Great list of seven internet companies that

posted by Jason Kottke Aug 04, 2005

Great list of seven internet companies that should have been big or bigger, but screwed up somehow. I've got the comments open, so add your own thoughts. My pick: Moreover. They were into RSS before almost anyone, wanted to get into blog search in early 2001 but instead veered into the safe waters of enterprise software.

Reader comments

RamananAug 04, 2005 at 10:31AM

I had forgotten all about egroups, which was amazing. I don't think I've found anything else as nice to use since. I'm not sure if this qualifies, but I have always thought the demise of Be was quite sad. They had what looked to be the operating system of the future, and it just didn't take off. I guess not being bought by Apple and turned in to the new Mac OS hurt, as well as Palm not doing anything with the company once they bought it. If you look at all the stuff BeOS was doing 10 years ago, it's pretty impressive.

GeneAug 04, 2005 at 10:48AM

Equill. That was a great service. I don't know if it would have been big company, but nothing's happened since they were bought by MSFT.

On the other side of that question (companies that should be small or smaller, but got lucky somehow): Ask.com and About.com. Oh, and MySpace. ;)

NewleyAug 04, 2005 at 10:49AM

I know it's still around, but I always thought About.com would become much more influential that it is. They were really onto something there with the whole "human editor" thing, but I guess that went in a different direction with the rise of blogs. I still like About.com's ethos, but I have big problems with their overly-aggressive popups and the way they frame content on other sites as if it's their own.

LodeAug 04, 2005 at 11:07AM

Firefly was cool, before Microsoft bought it, stripped every feature out of it and rebranded it to Passport. (It seems like nobody remembers ffly.. even though imho it's the perfect example of prior art for Amazon's recommendation patents.)

SteveAug 04, 2005 at 11:20AM

I second Firefly.

Arthur Davidson FickeAug 04, 2005 at 11:29AM

About.com's biggest problem is Wikipedia.

jkAug 04, 2005 at 11:36AM

Teoma should have stayed independent and give Google some competition.

David NemesisAug 04, 2005 at 11:41AM

I was just thinking Firefly (I still sometimes wonder if there's any Firefly code still living in the bowels of .NET Passport), but the one that's a real tragedy: Kozmo.com. They had a nice little thing going delivering movies and small convenience items in large cities where they could deliver stuff quickly and cheaply. What killed them:

- Over-expansion, over-expansion, over-expansion. A company that makes its living delivering movies and half-gallons of milk to apartment-dwellers via bike messenger has no business opening up in Houston.

- Some crackpot decided that the answer to the financial problems caused by over-expanding their coverage area was to over-expand their product line to include small electronics and luxury goods -- why anyone would need a Palm V delivered in 30 minutes or less is totally beyond me.

- They made a deal with Starbucks to place a Kozmo movie return box and some advertising in almost every Starbucks in Chicago, for which they agreed to pay the 'Bux a reasonable amount. For whatever reason (probably too busy buying a fleet of New Beetles to deliver Palm Vs in Houston), they just never paid Starbucks their money, and so Starbucks ordered the Kozmo boxes removed from all their stores. Meaning that for the 2-3 weeks between that action and Kozmo going out of business, the only way to return a movie was to call for a pickup (at a $2 charge), order something else (minimum order $5) or hike to one of the two remaining Chicago businesses that had Kozmo boxes.

I think they resurfaced in NYC for a while doing what they did best -- movie rental -- but are now thoroughly and completely dead. I rented _Clue_ the movie (on VHS!) from them the night before they announced they were closing, and was charged $15 for the movie because there was no way to return it. But it's still in its Kozmo.com video box!

CODAug 04, 2005 at 12:07PM

Blogger. If it had worked better Mena might never have bothered to to come up with MT.

Excite - they were ahead of Yahoo and all the others with personalization and all that. They got bought by @home and pretty much quit trying.

adamAug 04, 2005 at 12:32PM

Kozmo, Kozmo, Kozmo. Who cares if their business plan was beyond ludicrous? i loved being able to get ice cream, PS2 games and condoms delivered at 2AM. (yes, i have a life, somewhere...)

SteveAug 04, 2005 at 12:52PM

Tripod - One of the first to promote the "community" aspect of the web, and one of the first to enable personal publishing of web sites. But they were squashed when acquired by Lycos and completely missed the boat with blogging until it was too late.

Geoff StearnsAug 04, 2005 at 12:58PM

I'm really surprised nobody has mentioned AOL.

What used to be the perfect place for Internet newbies to get their feet wet turned into a nasty sess pit of spam and phishing scams. I have to say, AOL did it to themselves, though, refusing to go after high speed connections until much too late, and keeping it seperate from the core of AOL (Roadrunner? What's that? My friends all use AOL, so I should use it!). Not to mention how they sold your personal info and e-mail as soon as you signed up so the very first week you start getting piles of spam.

Dan BolandAug 04, 2005 at 1:07PM

I'm also surprised no one has mentioned Netscape. I don't think I need to elaborate.

Michael MoncurAug 04, 2005 at 1:52PM

Another vote for About.com - they could have been bigger than Weblogs Inc. since they were in the game earlier, but they treated their guides (bloggers) poorly and added more ads instead of joining the conversation.

jkottkeAug 04, 2005 at 2:01PM

Blogger. If it had worked better Mena might never have bothered to to come up with MT.

I was going to mention Blogger if no one else did. It was responsible for so much of the early popularization of weblogs, but they were unable to capitalize on it. Then Google bought them out of pity and have done precisely nothing with it since.

