13 Pivotal Internet Moments That Forever Changed How We Live, Work and Play

It’s been said that “If television’s a babysitter, the internet is a drunk librarian who won’t shut up.” It’s true, but what a prolific, change-making drunk librarian she is.

Whatever you call it -- the internet, the web, the information superhighway -- this crazy, amorphous “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions” has taken hold of humanity and forever changed the way we live, work and play.

We will never be the same, and neither will our attention spans. It all started on Aug. 6, 1991, a quarter of a century ago. That was the day the World Wide Web became publicly available. Pandora’s digital box burst open and it’s delighted and distracted us ever since.

To celebrate the web’s big birthday, we’ve put together a list of its greatest pivotal moments. Come along for a fun, nostalgic throwback romp, and do tell us which moments you’d add to the list, via Facebook and Twitter.    

Related:  25 Years of the World Wide Web: What Surprised, Charmed and Changed Us

1.  July 16, 1994: Amazon opens for business.

With eyes for cashing in on the dot-com rush of the early 1990s, Jeff Bezos founded the web’s first online bookstore on July 5, 1994. He initially called it “Cadabra,” but changed its name to Amazon.com when a lawyer marosely mistook the title for “Cadaver.” We think Bezos settled on the right choice in the end, don’t you?

The pioneering ecommerce hub officially went live 11 days later, when Bezos and his inaugural employees packed and shipped boxes of books out of his garage/recreation room in Bellevue, Wash. Our shopping habits and the world’s shipping fulfillment systems will never be the same. Neither will Bezos. He’s now worth an estimated $2.6 billion. Being relentless -- and shooting for the stars -- really does paid off.

Related: Founders of AOL, Twitter and More Share the Best and Worst Moments in Internet History

2. Jan. 18, 1995: Yahoo.com goes live.

Like so many other successful tech startups, Yahoo was born at Stanford University. Then graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo founded the early searchable index of web pages, which they originally called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” Thank goodness no one has to say that mouthful anymore.

Yang and Filo soon came to their senses and named the web crawler Yahoo. It’s faster and more fun to say, even if it might not be here to stay. The original Yahoo, short for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” forever altered how we sift through and make sense of the gobs of information floating around the information superhighway. The search engine paved the way for a crop of search-focused cousins, including Microsoft’s Bing (does anyone still Bing?) and that search engine giant (and verb) we can’t live without called Google.  

Related: 15 Throwback Web Pages That Show Us How the Internet Has Changed 

3. April 21, 1995: Match.com starts striking matches.

When Silicon Valley electrical engineer Gary Kremen scooped up the domain name Match.com for $2,500, love, sweet love was on his mind, and apparently a lot of it. “Match.com will bring more love to the planet than anything since Jesus Christ,” he headily proclaimed in his first on-camera interview.

The online dating service he launched, one of the first of its kind online, paved the way for a billion-dollar industry crammed with copycats. To date, Match.com claims to have facilitated more than a quarter billion matches. One thing’s for sure: The digital cupid forever changed how people fall in love and, yes, hookup, too.

Related: Why the Internet Needs the WayBack Machine, the Site That Archives the Web

4. Sept. 3, 1995: eBay debuts.

Pierre Omidyar singlehandedly launched eBay from his living room in San Jose, Calif. The ambitious self-taught computer designer created the site, originally called “AuctionWeb,” to help people buy and sell goods online.

Today, eBay is the web’s largest auction marketplace. Not long after its inception, the site left an indelible imprint on how we sell second-hand goods, and, later, new goods as well. No longer are we dependant on combing through traditional print classifieds and trolling neighborhood garage sales for deals. Nudged along by eBay’s rise, the sharing economy would later open the world up to even more efficient and creative ways for people to part with stuff we no longer have use for.  

Related: 15 Internet Relics We Miss (and Some We Don't)

5. Fall 1996: “Baby Cha-Cha” digitally dances into our hearts.

Viral videos are a dime a dozen today, but back in 1996, they were a strange, new phenomenon.

A clip of the world’s first 3-D-rendered digital “Dancing Baby” was one of the first viral videos, and strange it was indeed. The famous snippet featured a bald, diapered and digitally animated baby doing the “cha cha.” It shimmied creepily to a Blue Swede cover of the song “Hooked on a Feeling.”

Soon after its release, the freaky babe spread like wildfire online and eventually danced into several episodes of a then-popular TV show called Ally McBeal. The concept of “going viral” has been a great motivator for people, brands and causes ever since.

