Before They Were Social

Would Twitter have the success it has now if it wasn’t at Twitter.com? What about Digg, or Facebook, or MySpace, or Yelp? Before social networks appeared at those domains, there were other pages at those locations.

I took a time trip to the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive to see what those domains were like, before they were social.

Digg.com

Home to Digg Records

The Digg.com homepage as it appeared on November 11, 1998 - home of Digg Records.

Digg.com – November 11, 1998

Used by a Russian group interested in St. Petersburg, tourism, and providing hosting services?

The Digg.com homepage as it appeared on August 19, 2000 written in the Cyrillic alphabet, with a directory listing, and a log-in button.

Digg.com – August 19, 2000

Digg.com today

The Digg Homepage today.

Facebook.com

The About Face Corporation appears to have originally made their home at Facebook.com

The facebook.com home page as it appeared on Febrary 22, 2005, as the home page for the About Face Corporation.

Facebook.com – February 22, 2005

Facebook.com today

The Facebook.com home page today

Myspace.com

MySpace.com as a home to a Web Design company

The MySpace home page on January 7, 1997, hosting a web design company credited to AB Software.

MySpace.com – January 17, 1997

MySpace.com offering free hosting and business services

The MySpace.com home page on August 16, 2000, offering free hosting and paid business services.

Myspace.com – August 16, 2000

MySpace.com today

The MySpace.com home page today.

Yelp.com

Yelp as a directory

The yelp.com home page on December 22, 1996, as a directory service.

Yelp.com – December 22, 1996

Yelp.com today

The Yelp.com home page today.

Twitter.com

Not sure what might have been intended to be on this site originally, but it looks like it was no longer part of the owner’s plans. It’s probably worth a little more now then the asking price that appeared on the page

The Twitter.com home page on May 18, 2004, looking sparse and advertising the sale of the domain for 4,500 dollars.

Twitter.com – May 18, 2004

Twitter.com today
The Twitter.com home page today.

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79 thoughts on “Before They Were Social”

  1. Thanks, Mickey.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect, or what I would uncover when I started looking up URLs at the internet archive. I typed a lot more URLs into the wayback machine than I wrote about here. Friendfeed and a number of other social networks have URLs that don’t appear to have been used before. It was also fun to look at some of the different designs of some of these sites, and how they have changed over time.

  2. This is hysterical. I can’t stop taking my favorite web 2.0 sites and looking at them when they were owned by eastern European domain-sellers! I think the Internet Archive is always good for a laugh or two at the badly designed (but seriously earnest) early web.

  3. That is very interesting,Bill and a great tool to use to see what famous domains were previously like. If only there was a wayforward machine that we could use to see which domains to buy now that will become famous in future!

  4. Great find. It’s really interesting to know that new owners actually bought old domains, but not registered new ones.
    It seems that only Yelp remained with same topic from old to new :).. And that twitter domain was not that cheap :).

  5. Its good to see how these social networking sites become so popular without any planning. As an SEO I also think to make a site which become so popular one day and I am doing lots of research work. But after looking this I got an idea that I should start with any topic and to make it popular just keep doing work on the same site. Thats only way to make a Brand name!!

  6. Hi Marvin,

    I really love looking through the Internet Archive, and seeing the earlier days of the Web. It’s amazing how our ideas of communication and design have evolved, and the archives provides some really great examples.

  7. Hi Paul,

    The Internet Archive is one of my favorite sites. I guess the only wayforward machine we’re likely to have is our imaginations.

  8. Hi Web Design Beach,

    When I started looking at the domains for social sites, I was pretty surprised to see older sites at domains like Twitter. I really didn’t expect to see anything there. The twitter domain wasn’t that inexpensive at the time, but it’s a pretty well know domain name now. I wonder if we will ever find out what the original holders of the domain name had planned for it.

  9. Hi Dan,

    My aim wasn’t really to create linkbait, but rather to answer a question that crossed my mind Saturday morning about what might have been at the domains at places like Twitter before they became well known.

    If you’ve tried to register a domain name over the past few years, you know how hard it can be to find one that might be a good match for an existing business name. It’s sometimes surprising when you research what might have been at some domains in the past, too.

    I tried to do some research on some of the older businesses that were at those domains, but after a fruitless number of searches for information about “Digg Records,” I decided that approach might be a dead end.

  10. This is really cool! I’ve never really thought that these popular pages now look like that before. It’s a real make-over! This is a one-of-a kind post. Three thumbs up!!!

  11. Hi Merissa,

    I’d guess that there was some planning behind the development of many of the social network sites we know now.

    I see a lot of suggestions from people to try to choose a domain name that might match up well with keywords that you might want to use on a site. I think that can sometimes help, but the Web has a history of businesses that chose names because they were memorable and interesting that don’t focus upon keywords, including sites like Amazon, Yahoo, and Flickr. A good name can help you build a brand, but ultimately a brand doesn’t have so much to do with choosing a particular name, or creating an interesting logo as much as it does in building a mindset in people that they associate with your name and business.

