It's easy to forget how much the World Wide Web has progressed over the last decade and how seamlessly it has blended in with our everyday activities, but exactly 10 years ago – in the UK at least – all online activity was via dial-up metered access (per minute billing), the most cutting edge browser on the market was Internet Explorer 5 and the main operating system was Windows 98.
If any old folk ever attempt to lecture you on how fun and exciting the internet was in the 1990s then I give you permission to poke them in their eye with your iPhone.
Fast forward to the present day and BT have recently announced that by 2012 over 30% of us Brits will have access to download speeds of over 40Mbps – an increase of a factor of 731 on 2000s 56 kbit/s maximum speed.
With such a jump in data transfer speeds and a noticeable increase in software quality and hardware power, the web today is a far more attractive place to spend time on. At least your friends and family can call you when you are logged-on, with the old dial-up they would only hear an engaged tone if they called while you were surfing (ha! that's an old term) as one form of communication would cancel out the other by blocking the line.
The Millennium Bug that didn't happen
When we did eventually wake up on January 1, 2000 after celebrating like it was 1999 on the previous night, we found that our entire information technology infrastructure hadn't collapsed at the stroke of midnight as supposedly would happen after the Millennium Bug kicked in.
Unless you were blind, death and dumb you would not have escaped alarmist media conjecture throughout 1999 that the Millennium Bug – also known as Y2K – would send our electronic systems crashing due to a common software date bug.
In fact, other than Percy's Office Supplies PC on Nuneaton High Street crashing absolutely nothing happened. The strangest fall out from this was the complete lack of debate about the Y2K flop afterwards and nobody asked why millions of government pounds had been spent combating a non-threat.
Dreamweaver 3 and ronsangels.com
In design software terms, matters were quite limited.
It may be hard to believe but once upon a time web designers were eagerly awaiting for Dreamweaver 3 to be released. Reviewer Karl Hodge from Net magazine wrote:
“From an early look at Dreamweaver 3, Macromedia seems set to blow away the competition once again with an application that builds Dreamweaver's famed ease of use, power and flexibility”.
Elsewhere what we now call link bait was then called a scam. Ronsangels.com announced that it was planning to start selling the ovum of choice from a selection of stunning models by auction. Starting at offers of $9,000, punters could bid on the egg of their choice. But ronsangels.com was only interested in signing up users to its porno service and no eggs were for sale.
Over 5,000 articles and 500 television stations worldwide were to feature Ron's Angels leading to sales of $39.2 million over the next five years.
[If you are looking for a web designer in east London then please visit Stratford web design]
The Dot Com bubble: boom and bust
But the real big story of 2000 was the dot com bubble and implosion as new technology stirred the selfish money genes of both the venture capitalists and the old moneyed interests.
Here's how things looked at the beginning of the year, as the news reader says in her introduction: “The new economy – is it a boom without an end?”. Ha ha!
YouTube: CNN Special Report on dot.com Bubble 1999
And here's how things looked after the boom:
YouTube: Dot-Com Bust Lessons Learned from Silicon Valley
At the heart of the bubble was the disastrous $164 billion merger between Time Warner and AOL. It was supposed to be a corporate coming together that showed how the entertainment industry could straddle the old and new economies, and it appeared to make commercial sense as after all AOL had 27m subscribers in the US and had announced profits of $1.2bn in the previous year, while Time Warner had the second largest US cable system and owned the Warner Bros film studio amongst much else.
One of reasons for the merges flop was that AOL Time Warner were dependent on dial-up subscribers in a time when internet users would increasingly flock to broadband.
Richard Morgan, journalist on The Deal magazine, reflected 10 years later:
“Back then a lot of people were drinking the Kool-Aid about the "new economy." When they announced that they were going to create the deal of the century, they put the value at $166 billion. Today, the market cap of Time Warner, which contains AOL, is only $28 billion. So that's a loss that's greater than 80 percent.”
The then CEO of Time Warner, Jerry Levin, was to confess:
“I presided over the worst deal of the century. I guess it's time to say I'm really very sorry”.
The figures that litter the history of the dot com boom are eye watering. Freeserver was an arm of electrical goods retailer Dixons, and appeared to be a roaring success. Launched in 1999, by the summer of 2000 they had 2 million subscribers, dwarfing BT's mere 400,000. After being floated on the stock market they were valued at £9 billion, more than Dixons and even many British banks. But Freeserver never made any profits in 2000 and by the year's end their share price had fallen below the £1.50 issue price.
As the Freeserver story illustrates, it wasn't just Silicon Valley that went dot com crazy. In July 2000 UK company boo.com folded after spending £90 million in its first year. Boo.com was a fashion retailer and failed because according to net magazine:
“Web sites miss their predicated launch dates by a few days or weeks, but Boo launched six months after its initial blaze of media attention. When it arrived, the site was unworkable, with an over-ambitious design that strained users' attention.”
Ray Taylor, MD of on-line media agency eyeeconomy was equally aghast:
“The major reason for the failure of [boo.com] is clearly, emphatically, and without doubt the lack of cost control. This seems to me obvious, given the rate at which is burnt it's investors' money”.
Many technology-based share prices shot to the outer financial reaches and then nose dive down again: InfoSpace was $1,305 per share in March 2000, but only $22 a share one year later; eToys reached a high of $88 per share and then went bankrupt in February 2001; theGlobe.com shrank from $97 per share to less than 10 cents.
And during the dot com boom when anybody questioned the viability of the technology expansion responders muttered about a “new paradigm” that meant that profits were optional and no longer the bottom line, and when it was all over commentators and economists were queuing up to tell the world that they had personally prophesied its downfall despite their previous tacit or open approval.
Some companies from Web 1.0 survived - Amazon, eBay and Lastminute.com being a few notable exceptions; but most crashed and burned.
You ever want to watch a great documentary on the dot com fiasco then I recommend startup.com. Here's a trailer:
YouTube: startup.com trailer