5 Websites That Started Out As Something WAY Different
It's dumb to expect an idea to be birthed fully formed and ready for action. Like all things, it takes time, patience, and, especially in the case of several websites you've probably used today, a whole bucket of turd polish before they finally found their way. For instance, before they were the megasites you know today ...
eBay Was An Ebola Fansite
There comes a time in the life of every tech company when they have to ask themselves whether they want to stick to the path of user-focused goodness or delve into questionable profit-chasing and middle-management-style evil. It's like that final test from The Last Crusade, but instead of turning into a skeleton, you wind up spamming an election with shitty "alt-right" memes (also known as "alt-right memes").
When eBay made their choice decades ago, it's fortunate for us that they chose to stay on the path of light. If they hadn't, there's a good chance that we'd staring down an Ebola-obsessed survivalist cult with a novel sideline in gym socks and haunted dolls.
Back in 1995, eBay.com was the personal homepage of its creator, Pierre Omidyar ... and just like most personal homepages, it was full of random bullshit. There were pages dedicated to an alumni group, a biotech company, something called "AuctionWeb" (foreshadowing!), and -- more disconcertingly -- a page titled "Ebola Information." Sadly, no one thought to screenshot this work of creepy magnificence, so we're only left with the description provided by one biographer. There was "a photograph of the virus that he had found on the Centers for Disease Control website," as well as " to news stories and data about Ebola and Ebola outbreaks." Oh wait, shoot. This was 1995. There was probably a dancing baby somewhere in that mix.
Admittedly, Omidyar wasn't being a complete lunatic when he created this site. Everyone was terrified of Ebola at that time, thanks to movies such as Outbreak and Twelve Monkeys, books like The Hot Zone, and, oh right, that major fucking outbreak of Ebola. It made complete sense to have a page that collated this information together, and his concern about a virological apocalypse led to him proposing a messaging system to help people survive a mass pandemic as recently as 2007.
After the AuctionWeb section took off, however, it was a pretty simple decision to switch from nonprofit contagion fanboyism to making major bank hawking copies of Ebola Zombies -- which, I suspect, won't be that useful come an outbreak. Although ... I've seen Shaun Of The Dead several hundred times. I could probably take someone out if the situation arises.
Twitter Started As A Text Messaging Service
I regularly go back and forth on my love of Twitter. When I'm in a good mood, I think that it's one of the greatest tools of the modern age -- a place where I can access a diverse range of opinions and perspectives which, given infinite time, my brain still wouldn't be able to conceive of. When I'm a bad mood, I think that at best, you are screaming into the wind, and at worst, it's a dangerous tool that traps you in an intellectual echo chamber. And moreover, it's totally bullshit that an account that only tweets butt facts has more followers than me.
Before it became the closest thing we'll ever have to that creepy person-rating app from Black Mirror, however, Twitter was nothing more than a text-messaging-only service that allowed you to drive friends mad with FOMO 24/7. All you had to do was send whatever banality you wanted to a specific number, and bam! It'd be sent to every single one of your followers, like an inescapable reply-all email spliced with the psychoactive properties of Crazy Frog.
The website, meanwhile, was nothing more than a publicly accessible archive of your twexts. As this was back in the days when people gave a damn about their privacy, one journalist speculated that "most users are not going to want to have all of their messages published on a public website." They later went on to write that "the internet is pretty sweet, but it probably isn't the best way to choose a presidential candidate."
When it was released in 2006, Twttr had the viral outreach of an actual virus -- a virus that attacks money, mind. Whilst Twttr didn't rely on data to send messages, it decimated employees' SMS bills, to the point where the company had to start paying them off. It was worth it, however, just to have a service that nowadays only decimates your smartphone's memory.
Flickr And Slack Were Born Out Of Failed Video Games
When life kicks you in the goolies, it's important to dust yourself off, apply some goolie-soothing ointment, and salvage whatever you can from the wreckage. Case in point, I graduated as an archaeologist at a time when everyone was more interested in learning how to make handkerchief bindles than paying me to dig a hole in their garden. I turned my now-useless knowledge into a spooky article for some pokey website, and spoiler, it resulted in a job in which I get paid to eat sausage rolls all day from home and tell jokes.