  12. Thanks, Andrew.

    It was a fun post. I had no idea what to expect when I started typing in social network URLs into the wayback machine.

    The first one I tried was for twitter, and the idea that someone decided to sell the domain rather than use it surprised me. Of course, the success of twitter has less to do with their name, and more to do with the idea behind the site. But I’m still wondering if it would have been as successful with a different name.

  13. Thanks for digging these blasts from the past up. We sometimes forget that just as in traditional real estate, web properties come and go as well. I’m sure many of the previous owners of these sites are saying “what if,” but in reality, these domains were intrinsically relatively worthless, and would be today as well, if not for the creative minds of the creators of these social sites that happened to think that the name would work for their idea.

  14. Interesting discovery. Some are funny. Never would have thought. That is what I like about the net. I never really know what will happen next.

  15. Such a great article. I wouldn’t even have known how to find those screenshots. I wonder what Twitter, Myspace, Facebook etc. (the domains) sold for to the companies they are at now. That would be interesting as somebody who buys and sells domains. What were those domains worth to the people that own them now?

  16. Amazing!

    I have to admit, I know nothing about Yelp …. so thanks for the update. I guess.

    Did that time machine give you any idea what the next new site should be and are you interested in initiating it?

  17. Hi Josh,

    You’re welcome. Good points. There are some domain names that do have a value in themselves, because it’s likely that someone will type those addresses into a browser address bar without knowing what might be on the pages that resolve under that name, such as a “business.com.” But, I agree with you – it’s really the people who worked hard to develop the sites at these addresses that created the value that exists there now.

  18. Hi Warner,

    I agree completely – you never know what’s going to happen next on the Web. It’s too big for any one group or industry to control, and there’s always the opportunity for sites to come out of nowhere and just explode in terms of growth and popularity. Who would have imaged how large a site like twitter would get just a few years before it launched?

  19. Hi Keith,

    That’s part of the fun of the wayback machine – you never know what you might see. I wonder how much those domains sold for as well. Did the present owners of twitter pay that $4,500 that was listed on the site? I do imagine the domain is worth a lot more now.

  20. Hi Kissie,

    Thanks. Unfortunately, the wayback machine only lets you look at sites in the past. I think there are potential opportunities for all of us if we have a vision, and do what we can to develop it.

  21. Excellent spot, I love wayback machine, always use it to see how clients sites have evolved but never thought to look at these – guess I always thought of them as they are now and forgot the domains may have had a life before social.
    Myspace should prob go back to selling hosting and love the layout of the web design company my space lol
    Bet the Twitter owners were gutted when they see how well its done now!

  22. Hi Joanne,

    Thank you. The wayback machine is a wonderful research tool, that I’ve used to find information that I really couldn’t find elsewhere on the Web.

    It’s really helpful the way you have used it in the past, to give clients a perspective of the evolution of their sites over time, but it can also unveil some really interesting stuff. I’ve used it more than once, for instance, to learn about companies that were acquired by other companies and find out more about them before the acquisition.

    I wonder if the people who used to own “twitter.com” tell people how that was once their web site.

  23. Been a while since I used the internet archive site, and it’s never occurred to me to check out some of the current giants of the web on there to see what they used to be! Thanks for providing me a little respite from the link building!

  24. Hey Bill great article. I noticed that you respond to almost everybody who comments on here. How do you find the time to keep up with it all? I work full time and following the few blogs that I do is enough for me. Just curious, and by all means keep it up I love the interaction!

  25. Hi Neil,

    You’re welcome. The Intenet Archive is a great place to spend a little time now and then looking back at what people have been doing on the Web. Kind of fun looking at the evolution of individual sites over time as well.

  26. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks. I like to try to respond to as many comments as I can. It’s my chance to interact with, and learn from the people who take the time to share their thoughts here.

  27. Wow facebook was lame in the past, this only proves to show that, everyone had their own first step to success, there may be times when facebook.com might not have got a single visitor on a particular day. Its only the mind and determination behind a brand name which makes it successful. Great post there Bill just awesome as always :)

  28. Hi chakru,

    I’m not sure that it’s fair to call the About Face corporation’s web page “lame.” It actually looks like a decent design and site, for what they have to offer. It isn’t a high volume social network site, like Facebook is now, and it doesn’t look all that different from the page at their new domain. It’s just a different kind of site, with a very different purpose.

  29. Domains rise and fall with the times. I have always been fascinated with the difference in high value keyword based domains like “cars.com” for example vs. ones with little to no inherited search traffic like “twitter.com”…

  30. You are right Bill! I just looked at the picture once more, and its not all that bad really, yes I was wrong when I said its lame. They had a good page layout as you mentioned its for a different purpose all together. Sorry for mentioning its lame.

