Compare with bed bugs can not seem is a compliment. But there’s something heartwarming about the pioneers who shaped the early Internet, lost their cool and dominant, and eventually created a niche. They will never be as popular or powerful as the previous generation, but landmark internet brands can still have an effective purpose.
These brands have managed to survive through a combination of inertia, nostalgia, the fact that they’ve produced a product people like, digital monetization, and the quirks of rickety internet. If today’s internet powerhouses like Facebook and Pinterest also lose their relevance, they could last for decades.
System1, which owns MapQuest and HowStuffWorks among other websites, has a strategy of attracting people to its digital asset collection through pitches or other techniques, turning them into loyal users and monetize their clicks or other sales activities. It’s not far off from the early 2000s web strategy of turning “eyeballs” into revenue.
Michael Blend, CEO and co-founder of System1, says that his company spent money on internet ads to draw people to MapQuest and also improve its mapping functionality. Added a feature since System1 purchased MapQuest from Verizon in 2019 allows carriers to map out long routes with multiple stops.
Blend says Gen X’s nostalgia or online marketing might convince people to try MapQuest once or twice, but the company wants to make the site useful enough that they keep coming back often. He also says that more than half of MapQuest users are young enough that they probably never knew about it in its heyday.
Blend is proud that MapQuest has been around for so long. “There are so many internet brands that have come and gone and you will never hear from them again,” he told me.
I don’t have a great explanation for the resilience of some 1990s internet properties. People are searching Ask Jeeves even though its owner, internet conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp, abandoned the English butler name in 2005 and quit trying to compete with Google search more than a decade ago. A website called Ask.com is now mainly a collection of entertainment and celebrity news.
A spokesman for Disney, which once owned the Internet portal Go.com, did not have a firm explanation as to why some of the company’s websites still have Go’s fingerprints. (The Onion last year mock Disney for this.) In general, today’s websites are often built on the remains of the old Internet like a modern castle built on the background of a 19th century house.
Schott mentioned something that I just couldn’t get out of my head. He said that when a once-favorite restaurant chain or industrial plant closes, the typical public reaction is sadness over what people have lost. But Schott says that when internet properties like Yahoo and Myspace falter or die, it’s often dismissed as a joke.
“There’s a strange share of tech companies failing that I don’t think happens in other industries,” he said. “I’m not sure what that is about.”
Maybe that’s starting to change. When Microsoft discontinued its 27-year-old Internet Explorer web browser this month, overflowing nostalgia. As the Internet ages – and so do those of us who remember its early years – the more we can feel the emotional shake of what came before.
Before we go…
China keeps an eye on its citizens: One investigation from The New York Times suggests that Chinese government surveillance is more extensive than previously understood. Police want facial recognition cameras where people eat and shop and even in private spaces like residential buildings and hotels. Authorities are buying equipment to build large-scale databases of iris and DNA scans. The goal, my colleagues report, is to “maximize what the state can learn about a person’s identity, activities, and social connections, which can ultimately help the government maintain its integrity. his autocratic rule”.
Claims about bait and switch: Small business owner Speak that Google drew them in with the company’s free custom email and other workplace software, and that they are now asking for payment in a process they find difficult. One business owner told my colleague Nico Grant: “It makes me feel like an unnecessary petty thing.
Other car companies that make Tesla jealous: Established automakers like Ford want to sell many of their cars directly to online buyers, as Tesla did. One problem: Laws in many states require cars to be sold through dealers, Paul Stenquist writes for The Times.
Say hello to Clusters in the Rolling Cart.
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