12 websites that changed the world

As the World Wide Web turns 25, we check out the early websites which changed the way we work, shop and play.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 11 Aug 2014

Amazon – launched 1995

Amazon started life as an online bookstore before diversifying into videos, DVDs and later everything else. The site changed the way we shop, and its focus on user reviews provided the inspiration for later peer review sites such as Trip Advisor.

Auctionweb - 1995

Auctionweb was the name originally given to what we now know as ‘eBay.’ Founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, the auction site took off quickly, hosting 2 million auctions in January 1997 alone, compared with 250,000 in the whole of 1996. Auctionweb was renamed eBay in 1997 and the site was a notable survivor of the dot com crash. It is now considered one of the most successful internet startups of all time, worth around $69bn.

Geocities - 1995

GeoCities made it possible for people with little technical skill to put their own website together. Pages were often garish and overflowing with colourful text and gifs as users made their stamp on the World Wide Web. Geocities was the world’s third most-visited website when Yahoo paid $3.5bn to buy it in 1999. Ten years later, Yahoo shut down the service completely after being outstripped by competitors.

Hotmail - 1996

Launched in 1996, Hotmail was the first web based email server. Before then, it was normal to have an email address linked to your business or your internet service provider. HoTMaiL (as it was then stylized) was acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for around $400m. In 2012, Microsoft replaced it with Outlook which promised to give users a ‘cleaner, more simple’ experience.

Wikipedia - 2001

As a young boy, Jimmy Wales spent hours poring over encyclopaedias which were difficult to navigate and often out of date. In 2001 he created Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia which everyone could edit and update. It is now the world’s sixth most-visited website, according to internet traffic research firm Alexa.

MP3.com - 1997

MP3.com was the pre-cursor to Napster and iTunes and popularised the MP3 format of digital music. The site offered downloads of unsigned bands and therefore became a popular destination for indie artists looking for a break. When MP3.com went public in 1999, it was the largest tech IPO at the time, raising over $370m. The site was bought by online firm CNET in 2003 for around $370m after being plagued by licensing issues and enduring the wrath of the recording industry.

Craigslist - 1995

Craig Newmark set up Craigslist in 1995 as an email distribution list. Now it’s the world’s biggest classified ads website. If you need anything from a new car to a new pet, chances are you’ll find something suitable on Craigslist. It has an estimated market cap of $5bn.

Blogger - 1999

While GeoCities made it easy for people to build their own website, when Blogger launched in summer 1999 it took things to a new level. Now everyone could keep detailed ‘web logs’ of their day-to-day activities. It was acquired by Google in 2003 and has inspired many other sites such as Wordpress and Tumblr.

Friends reunited - 2001

At its peak, the early social networking pioneer had more than 15 million members who used the site to get in touch with old school friends. It was sold to ITV in 2005 for £120m, but soon after Myspace and Facebook took off - and the rest,as they say, is history...

Neopets - 1999

Neopets began in 1997 in a dingy computer room in Surrey and the site went live two years later. It allows users to adopt a pet, play games and earn NeoPoints to buy virtual food and merchandise, and it quickly became the most popular site for children’s entertainment. Neopets was sold to Viacom in 2005, the peak of its popularity, for $160m.

Match.com - 1995

Match.com introduced people to online dating, an industry which is now estimated to be worth some £2bn globally. Match.com was also one of the first websites to persuade people to pay a monthly subscription, a model which is still used by the hundreds of online dating websites in existence today.

And finally...

Google - 1998

Google has arguably had the most impact of all. The world’s most visited website, Google’s influence has spread way beyond the search engine. In its 15 year history, Google has introduced the world to SEO, disrupted the advertising industry and has changed the way we use maps. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are worth around $22bn apiece.

Images via internet archive Way Back When.

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