Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Websites That Changed the World

To mark the web's 15th anniversary, The Guardian is reporting on 15 websites that changed the world. Everything from commercial sites like eBay and Amazon to social collaboratives like Wikipedia and Slashdot made the list. (via Slashdot)

From the article at http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1843263,00.html

1. www.eBay.com - You cannot buy fireworks, guns, franking machines, animals or lock-picking devices on eBay, the internet's premier auction site, but almost everything else is OK: sideburns, houses, used underwear and of course Pez dispensers.

2. www.wikipedia.com - Wikipedia was a free online encyclopaedia and differed from its predecessors in one fundamental regard: it was open to everyone to read, and also to edit. If you had something to add - from a pedantic correction to an entire entry on your specialist subject - the Wiki template made this easy. The software enables entries to be updated within minutes of new developments. There is nothing you cannot find - how best to make glass, the use of the nappy in space exploration - and if something isn't there, you may wish to take matters into your own hands.

3. www.napster.com - Shawn Fanning created Napster in 1999 while studying at Boston's Northeastern University, as a means of sharing music files with his fellow students. Of course, it was entirely illegal (home taping kills music, remember) and was quickly attacked by a mainstream music industry already struggling to make profits on its money-guzzling artists.

4. www.youtube.com - Through the grassroots power of the internet and good word-of-mouth, the site quickly went from a place where people shared homemade video clips to users posting long-lost TV and film gems such as bloopers from Seventies game shows to ancient music videos.

5. www.blogger.com - Content was once made by companies for passive consumption by people. After Blogger, people were the content. They wrote about and read about their friends, their opinions, their cats. (There was a lot about cats in the early blogs.) None had a huge audience but collectively they were massive. 'Now you see TV networks saying: "We've gotta get on the web because that's where the audience is,"' says Williams.

6. www.friendsreunited.com - Friends Reunited, which was sold to ITV for £120m last December, was Julie Pankhurst's brainchild. While pregnant, she became obsessed with finding out what her old friends had been up to since they left school. Her husband Steve, a computer programmer, had been brainstorming with his business partner Jason Porter for an original internet-based idea, and Julie suggested a website to cater for her newfound obsession. It took her some time to convince them. 'In the end,' says Steve, 'I designed Friends Reunited just to shut her up.'

7. www.drudgereport.com - What began as a gossipy email newsletter has, since its first post in 1994, developed into one of the most powerful media outlets in American politics. Today the Drudge Report has evolved into a website, drudgereport.com, and its threadbare, no-frills design belies the scale of its influence. It received an estimated 3.5 billion hits in the last 12 months; visitors regard it as the first port of call for breaking news.

8. www.myspace.com - the MySpace-opolis is growing by 240,000 a day, making it the fourth most-visited website in the world. DeWolfe believes that the key to the site's success is its founders' rapport with the people who use it. 'We looked at it from the point of view of how people live their lives,' he says.

9. www.amazon.com - The earth's biggest bookstore was originally called Cadabra, but Jeff Bezos thought again after his lawyer misheard it as 'cadaver'. He chose Amazon as something large and unstoppable and so, with current annual revenues of $8bn, it has proved.

10. www.slashdot.org - 'I'm just a geek that likes to poke around with hardware,' says Rob Malda. His site, Slashdot.org, hosts news and discussion for techies and is one of the most visited websites in the world. Time magazine included him in its top 100 innovators, stating: 'Malda has taken the idea of what news can be, hacked it open and rebuilt it for the internet age.'

11. www.salon.com - Online magazine and media company Salon grew out of a strike. When the San Francisco Examiner was shut for a couple of weeks in 1994 a few of its journalists taught themselves HTML and had a go at doing a newspaper with new technology. They found the experience liberating, and David Talbot, the Examiner's arts editor, subsequently gave up his job and launched the kind of online paper he had always wanted to work for. Salon was originally a forum for discussing books, but the editors quickly realised it had to be more journalistic than that. They aimed at creating a 'smart tabloid', not afraid to be mischievous while maintaining a rigour with news

12. www.craigslist.org - Craigslist is one of the most deceptively simple websites on the internet. It is also one of the most powerful. It is - pretty much - simply a free noticeboard. But its astonishing popularity has given it immense power. Want to rent an apartment? Sell a car? Find a job? Meet someone to spend the night with? Craiglist will provide the answers. For free. It has revolutionised urban living in America.

13. www.google.com - The search method devised by Larry Page and Sergey Brin was instrumental to Goggle's success. Rather than ranking results according to how many times the search term appeared on a page, their system measured the frequency with which a website was referenced by other sites

14. www.yahoo.com - It receives an average of 3.4bn page hits a day, making it the single most visited website on the internet, but in recent years Yahoo! has been eclipsed by Google. Both companies were launched on a very small scale by Stanford University graduates and, very soon the portal that Jerry Yang and David Filo had started as a hobby was en route to becoming the most popular search engine on the web. On the back of its early success, Yahoo! (an acronym for 'Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle') branched out into email, instant messaging, news, gaming, online shopping and an array of other services.

15. www.easyjet.com - EasyJet was the first low-cost British airline and, presciently, the first to start taking bookings over the internet, although, as Stelios(owner) admits, he wasn't won over straight away.

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