  31. I had a slightly unhealthy obsession with the WayBack Machine some time ago now, shortly after I first discovered it. I have looked up many of the large and successful social network sites today on there to see what was on the domains before they were formed. (I can safely say, I rarely use it now, haha)

    Really interesting :)

  32. You’ve got to wonder what the previous owners of these domains think about them now. Do you think they tell their friends, I used to own Twitter.com? I would.

  33. Hi Keith,

    There is some value in URLs that people might just type into their browser’s address bar, without even knowing what might be on the other side of those browsers. That’s exactly the reason why a company like Disney has registered the domain “mickeymouse.com,” which redirects to the appropriate page on the disney web site.

    It’s harder to tell how much value there is in a domain name that matches a query that might also be a high volume search term. We don’t know if the search engines bother to use the domain name itself as a potential ranking signal, though links pointing to a domain like that which use the domain name as part of the anchor text might be gaining ranking value from those links themselves. So the domain name “cars.com” by itself may not be a signal that search engines use to determine that a site is about cars, much in the same way that “amazon.com” isn’t about the amazon river or a greek mythological tribe of women warriors, or “yahoo.com” isn’t really about yahoos. But links to “cars.com” that use the anchor text “cars.com” to point to the domain might be considered a ranking signal by search engines.

    Wonder what most people linking to twitter use as anchor text. My guess is “twitter.”

  34. Hi chakru,

    No problems. For a site designed almost 6 or 7 years ago, the site that was at “facebook.com” actually looks a little ahead of its time – something that I wouldn’t be surprised seeing designed today.

  35. Hi Geoff,

    Thanks. The wayback machine does offer a chance to learn about the history of the Web in a way that few other sites can come close to. I understand the obsession. It’s not a site that I visit everyday, but it can be a nice diversion, and sometimes even a way of getting information on a topic that you really can’t anywhere else. I wrote a post yesterday where I quoted a paragraph from a site that’s been offline for a few years now, and the only way I could find that information (that I’m aware of) was through the wayback machine.

  36. Those were fun to see! I haven’t been to the Wayback Machine in a long time. I had actually forgotten about it until I stumbled across this post.

    Wonder if the original owner of Twitter got their $4,500 asking price for the domain name. Who would have thought that the domain name would turn out to change so much in the social media landscape.

  37. Way back Machine is a great tool for researching end-users to sell your domain names. I have used it several times to find previous domain owners who did not renew their domain names, and sell them back at a fair price. However half of the time people are not interested since they no longer run that business anymore.

  38. Hi forbrukslan1,

    Thank you. I was more interested in seeing what was at those domains before the social networks that are there now (if any sites were), than in trying to uncover some kind of plan in action. I’m not so sure that there was one for all of them in the acquisitions of the domains that they chose.

  39. This sure was interesting. I had this idea that all of these kinds of websites had their childhood in a garage or basement somewhere, the site being created by 2-3 geeky friends with to much free time. They actually buying the domains makes it look like the result we now see was the plan all along. I guess I have a thing or two to learn about planning..

  40. Interesting post, Bill. I would never have guessed that these prominent sites actually purchased pre-existing domains. It makes perfect sense, but it never dawned on me. The previous owners are probably kicking themselves today that they didn’t ask for more money :)

    Obviously it’s a lot easier to rank pre-existing domains, and I always look into it before purchasing a new domain myself, but the thought that most of these big social media sites bought pre-existing domains that were virtually unknown is pretty funny. Thanks for the post!

  41. Hi Dan,

    Thank you. I’m not convinced that it always is a lot easier to rank pre-existing domains, and there’s a risk involved in buying a domain that has been used before.

    If there are links pointing to the old site at that domain, it’s quite possible that those links and the anchor text used in them aren’t relevant for the new use of the domain. If there is a negative history associted with the old domain, it’s questionable as to whether you want to inherit some kind of reputation management problem. If the search engines associated the domain with some kind of web spam history, that may be something that you might have to overcome.

    I’m not sure that any of the domains for the social networking sites above had any problems like that, but I would want to know before I chose a domain name that had been used before. It doesn’t hurt to do some research before buying a domain to see what kind of past it may have had, if any. :)

  42. I think the domain/brand name is very important to success. If twitter was at twitter-is-a-micro-blogging-service.com, I dont think it would have ever taken off.

  43. Hi Peter,

    That’s a good point. Would Google have achieved the success it’s had if it continued to use the name Backrub, or would eBay have thrived as echobay.com? I’m not sure. On the other hand, I suspect that Amazon.com probably would have done just as well if it were named Bezos.com.

  44. This post was a great example of how to generate organic link bait. It definitely gave me a few ideas for future posts on my own site. I think I’ve got to say that your screenshot of the Facebook entry was my favorite. Hilarious! Thanks Bill, this one’s getting bookmarked and emailed to my network.

