1995: The year the future began
Sure, lists about the “most important this” or the “most fun that” tend to be inane. And eye-rolling in their contrivance.
That’s because no fewer than five of the “15 most influential” sites have origins in the watershed year of 1995. And that in a modest way lends further confirmation to the pivotal character of 1995, the year, when the Internet and World Wide Web burst into mainstream consciousness.
As I write in my book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, the year notably “saw the emergence of powerful if conflicting sentiments still associated with the Internet: a cocksure swagger encouraged by novelty, a promise of vast treasure to be found in the digital marketplace, and a spirit of collaboration and community that an online environment could uniquely promote.”
Although Time’s roster of “most influential Web sites” is thin on explanation and criteria, the list stirs few strenuous quarrels.
The five Web sites that trace origins to 1995 are, in reverse order of their Time ranking:
eBay, the online auction site, ranks ninth. Time says the site, which at first was called AuctionWeb, “forever altered the way the world passed along and monetized used goods.” Its founder, Pierre Omidyar, wrote the site’s original code over Labor Day weekend in 1995.
Yahoo.com ranks seventh, which probably is a bit lofty. In any event, Yahoo was, as Time says, an “early effort to bring order to the chaos of the Internet” and “served as a sort of Yellow Pages for the web, with human editors selecting links to news stories and other sites.” Yahoo was incorporated in early March 1995.
Craigslist, which is sixth. Craigslist began, I note in 1995, “as a free email listing for apartments, jobs, and the arts in San Francisco” and expanded greatly from there. Its founder, Craig Newmark, has called Craigslist “a happy accident” that is “passionate about the mundane and the boring.”
Amazon.com, which ranks second, only to Google, on Time’s list. From modest origins selling books online — the site went live in mid-July 1995 — Amazon has become a multibillion dollar multinational, or what Time describes as “a retail and technology behemoth, selling everything from salad dressing to server space.” A searching essay published a month ago in the Wall Street Journal said of the company that last year reported revenues of nearly $136 billion:
“Amazon‘s seemingly boundless growth forces us to wrestle with difficult questions about the reasons for its dominance. … Something is deeply amiss when a company can ascend to almost a half trillion dollars in market value — becoming the fifth most valuable firm in the world — without paying any meaningful income tax. Does Amazon really owe so little to support public revenue and public needs?”
A good question, that: Amazon arguably has become a force to be feared.
But more to the point of this essay is this question: Why was 1995 so digitally fecund?
It’s a question I take up in 1995, writing:
“The Web … came to be recognized as a barrier-lowering, micro-targeting platform that could facilitate connections that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to achieve. To varying degrees, entities such as Amazon.com, Craigslist, eBay, and Match.com all seized upon this capacity. They embraced the flexibility, versatility, and relative efficiency of the online world. Their founders recognized the Web’s capacity to promote convenience and to foster, if loosely and temporally, a sense of connection among consumers, across distances. The feedback option, notably promoted by Amazon, emerged as a confidence-building mechanism for online consumers.”
To be sure, other Web sites that reach back to 1995 might have been considered for Time’s list. CNN.com, for example, was launched that year.
The New York Times “made its first, top-dipping forays into the digital landscape in October 1995, posting reports” online, as I point out in 1995, about the visit to the United States of Pope John Paul II.
Also that year, Progressive Networks introduced its RealAudio technology, bringing streaming sound and live broadcasts to the Web.
Classmates.com, an early social networking site intended to bring together fellow students from bygone schooldays, went live in November 1995.
So surely it is not overstating matters to assert, as I do in my book, that 1995 was so momentous, digitally and otherwise, that it can be considered “the inaugural year of the Twenty-first Century, a clear starting point for contemporary life.”
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