Whatever Happened to the Top 15 Web Properties of April, 1999?

By  |  Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm

ComscoreAs I quietly lamented (or at least noted) the impending death of GeoCities today, I wanted to double-check my memory that it was once one of the very largest sites on the Web. Yup–ten years ago, in April 1999, Web measurement company Media Metrix rated it as the sixth largest online property. Which got me to wondering: How many of 1999’s Web giants remain gigantic today–assuming they still exist at all?

That’s a relatively easy question to answer, since the Media Metrix report (which is now conducted by ComScore) still comes out monthly. In fact, Comscore released the numbers for March 2009 yesterday. So I did a comparison between the April 1999 report and the March 2009 one. Are you stunned to learn that more companies fell off the top 15 than stayed on it, and that some of 2009’s biggest properties didn’t exist at all in 1999?

Here are Media Metrix’s top 15 Web properties (ie, networks of related sites) for April 1999. I’ve rounded the figures for unique visitors up to the nearest million.

1. AOL (46 million unique visitors): Mock AOL if you must. But in 2009 it’s still a biggie–the fourth largest Web property, with 104 million unique visitors.

2. Microsoft (32 million unique visitors): Still a giant in 2009–the number-three property with 122 million unique visitors.

3. Yahoo (31 million unique visitors): It may have seen more than its share of troubles in recent years, but in 2009, Yahoo is the second largest Web property, with 146 million unique visitors.

4. Lycos (29 million unique visitors): Sold multiple times in the last ten years and greatly downsized but still around in 2009, as part of a company called Daum; no longer in the top fifty Web properties.

5. Go Network (21 million unique visitors): Disney’s ill-fated attempt to build a Yahoo-like portal remains extant in name only. Disney Online, its successor, is the 26th largest Web property today, with 28 million unique visitors.

6. GeoCities (19 million unique visitors). Yahoo had agreed to buy GeoCities in January 1999, but didn’t take control until May. Today, it’s rolled up into Yahoo’s numbers. But some time this year, it’ll just go away.

7. The Excite Network (17 million unique visitors): Once-mighty Excite collapsed years ago, but its site remains in business as part of Mindspark, a minor outpost of the IAC empire. IAC controls the Ask Network, which is the sixth largest Web property with 73 million unique visitors.

8. Time Warner Online (13 million unique visitors): Not counting AOL, which it owns today, 2009’s Time Warner network is the 33rd largest Web property, with 25 million unique visitors.

9. Blue Mountain Arts (12 million unique visitors). This once-hot online greeting card site is still with us, now part of American Greetings, which isn’t a top-50 property.

10, AltaVista (11 million unique visitors): The original hot search engine is now a sad front end for Yahoo Search, and therefore presumably rolled up into Yahoo’s ComScore numbers.

11. Amazon.com (10 million unique visitors). Still doing fine–today, Amazon’s sites reach 61 million visitors, good for tenth place.

12. Xoom.com (9 million unique visitors): Back in April of 1999, Xoom was a mini-empire of Web services, including free hosting, clip-art downloads, and more. A month later, it partnered up with NBC to become part of that company’s online efforts. Then, in 2001, it went away. Today’s Xoom.com, a service for international money transfers, is related in name only.

13. Snap (9 million unique visitors): This site started out as CNet’s attempt to build a Yahoo-like portal, then became a joint venture with NBC. And then the name went away at the same time that Xoom did. The current Snap.com belongs to the unrelated Web site preview company.

14. Real Networks (8 million unique visitors): The online media company remains a top-50 Web property today–just barely–at #49, with 20 million unique visitors.

15. Cnet (8 million unique visitors): The network of tech sites remains a big player today; in May 2008, it became part of CBS Interactive. That property is #11 in Comscore’s numbers, with 54 million unique visitors.

So to summarize, four of April 1999’s top Web properties remain in the top fifteen (plus AltaVista, Excite, and GeoCities, which are extant and part of top-10 properties). Four more are in the top 50, or are part of properties that are. Two exist but have fallen out of the top 50. And two (Xoom and Snap) no longer exist. Bottom line: If you were one of the Web’s biggest properties a decade ago, chances are high that you remain in business in some form in 2009…but you probably aren’t still a giant.

So who replaced all those companies that fell out of the top 15 over the past decade? Here are the properties in Comscore’s Media Metrix top 15 for March 2009 that I haven’t already mentioned:

1. Google (151 million unique visitors): Existed in 1999, but as a not-very-well-known startup that wasn’t within a country mile of the top 50 properties. Today’s #1 ranking includes visitors to other sites and services launched or acquired by Google such as YouTube and Gmail–also not yet around in 1999.

