In recent news, the country of Sweden crashed: Apparently it is possible to cause every single address in a domain to go down (in this case, .se), by making a simple script error during routine maintenance…whodathunk? I shudder to think what may happen when routine maintenance on the .com domain takes place…
In another bit of “wish I’d never done that” news, Tim Berners-Lee just admitted that the forward slashes in the Web’s URL design protocol were both unnecessary and – in his words – a mistake. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to wander around the Web, and the Internet as a whole, just to see what we could find, by way of unfortunate stories we may have forgotten, or never even known about…things that “seemed like a good idea at the time”. We’re getting closer to the end of the year, when all those retrospectives come out, and I thought this would be as good a time as any to think back, only not just over the past year, but further. After all, it’s the history we forget that we so often tend to repeat…
Do you remember GeoCities? If you thought they died a long time ago, you might be surprised to hear that Yahoo, who acquired them back when people thought dot-coms would never bomb, recently (as in October 26th, 2009) announced GeoCities was closing its doors. Talk about limping along…
Then there are the ISPs. I was a Mindspringer for the longest time, one of the first evangelists for the brand (until Earthlink purchased them). Along with the likes of Prodigy (still shuffling along, believe it or not, as owner AT&T tries to find someone stupid enough to buy something worth nothing), AOL (reinventing itself every day, yet still deriving the largest measure of its revenue from good old (and I mean old!) dial-up subscriptions), and Netzero (reduced to net zero, as they try to find new ways to also rejigger the fact that they are still a dial-up ISP), Mindspring was a pioneer doomed to be eclipsed by telcos who learned from their mistakes.
When we think back to the search engines, the list is long: Webcrawler, AltaVista (technically still around), Lycos…heck, I’m just scraping the tip of the iceberg, and have already lost interest. Did you know that AltaVista had a chance to buy Google’s search technology way back when, and passed? Whoops. Google, contrary to its current well-deserved reputation, was not innovative at all when it first opened for business. It was efficient and analytical. Its algorithms reinvented web search, based on the ideas of its predecessors, good and bad alike. Some people call that reinventing the wheel, but they at least have not rested on their laurels.
Many websites that burned brightly for only a short while were decried as unsustainable business models (remember Pets.com, Webvan, eToys, Kibu, and Kozmo?), and yet their model has since been adapted and proven successful (Petedge, Upco, Fosters &Smith, Amazon, Barbie.com, Tesco, to name but a few comparable online ventures that seem to have “made it”). Timing is all, it would indeed seem, or at least kinda crucial.
For some, it was all about effective marketing and brand awareness…or the lack thereof: Akimbo.com failed because they could not manage to communicate their value proposition to their target market, among other “challenges”; Hulu succeeded (where Joost, Veoh, Vimeo, and others have not – to varying degrees) because they realized their brand strength was tied to the apron strings of their partners. OK, it certainly didn’t hurt that the networks who own the content it distributes also own Hulu!..
In other cases, interactive success came as a result of reinvention: the transition (or should I say ‘desertion”?) from Microsoft Live Search to today’s “Bing” *might* finally establish MSFT as a competitor to Google, in much the same way as Firefox is to the Redmond giant’s own browser…well, without the Open Source stuff!
Now,who uses RSS? I’m sure it some value, but not yet for me. I subscribe to several feeds, and all I do is trash the avalanche of junk in my inbox each morning. Until people learn to self police their content (be it RSS feeds, Tweets, or Facebook Mafia War activities), the internet is going to continue to burn through ideas like flames across the Verdugo mountains. There is too much information online, and we want tools that will filter and control the flood of data, not simply fractionalize it. After all, half of infinity is still infinity.
Some companies have good ideas, easily replicable by larger or later-in-the-game interests. Kiko developed a web based calendar, which seems like a great idea, unless you factor that it was not sufficiently proprietary of a business model to prevent Google from developing its own Google Calendar app.; and HotorNot.com and Friendster were arguably ripped off by what is known today as Facebook (originally Facemash). Several companies are in the process of trying to beat TVguide.com at its own game (something that seems – at first glance – to be a good idea, given that the TVGuide.com site is not so great). However, couchville.com was there first, and since departed. Branding is worth a lot these days, in a very cluttered marketplace and, unless you are a captive subscriber (using ATT/Yahoo TV portal, for instance), or an early adopter (of which there are far fewer than those of us on the East and West Coasts might believe).
Some ideas are not so much failures as temporary successes, taking advantage of loopholes in the law or in best practices. P2P is one prime example, with different offerings coming and going (or continuing to exist despite obviously supporting illegal practices), but there are others, such as Yak4ever, the site that allows you to make free international calls, albeit through a slightly cumbersome process. Google Voice is another offering that seems destined to either succumb to the counterattacks of the powerful telco lobbies, or force a reinvention of telco laws.
Where such ongoing “could go either way” projects as MySpace.com, Friendster (it’s still trying to make a go of it, my friends, and doing quite well in the Asia Pacific regions!), Kiva (currently under attack by folks who’d like to see it go the way of govWorks.com. Did you read the recent NYT article?), Project Natal, and James Cameron’s “Avatar” (had to throw that one in there!) end up is anybody’s guess. That’s where you come in: What failures and unforeseen successes do you recall? What is coming down the pike that you feel may completely reinvent interactive content production, storage, distribution, and/or consumption? Are you working on something that will make the Internet an even more robust tool and platform for communications, community and content? What does the Internet mean to you, beyond the conventional Web and email? What internet ventures do you feel will still be with us by the end of 2010?
History shows that much of what we praise today will be gone tomorrow.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley (1818)