Many of the top behemoths operate many platforms and content streams, which in turn helped them to rise into the top 20 internet giants that currently rule the web.
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With each passing year, a larger and larger portion of the population forgets about graphics loading one pixel row at a time, the ear splitting noise of a 56k modem, or web portal dominance in the early days.
In 1998, many of the most popular websites were news aggregators or search engines, which are simple notions to grasp. Today, however, as Nick Routley of Visual Capitalist explains below, brand touchpoints are frequently dispersed across devices (e.g. mobile apps vs. desktop) and a plethora of services and sub-brands (e.g. Facebook’s constellation of apps). As a result, the world’s most popular websites are intricately linked online properties.
The visualisation below, which mostly uses data from ComScore’s U.S. Multi-Platform Properties ranking, examines which of the internet’s behemoths have grown to stay on top, and which have slipped into obscurity.
America Moves Online
The classic AOL CD was the key that opened the door to the World Wide Web for millions of curious people in the late ’90s. AOL was used by a estimated 35 million users to access the internet at its peak, and the firm soared to stratospheric heights thanks to the Dotcom boom, reaching a value of $222 billion USD in 1999.
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AOL’s brand may not have had the allure it once had, but it was never fully forgotten. After Verizon acquired both of the renowned web companies, the company continued to evolve, eventually merging with Yahoo. Verizon hoped that the firm, dubbed Oath, would grow into a “third option” for advertisers and people tired of Google and Facebook.
Regrettably, their aspirations did not come to fruition as expected. In 2019, Oath was rebranded as Verizon Media, and in 2021, it was sold again.
A City of Gifs and Web Logs
As the internet’s popularity grew, web hosts like AngelFire and GeoCities made it simple for anyone to set up a new online home.
GeoCities, in particular, had a significant impact on the early internet, hosting millions of webpages and allowing users to participate in the creation of online content. It would have been the third largest city in America, after Los Angeles, if it had been an actual community of “home” pages.
When GeoCities was officially shut down by Yahoo in 2009, this early online community was in danger of being lost forever, but fortunately, the nonprofit Internet Archive made particular steps to compile a comprehensive record of GeoCities-hosted pages.
From A to Z
Amazon was in the midst of a big Christmas season crisis in December of 1998, long before it became the well-oiled commercial powerhouse we know today.
Employees worked long hours and even slept in vehicles to keep the items flowing in the real world, while Amazon.com had grown to become one of the most popular websites on the internet as people became more accustomed with the concept of purchasing goods online. As the company began to extend its offerings beyond books, demand skyrocketed.
Amazon.com has grown to be the most successful merchant on the Internet.
— From the New York Times (1998)
Digital Magazine Rack
Many individuals who look at today’s top 20 list will be unfamiliar with Meredith. Meredith might not have been a household name, but it owned many of the country’s most well-known magazine brands (People, AllRecipes, Martha Stewart, Health, and so on), as well as their large digital presence. In addition, the firm owned a number of regional television networks around the U.S.
Meredith became the world’s largest magazine publisher after acquiring Time Inc. in 2017. Meredith, on the other hand, has sold off many of its most valuable assets since then (Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune). Meredith and IAC’s Dotdash merged in December 2021.
People are increasingly turning to the internet for solutions to their pressing queries, but the variety of sources for those solutions is dwindling.
Even as late as 2013, About.com, Ask.com, and Answers.com were amongthe most popular websites in the United States. Today, though, Google looks to have solidified its position as a universal source of information.
Since smart speakers and voice assistants continue to gain traction and impact search behaviour, Google is unlikely to face any competition in the near future from companies that aren’t already in the top 20.
New Kids on the Block
Social media has already outlived its fad status and has evolved into a shared digital thread that connects people all over the world. Other companies that have incorporated social networking into their operations but took longer to blossom into internet behemoths than Facebook, which leapt into the top 20 by 2007.
By 2018, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook’s umbrella of platforms were all in the top 20, with a more complete and up-to-date analysis of the social media universe available here.
A Tangled Web
The internet behemoths of today have progressed well beyond their forefathers of two decades ago. Many of the top 20 organisations operate many platforms and content streams, yet the majority of them are not household brands.
Mediavine and CafeMedia, for example, are ad-management platforms. Others, like Hearst, oversee a constellation of smaller media properties or handle content distribution, such as music
Finally, there are the tech behemoths. Surprisingly, three of the top five websites were among the top 20 in 1998. That’s incredible tenacity in the fast-paced digital world.