5. Fox Interactive (85 million unique visitors): Rupert Murdoch’s empire was on the board in 1999 with News Corp. at #31. But its modern-day incarnation is huge in large part because of MySpace, which didn’t exist until 2003.

7. eBay (70 million unique visitors): #20 in 1999. 2009’s figure presumably includes PayPal and Skype, which it picked up along the way.

8. Wikimedia Network (61 million unique visitors): I have trouble remembering life without Wikipedia, but it wasn’t founded until 2001.

9. Facebook (61 million unique visitors). Founded in 2004.

10. Apple (53 million unique visitors). In the pre-iTunes era that was 1999, Apple wasn’t a top-5o property.

11. Glam Network (52 million unique visitors). This ad network of more than 500 independent sites was founded in 2003.

12. Turner Network (47 million unique visitors): Comscore didn’t have Turner–parent of such sites as CNN.com–as a top-50 property in 1999, but it may have been counted as part of Time Warner back then.

13. Viacom Digital (47 million unique visitors): #25 in 1999.

Anyone care to guess which of today’s top 15 Web properties–which, to recap, are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Fox, Ask, eBay, Wikimedia, Facebook, Amazon, CBS Interactive, Apple, Glam, Turner, and Viacom–will still be booming in 2019? Which will still be hanging in there? Which will be dead, dead, dead?

 
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32 Comments For This Post

  1. Florent Says:

    Great post! Always funny to get back to memory lane, you should make it a monthly post!

  2. Robert Says:

    Well, I guess it’s worth checking out if only to note that no matter how pretty Google may be sitting today, 10 years from now it could be so very different. :)

  3. anthonyb Says:

    Interesting trip back down memory lane.
    I’d like to see this list ten years from now.

  4. Mike Rogers Says:

    Someone should do an MTV style “I love the DotCom era” video about all the sites and where they are now. Some on my list:
    -Riddler.com (an early competitor to Yoyodyne), still around. I don’t know if it is the same company or not.

    -Hotwired, the original online magazine (gone but not forgotten)

    -Priceline Gasoline (remember that fiasco?)

  5. Philippe Says:

    Great post. Very interesting to see who were the big ones 10 years ago.

    I actually created my first e-mail in 2000, with Caramail (France) which was bought very quickly by Lycos.
    I would be great to know who will be the big players in 10 years. I assumed it won’t change as much as in the last 10 years, as Internet is much more mature now, but who knows?
    In 1999, Internet was just a newborn baby… it’s today a teenager, with still a lot to discover.

  6. Jim Williams Says:

    Great post 1999 seems live ancient history now – BG before Google. Is change acceperalting or do you think that the digital space will mature? Who can tell.

  7. Harold Cabezas Says:

    Great post-I really enjoyed it….

    I used to use Altavista all the time, especially Babelfish.

    It will be interesting to see where they are in 15 years, as I think the change we will witness in the next 5 years will dwarf the change we have just witnessed in the last 10 years….let’s see….

  8. Social Marketing Mama Says:

    …enjoyed this post. I’m a huge fan of google, interested to see how/if yahoo makes some changes and hopefully regain some of its past popularity.

  9. Buffalo SEO Says:

    Remember the days when you could capture top ten listings in search results with changes taking place on a daily basis.

    I can remember people stating that the Internet was a passing fad. We are so enmeshed now, there is no way out. We are very close to always connected, all the time.

    I just need my APPL tablet device with WiFi and 3g and I’ll be all set. Any show, any movie, any book, any magazine, any song, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME!

  10. Whitney Hess Says:

    Wow, do you follow me on Twitter? I posted 15 websites from 1996 in my stream yesterday: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=&ands=&phrase=website&ors=&nots=&tag=&lang=all&from=whitneyhess&to=&ref=&near=&within=15&units=mi&since=2009-04-23&until=2009-04-23&rpp=20

  11. Anand Says:

    This Geocities thing has made me really nostalgic and sad…I really loved my first email address at mailcity.com (part of lycos, later), my first “website” at Geocities (http://anand-s.co.nr).

    This is the second time I am spamming my website link today here in the comments, but it is with so much pride I am doing so to my soon-to-be-dead Geocities page…

  12. memory lane Says:

    One of my favorites from 1999 was snowball.com

    I didn’t actually use the site, it’s just a perfect example of dot com excesses.