I also disagree with David about Altavista. When Google first arrived on the scene, Altavista was the best engine out there (in terms of results), but by the time Altavista started polluting their search results with paid listings, Google had tweaked PageRank enough and was really pulling away from the pack.

Also: Kozmo, Webvan. Too much scale too soon and in too many markets. Kozmo would work well in a few US cities and may be able to build up an overseas presence after many years of careful growth, and online grocery shopping works in several US cities and is actually profitable.

BrianAug 04, 2005 at 2:15PM

I'm not sure Wired should be on there. From what I see, Wired is doing pretty well. One can speculate on whether or not they could have done better, but I wouldn't say it's one of the top seven that "could have been" contenders.

JonathanAug 04, 2005 at 2:19PM



SteveAug 04, 2005 at 2:23PM

WebVan. I loved 'em as long as I could....

jkottkeAug 04, 2005 at 2:42PM

I'm not sure Wired should be on there.

I like Wired's inclusion on the list. Through the early 90s, they positioned themselves as the technology/culture magazine and were the center of a little world that became large. They had one of the first commercial web sites and invented the banner ad. They didn't know what to do with things like Suck though, and eventually sold everything related to the Internet to Lycos, including (as I understand it) all of the rights to do anything with the Wired name on the web ever again. A big part of the future of publishing is going to happen online, a happening Wired predicted and helped bring about and now they can't do anything to take advantage of it. Instead, you've got a company like O'Reilly, which is now a media company in competition with Wired, taking good advantage of the web in diversifying and improving their offerings.



AuzAug 04, 2005 at 3:19PM

"Kozmo [...] why anyone would need a Palm V delivered in 30 minutes or less is totally beyond me. "

Uh... I bought a DVD player from them :)

David GalbraithAug 04, 2005 at 3:30PM

When I was looking at list candidates there is a clear pattern and Apple has all the things that make a good small company better, despite being one of the big guys:

1. Too much cash from impatient or fashion swayed VC's who want a 10x return can try and force a company to be something it is not.
Moral: 'Founderitus' is the VC mantra against founders that resist being replaced by experienced management. Good founders like Steve Jobs have it in spades.

2. Large companies move slowly and will almost always constrain a smaller one.
Moral: Bigger equals worse. Apple do everything that Microsoft does and more, with far less people.

3. Some products are too good too early - the first to market mantra is crap.
Moral: a little creativity goes a long way - execute rather than innovate. Most Apple products were not the forst of their kind but were better executed, from the GUI to the iPod.

LodeAug 04, 2005 at 4:02PM

Something else I forgot (I remembered it because Jason posted 'Zing!', if the flash-screensaver stuff is what he was talking about):


Much too soon. Years before broadband. Feeds avant la lettre (it was called 'Push' then, and it was the next 'big thing'). They really fell between every chair:

* just too soon for the dot com bubble (although I thought Marimba did cash in)
* too soon for big bandwidth
* too soon for RSS.

Compare their screensaver (news feeds, with pictures, weather, ...) with Apple's RSS screensaver of today, and you'll see how many lightyears they were ahead of their time.

What else have we got... The Spot (although they're sort of back now) suffered from too much graphics, too little bandwidth. Most search engines... Already mentioned are Hotbot, Lycos, Altavista, ... All once 'the ultimate search engine. It seems only Yahoo! has survived of the 'old ones'.

Also, another vote for Be from me. BeOS ruled... (And Napster, and Netscape, and ...)

LodeAug 04, 2005 at 4:05PM

Another one (it's all coming back to me now :)): Eazel had a lot more in it than they delivered. Fortunately their legacy lives on as Nautilus (http://gnome.org/projects/nautilus/)

1996Aug 04, 2005 at 5:11PM

I know you're not a company (or are you?), but I always enjoyed kottke.org before it went public. It was before every second post was about sasha frere-jones or malcolm gladwell or eyebeam, prior to the proliferating 2005 reviews of subpar movies from 1997, when remaindered-links came 48hours before rather than 48hours after seeing the same sites on populicio.us/deliciouspopular/daypop/fark, I loved it when people picked up what it said rather than what it picked up what people said, before the cult of mena/anil/blahblahblah.

AnilAug 04, 2005 at 5:23PM

I think it's interesting to note that Blox (Half Brain) indirectly begat OddPost after the IBM acquisition, and OddpPost clearly begat the current generation of AJAX applications, before going on to be acquired by Yahoo and remaking Yahoo Mail in their own image. Honestly, given technology adoption trends, I think that's exactly the same amount of time it would have taken for them to get their rich app experience in front of 100 million people anyway. So they ended up winning despite themselvse.

I didn't know I have a cult, but clearly it should be bigger. I must have screwed up somehow.

jgAug 04, 2005 at 7:21PM

Blogger hands down. A brilliant team that absolutely did nothing with it.

MattAug 04, 2005 at 8:48PM

Poor, poor Deepleap. They were all over xml, webscraping, and browser-helper type apps five years before anyone could figure out a market for it.

Zach BlumeAug 04, 2005 at 9:25PM

"It seems only Yahoo! has survived of the 'old ones'. "
Because they diversified big-time. Smart guys.

Though they kinda lost the web-hosting market once Geocities became synonymous with "Web Crap"

stephenAug 05, 2005 at 5:22AM

what 1996 said...

justin flavinAug 05, 2005 at 7:59AM


it was light years ahead of its time

bryanAug 06, 2005 at 3:32PM

Matt saved me from having to mention deepleap which, of course, I'll mention again just for good measure.

dowingbaAug 07, 2005 at 12:09AM

How can you like a site before it goes public?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.