February 4, 2008

Dotcom Pioneers: Where are they now?

Hey, this is a nice compilation of the pioneering tech companies that made the Web what it is today (by Josh Lowensoh, Scott Ard, Elinor Mills, Greg Sandoval, and Jon Skillings of News.com). Some of them continue to innovate and turn a profit, while others have either died off or been consumed by larger companies.

About.com. After being launched in 1997, Web guide service About.com was picked up by The New York Times company in 2005 for nearly $700 million. About's still kicking, and serving up a large variety of content, both written and video.

AltaVista was one of the first big search engines for the Web. After launching in late 1995, the service gained popularity before parent company Digital Equipment Corporation was sold to Compaq in 1998. It then changed hands three more times to fall under Yahoo's control, who still uses its technology in its Web search.

Amazon.com. Founder Jeff Bezos' 1995 e-marketplace baby survived the dot-com bust and quickly began to turn a profit selling a huge array of products. It's snatched up over a dozen otherhigh-profile sites including the Internet Movie Database, Alexa Internet, and on Thursday Audible.com.

AOL started out as a video games-by-telephone modem service before nearly going under in the early 1980s. It turned into an ISP beginning in the 1990s, and continued to grow massively until competition made the company change its focus to content. It later merged with Time Warner in 2001. The company continues to be known for its instant-messaging service, portal news site, and as an Internet service provider.

Ask Jeeves has been around since 1996 and was formerly known for its cartoon mascot of a smarmy concierge-type who would answer search queries. Jeeves was nixed 10 years later when the company re-branded as Ask.com. Ask continues to compete in the search world, but trails behind the popularity of larger search behemoths like Google and Yahoo.

Buy.com was founded in 1997, and like Amazon.com it began with relatively few types of items for sale before expanding to cover nearly every product in every category. The company went public in 2000, but stock values tanked. Company founder Scott Blum bought back control of Buy.com and took it private, and it continues to sell goods online.

CBS MarketWatch, now known simply as MarketWatch, was partially owned by Viacom until News Corp.-owned Dow Jones snatched it up in early 2005. The media company continues to provide written and video content, both on the Web and on TV.

CMGI (College Marketing Group Information) was founded in the mid-1980s, and had an IPO in 1994 as CMG Information Services. The venture capital company continued to grow, and stock prices soared up until the dot-com bubble burst, taking the company with it.

CNET Networks, parent of News.com, started out producing TV shows about technology and later expanded into creating online content, ranging from video games to a technology news service and blog network. The company has expanded into several major global markets both in China and the U.K. Recently, a group of investors led by Jana Partners announced an intention to try to take over a majority of seats on its board of directors.

CompuServe is one of the better known dot-com pioneers, and also one of the oldest. It's best known for its role as an ISP, which brought it popularity in the early 1990s before tanking due to customer dissatisfaction with bad modem hardware and poorly written software. It was quickly snatched up by Worldcom in 1998 before getting flipped to AOL only 24 hours later. CompuServe remains an ISP with a news portal serving up stories from Netscape.com.

E*Trade. This financial services company started from a company called TradePlus before moving its operations onto the Net in 1991 under the E*Trade brand. The company went public five years later and managed to survive the dot-com bubble burst. But it has struggled as of late, along with many companies in the financial industry.

EarthLink is another ISP that managed to survive the dot-com burst. The company started out in 1994 providing dial-up service, and continues to offer it and VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone services using DSL, satellite and cable. The company's also managed to branch out into telephone services with its popular MVNO Helio.

eBay. A pioneer in online auctions, eBay is now a more diverse company--and it also faces growing competition from Amazon.com, along with what one analyst calls "buyer fatigue" following years of revenue leaps. In January, longtime CEO Meg Whitman said she'd soon be handing the reins to John Donahoe, head of eBay Marketplaces.

Excite@Home was the result of one of the largest mergers of the dot-com era: the popular portal Excite.com and broadband infrastructure builder AtHome. The plan was to create a company that provided the pipes and the content (similar to AOL), but combining two successful companies turned out to create one dud and Excite@Home sold off the Excite portal in 2001.

Expedia was one of the first Web services to offer travel arrangements for airfare. It was created by Microsoft in 1996 before branching off as its own company three years later. In 2001 came a purchase by InterActiveCorp (then USA Networks), which holds a handful of travel and entertainment sites. The site continues to be one of the best-known online travel services.

Games.com is best known for its various handoffs, including one between Atari and Games Inc. for over a million dollars. The site now serves as a portal to AOL's gaming offerings, many of which are casual, and can be played in a Web browser free of charge.

iVillage was created as a media company providing content aimed mostly at women. Created in 1995 by some former America Online employees, the company continued to grow. Four years later, the company went public. Despite share prices soaring in the beginning, they quickly bottomed out. After merging with Women.com in 2001, iVillage's offerings began to thrive again, and in mid-2006 NBC Universal picked it up for $600 million.

Lycos is best known for its search engine roots. Now a Web portal too, Lycos underwent huge growth after its launch in 1994. It was enough to attract the attention of Spanish company Terra Networks, who snatched it up in 2000. Four years later, Daum Communications became the new (and current) owners. Lycos continues to roll out new services like Mix.

Monster.com shares a similar title with Craigslist in serving up classifieds for jobs. The service launched in 1999 as a merged solution from two former job classifieds competitors, the Online Career Center and the Monster Board, from which Monster.com gets its moniker. It has localized sites for nearly 40 countries.

Netscape offered one of the first Web browsers that completely dominated the browser market in the mid-1990s before getting dominated by Microsoft's in-house browser, Internet Explorer (which came as the default browser in every copy of Windows). It was purchased by AOL in 1998 and now resides as a content portal and social news service that was later spun off from the Netscape brand and into Propeller. The last traces of the famous Netscape Navigator browser now reside in a customized variation of Mozilla Firefox, whose support is slated to be discontinued next month.

Overstock.com has always played second cousin to competitor Amazon.com. The service was founded in 1997 as D2: Discounts Direct, but the brand didn't stick and was later changed to Overstock. It may be best known among investors for its IPO failure and subsequent loss in sales, but consumers are likely to associate it with the company's ads featuring spokesmodel Sabine Ehrenfeld. The company continues to sell a wide range of goods, though it has yet to turn a profit.

Pets.com was a vertical of the Amazon.com model, focusing purely on pet goods and known well for its sock puppet mascot. Despite the killer advertising campaign, the company had bad timing with the burst of the dot-com bubble, and couldn't stay afloat.

Priceline.com offers discount travel services including airfare, hotels, and cars. After launching in 1998, the site expanded into several other areas, including long-distance calling, home loans, and car sales before re-focusing on travel. The company is well known for its mascot, William Shatner, who played James T. Kirk in the Star Trek TV series and movies. Priceline continues to do well, with a recovering stock price and profits from licensing its purchase technology to eBay.

Shockwave.com is a games site that's been offering casual games since 1998. The site merged with the Atom Corporation in 2001, and was later picked up by MTV (by parent company Viacom) for $200 million. Despite the Shockwave moniker, most of the games utilize Adobe Flash.

Webvan. Flush with millions of dollars raised from venture capitalists, Internet-only supermarkets like Webvan spent huge sums to build high-tech warehouses and flashy Web sites, and to hire armies of deliverymen. In the end, the wild spending broke them. The concept lives on, though, with established supermarket chains and online companies like NetGrocer.com.

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