    It raised over sixty million in VC funding, and was worth close to 100 million after its Goldman Sach’s led IPO in March 2000.

    At it’s peak, it claimed to have four million unique visitors, never made a dime, and was delisted in just over a year’s time.

    The domain is still part of its parent company IGN. I would love to see an “where are they now” piece on snowball.com

  13. drod Says:

    Did you all see this interactive timeline from The Wall Street Journal of the last 10 years of start-ups? Some pretty interesting stuff on here….
    http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2009/03/31/travel-through-time-10-years-of-start-ups/

  14. saintneko Says:

    If I had to guess, I’d say that maybe 30% of today’s tops will survive, with some of those barely hanging on.

    Who? Pffft. You never know what world-changing technology they might invent, buy, or horror of horrors have someone else invent and replace these folk. I suspect twitter will soon be on this list (probably would already if they could meter there desktop/cellphone access clients). But then again, twitter may be bought, someone may find the right price for the founder of the service. In ten years, almost anything could happen.

    Think about this: in the last ten years these guys were battling it out, we’ve invented 3d printing, keeping lungs alive in jars (12 hours, while breathing), cloning various organ (heart built from stems cells in petri dish… started to beat; bladders in petri dishes; a trachea built from stem cells and implanted without immuno-suppresive drugs), cloning species, printing buildings with 3d printers (full scale, in situ)… and the change of pace is accelerating.

    The world is vastly different from that I grew up in. 2019 is going to be unbelievable.

  15. Marc Says:

    I think Google and Microosft and Amazon will still be around in 10 years… the others… not so sure.

  16. j Says:

    bluemountainarts.com was co-founded by Jared Polis, who was just elected to Congress from Colorado.

  17. Prokofy Neva Says:

    Oh, and the moral of this story, in fact?

    That all those “walled gardens” that tekkies always hate on and claim have to be left in the dustbin of history for Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 are in fact not doing bad at all, aren’t failures, and some are still in the top of the chart, and only some actually died.

    Some of these giants you mention have gotten too gigantic for their own good and will collapse, like Google and Wikipedia, especially because they do not help the user monetarize time online but only make wealth themselves, not even for ecologies around them. No, only 10 percent of bloggers make any money from Ad Sense.

  18. Brian Schuster Says:

    My prediction,

    I don’t know about the otheres, but my guess is that Facebook will be gone.

    Brian
    cleverwebtech.com

  19. wingthom Says:

    Thank you for this great overview. It is good to see that “old” services have survived and are still growing. It is good to see that there is always room for newcomers, even very late ones like Rupert Murdoch (who remembers his InterChange.com – a platform that published contents online that couldn’t be re-distributed, no copy and paste etc ?) and really newcomers like Google and Facebook. It is good to see that quality and dedication matters, not only throwing money against a wall and see if something sticks. But money helps if you have a good service or a great idea.

    Not only “old” media like broadcast TV, radio, printed magazines perish, even old fashioned online services. When they are outsmarted by newcomers or even by copycats.

    Btw. Lycos Europe is closing 100 % these days, giving up all services and paying back some money to investors. When they started 15 years ago as a license from Lycos.com they had been bigger than Yahoo etc. – the biggest search engine in Europe.

  20. Antenna Wilde Says:

    I think Wikimedia Network will overtake Fox Interactive.

  21. Work Space Style Says:

    I remember when I was younger, I always used Excite. Times have changed, I am pretty much a Google girl all round these days.

  22. Mike Says:

    Hey Profoky!
    You do realize that Wikipedia is a non-profit and doesn’t sell advertising or make money for itself – it is sustained by donations. Do you know what you are talking about?

    Prokofy Neva Says:
    Some of these giants you mention have gotten too gigantic for their own good and will collapse, like Google and Wikipedia, especially because they do not help the user monetarize time online but only make wealth themselves, not even for ecologies around them.

  23. Gerard Says:

    Believe it or not, some now believe that AOL was AHEAD of its time. The true-blue old America Online service that was truly walled with only optional net access for a while would be a HUGE thing if introduced to family’s today. Great moderated discussion forums, spam-free high-quality email (remember the days of just putting in a “member name”?), Hulu-like service, AOL radio, porn-free, all of the “communities” – all without intrusion from the “real” net — the “ahead of its time” argument has a leg to stand on.

  24. Robert Brassel Says:

    They are ALL DOOMED.

  25. okna Says:

    I bet, Yahoo will never be number 1!

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    It raised over sixty million in VC funding, and was worth close to 100 million after its Goldman Sach's led IPO in March 2000.

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