The Web’s Top 10 Sites, 10 Years Later …

Every month I get an email from comScore giving me a list of the top 50 sites in the US market (I also get emails about lists of top sites in other markets). Occasionally there are interesting tid bits about trends that comScore has noticed over the past month, but for the most part things rarely change these days — Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are almost always at the top (in that order), with the expected cast of characters rounding out the top ten — Amazon, Wikipedia, eBay, AOL, Fox (MySpace), etc. In short, it’s generally not something I plan to write about each month.

But if things don’t change very much at the top month-to-month, I started to wonder what sort of effect years have had on the web. This is the Internet, after all, and things go fast around here. Just five years ago we didn’t have Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, or Digg. What about ten? So I thought it might be interesting to look at the top 10 sites according to comScore from July 1998 and compare the list to today’s top 10. Where are the site’s of yesteryear?

Today, comScore maintains just one top 50 list measuring use from home, work, and school. In 1998, however, their top 15 was broken up into separate lists for home and work use. We’ll use the home list for this post.

#1. AOL

AOL is actually still the #4 most visited collection of sites, and their ad network has the largest reach on the web. But, oh, how the mighty have fallen. In 1998 America Online was on the rise — one of the largest ISPs in the United States, and on the way to a $105 billion market cap in 1999. Then, in 2000, it purchased Time Warner for $164 billion. Big mistake. In 2002 AOL reported a loss of $99 billion, and today AOL’s web assets are reported to be worth only about $3-10 billion.

#2. Yahoo!

Okay, so not everything has changed. Yahoo! was #2 ten years ago, and they’re #2 today. But they’re now in second place to Google, and that’s been a bad place to be, at least financially. The company was almost bought out by Microsoft, and narrowly escaped a proxy battle with billionaire investor Carl Icahn earlier this year. Once the darling of the web, Yahoo! is still one of the most viewed properties and has some interesting and useful Web 2.0 sites (Delicious, Flickr, Pipes, etc.), but it has struggled to make money from all those eyeballs and is getting slaughtered in the most lucrative of online businesses: search.

#3. Microsoft

Microsoft is also still in third place today. They’re not competing on search, despite their best efforts, but with the largest cash reserves of any company competing for the future of the web, it’s hard to count Microsoft out.

#4. Excite

In 1998, Excite was pulling in a ton of traffic, but losing money. A $6.7 billion merger with @Home couldn’t save it, and in 2004 it was purchased by IAC. The site still exists as a MyYahoo!-style start page, but it has been largely forgotten.

#5. Geocities

Geocities, which was a precursor to personal blogging communities like LiveJournal and WordPress.com, went public a month after this list was published in August 1998. It quickly saw its share price shoot up from $17 to over $100, and was purchased by Yahoo! before bubble burst for $3.57 billion. The site still attracts almost 13 million visitors each month, and Yahoo! still operates it as a featureless free web host, but it is now overshadowed by blog communities like the aforementioned WordPress. Further, cheap and much more feature-rich web hosts like Dreamhost and Site5 make Geocities less relevant for anyone wanting more than a blog.

#6. Netscape

Netscape Navigator was one of the most popular and important web browsers of the early to mid-90s Internet. 1998 was a big year for Netscape, but mostly because that was the year they started the open source Mozilla foundation that eventually led to the creation of the Firefox web browser. It was also the year that Netscape was acquired by AOL for $4.2 billion, which sadly proved to be the beginning of the end for the Netscape name.

Since, Netscape has gone from one of the most respected and well-known brands on the web, to a site that can’t figure out its identity. Netscape.com has been everything from a browser download site, to a web portal, to a search engine, to a Digg clone, and now it just redirects to a slightly altered version of AOL.com. Netscape officially ended support for Netscape web browsers earlier this year and urged people to switch to Firefox or Flock.

