Before Networking Was Social: Ten Early Social Websites That Are Dead or Dying
Social networking today is a foregone conclusion. Many of us wake up and check Twitter on our smart phones or pull up Facebook on our laptops. We surf YouTube videos in our spare time, find dates on Match.com and spend hours reading music, politics, health and life on blogs all over the web.
What seems commonplace today was born out of years of missteps and failed attempts. In ten years, some of the sites we consider a part of our daily lives today will be like the list we offer you today. These were the websites that started it all for social networking and are either dead or withering on the vine. We're guessing Facebook won't join them, but considering a few of the names on this list and their one-time dominance, you never know.
10. IUMA The Internet Underground Music Archive was once the place to discover new music. It broke bands and gave independent musicians their first place to showcase their talents. Long before the MP3 existed, before music blogs pimped bands and earbuds blasted songs into everyone's ears, artists and fans could share their love of music online at IUMA. Like most cool websites, it started with a bunch of college kids and failed because technology changed and they couldn't keep up -- a sad but common refrain in the early days of the internet.
9. Make-Out Club Make-Out Club is considered by many to be the first social networking site. If you have never heard of it, it's likely because you are not a hipster or an emo kid because MOC is Facebook for the indie set. The site was founded by punk musician Gibby Miller and it has always had a decidedly musical bent. Over the years, the now disparate concepts MOC once brought together -- music, pop counterculture and matchmaking -- have gone their separate ways and MOC has faltered. While it still exists in theory, it is mostly now a place for pouty, pale college kids to hook up and talk about their latest American Apparel purchase.
8. HotorNot The web often seems like one big happy hour. The entire thing is about connecting people with information or with each other and that almost always leads to, well, you know. Because the internet is a visual medium, pictures are the primary commodity when it comes to people finding each other online. Hotornot.com cut to the chase by allowing people to post photos and users to rate them on a scale of ten (hot) to one (not). Eventually, in what seems a natural progression, the photo rating site added a dating area where people can get past the photos and on to the, well, you know. In 2008, HotorNot.com was purchased for $20 million, but it doesn't have the appeal it once did and with literally billions of photos floating around the web, who needs HotorNot to find them?
7. Friendster Before there was Facebook, there was Friendster. This early social networking site provided many of the same basic services as Facebook, but with a much more awkward interface (which is saying a LOT). For years, Hair Balls got e-mails from its defunct Friendster account and one day they just stopped coming. Turns out, while Friendster may be all but dead in the U.S., its popularity as a social gaming site has grown in Asia after they hired ex-Google exec Richard Kimber and began expanding to the far east. In 2009, Friendster was purchased by one of Asia's biggest internet companies. We sometimes miss our old Friendster e-mails, but since the only thing we can say in an Asian language is pho, we don't really mind.
6. GeoCities There was a time when everyone wanted a personal website covered in glitter and animated gif's with MIDI versions of crappy songs playing in the background. If that era in internet history was disco, Geocities was Studio 54. The free web hosting service provided space for every nerd in America to post pictures of Counselor Troi and synopses of Dr. Who episodes. The flashing banner ads and black background were enough to give kids a seizure, which seems appropriate since the service is now only available in Japan after Yahoo shut it down in the U.S. a few years ago due to dwindling popularity. 5. Second Life Remember when news stories popped up all over the place about how kids were going to lose themselves in virtual reality? There were episodes of Law and Order dedicated to how checked out kids were because of their online worlds. At the center of all that hype was Second Life, the alternate reality website that allowed people to interact with one another as cartoon characters. They could talk, have sex or even wander around looking like the Kool-Aid man. Oh, yeah! Today, Second Life is not nearly the wildly popular site it once was as kids get older and discover real sex is actually better than the cyber version and as advertisers began to figure out that billboards in Second Life are even less effective than the ones along freeways.
4. Usenet Music, politics, technology, science fiction, sports, sex and naked pictures of famous people -- this was the lifeblood of the early internet even before there was a "web" and before browsers showed us text, graphics and pictures all embedded in a single page. The internet was comprised of a small (by today's standards) network of computers filled with newsgroups related to just about anything you could imagine. This was the Usenet. While it is still in use today, it has long since been replaced by file sharing websites, photo galleries, blogs and websites of all different varieties, but, in its heyday, the Usenet was where it was at, man, and it was groovy.
3. LiveJournal Blogs began as online diaries. They were places where 15-year-old girls could publish their emo poetry and housewives could talk about their imagined trysts with the pool boy. We realize it is hard to believe, but blogs weren't always about pimping products, harping about Obama and celebrity gossip. Originally, they were mostly anonymous, intensely personal and they were all on LiveJournal. The original blogging website is still around -- sold last year to a Russian company by Six Apart, the same company that owns Moveable Type, the blogging software the Houston Press uses -- but just barely, as other blogging software platforms like WordPress now dominate what was once LiveJournal's realm.
2. MySpace At one time, there was a battle to see who would win the war for most popular social networking website between MySpace and Facebook. Hard to imagine, right? In fact, MySpace came before Facebook and was extremely popular, particularly with bands trying to promote themselves and teenagers looking to have anonymous sex. Facebook won the war with better apps and, generally, a better overall approach to sharing connections. It is also a lot less smarmy and the lack of a personal page customization means no one has to suffer through the long wait while a hundred animated gif's load just to see pictures of some underage girl's cleavage. In short, MySpace is ghetto Facebook. If the people at News Corp. who bought MySpace in 2006 were smart, they'd ditch every personal profile and focus on music, which, remarkably, still seems to be draw visitors.
1. Classmates.com If there was ever a website that was absolutely obliterated by social networking, it's Classmates.com. What used to be one of the few ways to connect with old friends is now just an expensive way to do the same thing you can do on Facebook for free. For years, Classmates gave people the opportunity to do what was normally reserved for reunions: hook up with people they used to date. Unfortunately, they depended on being the sole source of networking with former high school buds and were unable to foresee the social networking revolution that was on the horizon. Classmates is still out there begging you to give them just $20 per month for a Gold Membership that allows you to see the profiles of your weirdo ex and his camouflaged four-wheeler.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.