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Where are they now? Tech giants of the ‘90s

Where are they now? Tech giants of the ‘90s

By Blake Snow, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Oct. 31, 2011 at 1:51 p.m.



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PROVO -- Google, Apple, and Amazon are household names now. But it wasn't always that way. A mere 15 years ago, the technology landscape looked very different than it does today.

"It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when Yahoo was the hottest company in Silicon Valley," writes internet columnist Mike Elgan.

Yahoo wasn't the only popular web destination. Excite, Lycos, AltaVista and Inktomi attracted millions of visitors a day through most of the 1990s. What happened to those guys?

#poll

"Many of them still exist in one form or another but with minimal following," says technology analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies.

Minimal is putting it nicely. When logging on for the purpose of this story, most of them look like they haven't been updated since the ‘90s.

The offline world looked a lot different then, too. Remember CompUSA, the computer superstore that made a name for itself, thanks to the rise of the web?

After shuttering 75% of its stores in 2007, the once nationwide retailer now operates as a regional shadow of its former self. The reason: "CompUSA was too slow to adjust to a big shift to buying PC's directly online and they were too PC specific," says Bajarin.

Another big name at the time got its start spamming all of America with infamous CD mailers: America On-Line. Once the most popular gateway to the internet, Aol lives on as a popular but struggling but online media destination.

"They clung too long to their old businesses model of being a dial-up provider," Bajarin says of Aol. "And they did not adjust fast enough" to broadband, he adds.

Other dial-up providers, namely Prodigy and CompuServe, fared even worse with the move to broadband internet at the turn of the century. Prodigy was absorbed and later dissolved. CompuServe is now a regional provider (aka an afterthought).


The biggest difference of the tech world today and the one 15 years ago is the role of the browser and how it serves as the vehicle for entry into computing.

–Tim Bajarin


Obviously, technology landscapes change every decade. And some companies like Dell, who broke though in the ‘90s, have been able to stay competitive in a post-Google world. But only because they embraced the web more (like Dell did).

Conversely, '90s tech giants that failed to evolve with the web got left behind, says Bajarin. "The biggest difference of the tech world today and the one 15 years ago is the role of the browser and how it serves as the vehicle for entry into computing."

So how was a company like Yahoo able to hang on as long as it has? At first, it invested in search almost as much as Google did. But as it lost ground to Google, who accounts for 65% of all search activity, they diversified into content like Aol.

Maybe too much though. "As Yahoo increasingly spent time and money on trying to be a media company, they also spent less time on advancing their search technology," Bajarin says. "Meanwhile, Google was all about search and with laser focus, they began to take over the market with the search ad revenue."

Which brings us where we are today. After firing its CEO last month, Yahoo, one of the last great web pioneers, has finally put itself up for sale. Although still one of the most popular web destinations, it no longer leads.

Of course, the tech giants today are never fully out of the woods. How Google, Amazon, and others adapt to the mobile revolution started by Apple — not to mention other changes in demand still unseen — will dictate their respective futures.


Any site that tries to be all things to all people are in danger of becoming irrelevant. And sites that cater to more specific needs of users will become more important.

–Tim Bajarin


Focus will, too.

"Besides Yahoo and AOL," Bajarin concludes, "I would say that any site that tries to be all things to all people are in danger of becoming irrelevant. And sites that cater to more specific needs of users will become more important."

Have an idea of what you think tech will look like in 15 years? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About the author: Blake Snow is a freelance writer, media consultant, and web warlock from Utah. Contact information and fan mail can be found at: blakesnow.com.

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