  45. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you. My primary thought when writing this wasn’t so much linkbait as it was satisfying my curiousity, and I thought that other people might be interested as well.

  46. Great work! It´s really interesting to see some sites before they were social and successful!

    Best regards from Argentina ;)

  47. Hi Bill. Excellent post and tool. It is always worth to know a little bit more about popular webs history and compare their initial purposes with the ones they ended up. I am wondering now, what we can expect in next few years… Which other websites will achieve spectacular successes?

  48. Ha, what a good idea, it’s funny to see what some of them was like before they went global. You know I’m gonna be checking out some sites myself, including some of my own domains!

  49. Hi Paul,

    Yes, that kind of looking back into the past of web sites can be a lot of fun, and sometimes filled with some surprises. The wayback machine can be helpful in showing you what might have been at a domain before you decide whether or not to purchase the domain name as well.

  50. The last time I used a wayback machine for a client of mine that now owns a fashion and beauty e-commerce website, it turned out that his domain was used for an elite escort service :) I was confused at first when I saw backlinks from adult related sites, but the wayback machine offered the explanation as to what was there before :)

  51. Hi Zac,

    The wayback machine can be really helpful when you’re doing something like buying a new domain name, and you want to check to see if anything was at that domain before. Sometimes the sites that were previously at certain domains are ones that you might not want to be associated with. :)

  52. I think Facebook was at the right place at the right time,so no I don’t think they are this big without the sites that laid the ground work. I guess you could say the same the for the iphone, the palm was the first smart device then came the treo phones they laid the ground work.

  53. Hi David,

    I think one of the reasons that Facebook became so successful is that they provided a number of options of ways to interact and communicate with others from their early days on. And yes, chances are that they learned from others before them, and built upon those successes and failures.

  54. Great post. I guess it shows how important it is getting the right domain, and building the right brand around it.

  55. Hi Daniel,

    I wonder sometimes. I mean, other sites had these domain names that we may think of as great names now, but they definitely didn’t have the magic that the present owners of the sites have. Guess the trick is in building that brand.

  56. That Twitter one is hilarious. Firstly the mind boggles as to what it was going to be originally. Secondly $4500 sounds like a hell of a price for something that obscure. Obviously with hindsight we can atribute value to it but not at the time.

  57. Hi Mark,

    I got a kick out the the Digg Records page myself. Not sure why the group selling twitter thought it might be worth so much, but it’s definitely worth a lot more than that now.

  58. Ha, awesome, that Twitter one cracked me up, wouldn’t mind paying $4,500 for something worth $7Billion!

  59. It’s scary how far we have come in web design and functionality in the last 10 years and will be amazing to see where we’re at in another ten… are you going to do a follow up in 2020 Bill? Unless SEO by The Sea becomes a member of the ‘what is was back then’ sites :)

  60. Hi Andrew,

    It is amazing how far the Web has come, and how much more we can do on it now than we could ten years ago.

    I’m not completely sure what I will be doing in the year 2020, and while I hope my site and business aren’t one of those that people will look back upon wondering what happened to it, I guess we will see. :)

    A followup then would be fun.

  61. You’re right Bill, it is really interesting to see how they looked before. Thank you for satisfying my curiousity as well. Imagine how they will look in a few years, perhaps the purpose will change again.

  62. THat’s quite interesting. I didn’t know that any of these domain names were owned by other companies previously. However, I think that those companies would have been equally successful with different domain names.

  63. Hi Maya,

    It was definitely fun to look and see what was there before. I suspect at this point that if someone takes over one of those domains, given their success, their purpose for buying the names might be based upon the history of the domains more than whether or not they might be a good fit for a different kind of business, altogether.

  64. Hi Robert,

    It was a little surprising to see what was on those domains before they were owned by their present owners, but that’s something that people should check out before they buy a domain name. You never quite know what might have been at one before, and it doesn’t hurt to investigate.

    I suspect that you’re right about the successes of those sites, but I suspect in some cases, the choice of domain names didn’t hurt.

  65. Great post! I use the way back machine to look up the evaluation of some of the sites we own. Man… we were bad at web design 8 years ago! Thanks again… great post

  66. Hi Mike,

    Thanks. The way back machine can be a lot of fun, and it’s not a bad idea to check it out if you’re considering buying a domain which might have been owned before to see what might have been there once upon a time.

  67. Great post, it’s really cool to look at past history and how the domains have evolved to the new age of social media. I think I had read somewhere about the history of Facebook and I totally agree with Bill’s comment about checking out what was there if you are considering buying a domain.

  68. IT is always good to pull some competitive info from way back too see how websites looked in the past =) The funny ones are when you compare sites like Yahoo an Google when they first started, but it is good too see how things change over the years.

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