In 2002, Steve Butterfield found himself in the exact same situation. His attempts at building the Second Life-esque Game Neverending had ended in spectacular failure, because that's what happens when you play chicken with the irony-loving shithead known as "fate." With his development company mere days from shutting down, his team looked at the game and wondered if there was anything that they could quickly spin off into its own product. The beta players really loved one feature which let them send loot to each other. Maybe there was something in that?
Switching out the ability to send loot with the ability to send photos, they created Flickr.
Or Imgur for Your Mom.
After making real-life loot selling Flickr to Yahoo, Butterfield again tried his hand at video games with Game Neverending 2.0: This Time We're Not Fucking Around. The end result was an incomprehensible mess that no one wanted to play, so guess what happened? Figuring that this crazy scheme worked the first time, they spun off their only working tool -- in this case, a chat program that the development team created to easily communicate -- and kicked it out into the marketplace to see how well it flew.
The end result was Slack, a team collaboration tool that allows groups to communicate, conspire, and create beautiful works of dick joke art. It was also last valued at $3.8 billion, so hey, Butterfield's probably lining up his third crack at video game development right now.
YouTube Started Out As A Video Dating Website
According to internet lore, the first message ever sent online was "lo." The second was (probably) "a/s/l?" Call it an overactive sex drive if you want, but it's how we humans evolve. We use new technology to expand our junk-sharing potential, and along the way, we gradually eke out a better form of civilization. I'm not a sex archaeologist by any means, but I'm pretty sure that there are cave paintings in Lascaux depicting protohumans fashioning themselves a sex swing from rocks and vines.
Hint: Not a nail.
It was the same for YouTube. When the site first opened for business in 2005, it was just a directionless mass of code and unsullied comment sections. It didn't have a "thing" to entice users. In order to gather interest, therefore, the site's owners hit upon the idea of promoting it as a dating site using the slogan "Tune in. Hook up."
"And watch as the buffering wilts your boner."
It was, in short, a spectacular failure. Just like everyone else in need of a no-frills pick-me-up, they even hit up Craigslist and advertised for women to record fake dating profiles in exchange for the princely sum of $20. The users still stayed away. It was almost as if they knew that, one day, they'd have to explain to their children how they met the love of their life.
In the end, they just started uploading old bullshit videos of airplanes taking off, because frankly, an audience of masturbating aerophiliacs is still an audience. The small number of users they had starting doing the same, but with videos of cats and zoos and everything other than awkward dating profiles. Soon enough, the site we know today was born. It's up to history to decide whether this is a good thing, frankly.
Wikipedia Started With A Porn Search Engine
As much as we like to talk about how the internet is the world's greatest research tool, that's not quite true. Expecting someone to become even intermediately versed in a topic based on the first few links that Google farts out is like expecting the same after being smacked in the head with a dictionary -- there's immediacy, yes, but that means dick-all without order and curation. That's where Wikipedia comes in -- and only for the low, low price of one cup of coffee, as those damn fundraising banners keep reminding me.
Admittedly, it could cost us a lot less, but that'd require Jimmy Wales to go back to his days as a pornmonger. In 1996, Wales was a co-founder of Bomis, a search engine that catered exclusively to men. And not just any men, mind -- real men who love features on cars and sports and tits and, of course, more tits. It's hard to imagine how he and his friends were able to code the site without exploding like fizzy balloons of testosterone over the sheer manliness of it all, so I'm going to ignore that possibility and assume that Bomis was born from an accident involving a server rack and an issue of Maxim with all the pages stuck together. Whatever the method, the site became a major success and propelled the sex-doers of Silicon Valley into the internet stratosphere.
What drove 99 percent of that profit was porn. Through sections like "Bomis Babes," "Bomis Babe Report," "Babe Engine," and whatever other iterations of "Bomis" and "Babe" they could muster up before those words became redundant noises to the English language, they pulled in massive amounts of advertising revenue. And then there was "Bomis Premium," a members-only section of the site where, for the princely sum of $2.95 for three days' access, you could watch "top-notch models bare it all."
The dream couldn't last forever, though. Sensing a change in the way that people looked up information -- i.e. without having to clear their browser history after every visit -- Wales jumped ship and used the funds and experience that he'd gathered to start the precursor to Wikipedia: Nupedia, or as he probably originally wanted to call it, Factgina.
For more check out 8 Once Cutting-Edge Websites That Are Now Super Depressing and 6 Depressing Epilogues Of Famous Websites.
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