Where are Alta Vista, Geocities and Other Sites of Yore Now?
The Salad Days of the WWW
Remember the 1990s? The Spice Girls were everywhere, you wore lots of flannel, and the world wide web — the Internet! — was just getting started. The web was a less distracting place back then: fewer sites were available, and there weren’t nearly as many content creators putting stuff out there for anyone to see. It was a time of lots of serifs, web-safe colours, low bandwidth limits, and total virtual freedom. You probably used the phrase “information superhighway” and meant it sincerely. It felt like the future.
In those early days, there were a few websites and web services that got lots of traffic. They provided indexing, some primitive search capabilities, and access to the web in general. A few sites even took some very early stabs at social media. Of course, when MySpace got big and Google started to dominate, these early Web 1.0 sites began to lose visitors. Once Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram came on the scene, no one had much use for these early sites. Some changed their focus, while others have gone to the great pre-Y2K internet in the sky. Where are they now? Let’s have a look.
Before Google was the way to find and do anything online, before Bing challenged Google for top web dog (and, of course, lost), and before WolframAlpha became the double secret intellectual place to find the right answer to questions (shh), Yahoo! (stylised with the exclamation point) was the world wide web index for the masses. You could try to run a search, but you were usually better off going through the hierarchy of categories to find what you were after and discover related sites.
That was back in the late 1990s, though. Over the years, Yahoo! has evolved into a more expansive tech company after struggling a bit in the late 2000s.
Currently, you can still use Yahoo! for a web search, but its primary focus is as a news and information portal; you’ll find the latest topics toggling on the home page, a list of trending web topics, and an index of newspaper-style news sections. As a business, Yahoo! is on top again, having acquired Tumblr, Flickr, and other web companies in recent years and garnering hundreds of millions of visitors every month. In fact, they bought and shut down some of the companies mentioned below.
This was one of the original ways to get online and procure a personalised email address. It was pricey, but people were buying. CompuServe did quite well in both the US and the UK through the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it quickly became clear that AOL was the market dominator, despite CompuServe’s attempts to stay competitive (it’s WOW! service quickly crashed and burned due to persistent technical issues).
The company was eventually acquired by AOL via WorldCom. Currently, there’s a bare-bones page at compuserve.com with some Yahoo!-like indexing and a few headlines, but it’s clearly a shell of the tech giant it once was.
It was a search engine, it was a personal web portal before that phrase really meant anything, and it had an awesome name. Excite was one of the most popular websites of the 1990s. It was great while it lasted, but a series of bad business decisions and an inability to adapt to the changing culture of the web, plus the fickle, impatient nature of web users as a whole led to its demise.
Well, maybe demise isn’t the right word — it’s still there at excite.com, but it’s obviously struggling. You could get the day’s news and explore popular topics if you were to browse over there. However, you’ll probably go to Google or check your Facebook feed for those things because it’s not 1999 anymore.
4. Alta Vista
In 1995, when “google” simply meant ten to the hundredth power (and spelled wrong, at that), AltaVista was the thinking person’s search engine of choice. It was the early leader in web search technology, much better than Yahoo! and, many would say, faster too. However, once Google came along in the late 1990s, AltaVista slowly faded into the backdrop. The company was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003 and floundered around for another decade before being shut down for good.
Now, if you go to altavista.com, you just get a redirect to a stark, image-free Yahoo! page and a twinge of sadness for the death of your first digital research assistant.
Pop quiz, hotshot. It’s 1997 and you want a website. You taught yourself HTML from a For Dummies book that you checked out of the local library. You have no money and no vision, but you really really really want to be on the web. What do you do? Duh — you go to GeoCities. The site’s virtual geography was a bit odd, but it worked, and there were at least 38 million individual user homepages before the service was shut down for good by owner Yahoo! in 2009.
Visit geocities.com now, and you’ll be redirected to a Yahoo! Business page featuring web hosting packages for low monthly rates.
Before the phrase “social media” ever tumbled out of your mouth, you were probably on Friendster. This would have been back in 2003 or 2004, before Facebook even went live. One of the first social media sites, Friendster was a fun way to connect with your friends in a virtual space and meet new people, possibly for dating. It was cool while it lasted, but once MySpace and then Facebook came on the scene, users left Friendster in droves. The site switched over to a social gaming portal in 2011, and then all but ceased to exist in June of 2015.
If you visit friendster.com now, you’ll find a note saying that they’re taking a break, which is more or less shorthand for “it’s over.”
7. Hot or Not
While the sheer entertainment value of Hot or Not was undeniable, it maybe brought out the most shallow, superficial aspects of users’ personalities. Raters were ruthless, rate-ees tried so hard to look good that they often ended up looking ridiculous, and it was really only a matter of time before lots of people simply left this negativity behind. There was a matchmaking component to the site, which did pretty well, and the site’s interactivity was the inspiration for lots of social media networks that are popular today.
The Hot Or Not website currently focuses more on dating than rating, and there’s also an app. It’s not totally dead as a concept, but the focus has definitely shifted.
The original tool for self-publishing on the internet, and co-created by the eventual co-founder of Twitter, Blogger helped bloggers blog. Or more specifically, an account at blogger.com would get you a weblog (yes, its actual name) on which you could easily publish your thoughts. People had been keeping public, online journals before Blogger, but the site was developed to streamline the process so that the same lines of HTML code didn’t have to be typed in for every post. After initial success, the company struggled to find funding before being purchased by Google in 2003.
Currently, Blogger is still available to novice bloggers, with free domains at blogspot.com. It’s evolved, but this is one early site whose general purpose is still more or less the same as it was when it started.
Travel Back in Time
It’s always fun to check out old websites, both for nostalgia purposes and to marvel at how far things have come in just ten or 15 years. It does make you wonder what the web will look like ten years from now. No one knows for sure, but there is one certainty, and it’s this: if you think things will look more or less the same in a decade, you’re fooling yourself.
It’s been well established that the web is a truly fluid medium. Trends change, sites come and go, and user needs and preferences are always evolving. In 2025, will we be looking back fondly at the halcyon days of Facebook? Only time will tell!