#7. Lycos

Like Yahoo! and Google, Lycos began life as a University project. Unlike Google and Yahoo!, Lycos has been pretty much forgotten. The site now attracts just over 2 million visitors per month, according to Compete, and their traffic is down 73% on the year. In 1996 Lycos was one of the first profitable Internet businesses and was sold in 2000 to Spanish firm Terra Networks for $5.6 billion. By 2004, however, Lycos had fallen on hard times and was worth just $95.4 million when South Korea-based Daum Communications Corporation (the current owner) purchased it.

#8. The WhoWhere Network

WhoWhere? Huh? Exactly. WhoWhere was an early people and email search directory that was acquired by Lycos in 1998. For what happened next, see #7.

#9. Disney

No longer a top 10 property, Disney has fallen to #22 (and they were actually #9 on both the home and work lists in 1998). That said, Disney is still hugely relevant in the teen and younger market. Last year, they even acquired the hugely popular Club Penguin site for $350 million, pushing their reach into that market further. Disney also owns the television networks ABC and ESPN, which both have hugely popular online sites as well (ESPN is currently #43 on the web, according to comScore).

#10. Infoseek

Infoseek was one of the web’s major 90s search engines. In 1998, it was purchased by Disney and used a year later as the basis of a search and portal venture called Go.com that drew content from other Disney properties (like ESPN, ABC News, and Family.com). Like most portal plays of the 1990s, Go.com didn’t work. It still operates as a gateway to Disney’s web properties, but it shut down its internal search feature in 2001 (today it relies on Yahoo! search).

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  • roosevelt

    Very useful article, diggin it :).

    BTW, I think I wasn’t even born when excite was the boss :p… never heard of them until today LMAO!

  • kels

    @roosevelt, that would make you like 8 years old…

  • tlhallums

    That was a very good article. One more to add to that list of major contenders is/was Alta Vista. Alta Vista used to be THE major search engine at that time.

  • http://www.thefullresource.com arkinstall

    Nice article – Would also like to see screenshots comparing design and layout between now and then.

  • http://altoonadesign.com halfasleeps

    arkinstall Says:
    September 4th, 2008 at 3:11 am
    Nice article – Would also like to see screenshots comparing design and layout between now and then.

    I would like to see this as well.

  • http://www.mikedesign.net/ mauteri

    @arkinstall & halfasleeps: you can always go to archive.org and see what old sites looked like.

  • http://altoonadesign.com halfasleeps

    @mauteri

    thanks for the link… thats a good idea, but that site is very slow, and I dont think they archive the .css files or something because all the pages look how a page generally looks when you disable external style sheets.

  • http://www.mikedesign.net/ mauteri

    @halfasleep: that’s true. but if you want to look back to sites of the 90′s, css was used very little if at all. if you look at the big sites (yahoo, google, excite, et cetera), you can get a good sense of what their site looked like back then. it’s fun to check out, especially when you’re bored at work. :o)

  • Neil Bradley

    I remember the days of submitting sites to this lot.

    I didn’t realise Lycos was bought by Terra Networks for $5.6 billion! Not the best business move ever then selling Lycos for $95.4 million! Someone must of been fired for that turkey.

  • WebDesignGold

    Seems like decades now.. Netscape and it’s Composer was my favorite “Homepage” building tool back then.

  • http://www.foundrylabs.co.uk stuartk

    Takes me back to the good old days of dial up, signing up with my first AOL CD.

  • nishantk

    where was the google that time???

  • WebDesignGold

    nishantk Says: where was the google that time???
    At the gym.. doing push-ups :)

  • cheesedude

    I used most of these websites. I still have my Excite email account from 1996 or 1997 or so. Years ago, there was not nearly as much content on the web as there is today. I started using the web in 1995. Back then, there was porn and university websites and not much else.

    Even back in the late 1990s I thought the valuations for internet and technology companies was ridiculous. Paying billions of dollars for something with little profits was crazy. It doesn’t look like some people learned their lesson. Look at the ridiculous valuation on Facebook now.

  • person

    @halfasleep: CSS in 1998? lol.