6. Jan. 17, 1998: The Drudge Report breaks the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

Bill Clinton, our Commander in Chief at the time, lied. He did have sexual relations with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Newsweek had the juicy “blue dress” scoop, but opted not to publish the exposé. Then Matt Drudge got wind of the sex scandal and blew it wide open on his email-newsletter-turned-website, The Drudge Report. Newsrooms fell silent across the world, as reporters got a load of the embarrassing, sordid details of Clinton’s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

How we first learned about the shocking revelation -- online and not from a traditional print or TV journalism organization -- was proof that the internet was changing how we received the news. The online news era was born. Today, approximately four in 10 Americans get their news online, reports the Pew Research Center. Somewhat surprisingly, TV news remains the most widely consumed news platform.   

Related: 10 Fascinating Facts About the World Wide Web on Its 25th Birthday

7. Sept. 7, 1998: Google incorporates.

Google wasn’t always the world’s third most valuable brand. Long before it was a go-to verb, it was an obedient digital dog, finding and retrieving stuff, playing fetch for internet users over and over again.

Eventually the little G -- which started in 1995 as a Stanford University Ph.D. research project and was originally named “BackRub” -- grew into the big, $367 billion-dollar big G (incorporated under Alphabet) we know and love-hate today. No longer satisfied to fetch links alone, the global tech colossus now chases meatier, more meaningful bones, like nailing the fastest internet speeds on the planet, rendering human drivers obsolete and, NBD, possibly ending death.

The brainchild of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google drove reinvestment into the web in the shadow of the dot-com crash. It's now the gold standard not only for search, but also for innovation, human resources and host of other things you can, yep, Google.

8. Jan. 15, 2001: Wikipedia publishes its first entry.

Who needs old-school encyclopedias when we have Wikipedia? The free online information hub, the name of which is derived from the Hawaiian word for “quick,” went from a scrappy upstart to the world’s sixth most-visited website in a few short years. Wikipedia is lauded and loathed because virtually anyone with an internet connection can add or edit entries to any of its topics, regardless of their expertise or lack of it.

Finance expert Jimmy Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia with philosopher Larry Sanger, doesn’t recall their creation’s inaugural entry, apart from recalling the first two words he entered into the groundbreaking wiki software: “Hello world.” Fast forward to today and the number of Wikipedia pages in existence is staggering.

Appropriately according to Wikipedia, there are now 39,889,681. For better or for worse, Wikipedia has become how most people first learn about most topics. That’s why it’s important to take just about every word you read on it with a grain of salt. The general lack of credibility was enough to send Sanger packing in 2002.

Related: 10 Ways to Make Millions on YouTube

9. April 23, 2005: The first YouTube video is uploaded.  

Former PayPal employees Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim came up with the idea for the world’s first video-sharing internet platform at a dinner party in San Francisco … or did they? However the powerful platform got its start, there’s no denying that it democratized video content right from the start. Only one year after Karim uploaded its first video, a quick snippet of himself at the zoo, YouTube became a global sensation, redefining celebrity and putting the power to broadcast all manner of videos, amateur and professional, in the hands of anyone with a webcam.

The TV industry would never be the same and, instead of resisting the innovative new medium, eventually came to embrace it. Today, YouTube has more than one billion users and an estimated 400 of hours of content are uploaded to the service every minute.

10. Aug. 23, 2005: The world witnesses Hurricane Katrina online.

When the deadly wrath of Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, the power went dark and so did most communications. Armed with diesel power generators, Michael Barnes and other eyewitnesses in the area turned to the internet to update the world about the natural disaster and the devastation it wreaked as it happened over a five-day period.

With each update, the bloggers made history, marking one of the first times people on the scene of a major news event self-reported via the World Wide Web. Today, thanks to ubiquitous camera-equipped smartphones, live-tweeting and other social media-driven phenomenon, we take online eyewitness reports for granted. We watch events unfold live, in real-time, births and deaths included. Facebook has even rolled out a special alert system to help people let their friends and family know they are OK after a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other major event.

11. Oct. 28, 2003: Facebook rears its face.

Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard classmates originally designed Facebook, first called Facemash, as a “hot or not”-style game that shallowly ranked undergraduates based on their looks. The social media platform has since mushroomed into an all-out global phenomenon. It’s transformed not only how we connect with friends and family (and those other “friends” we don’t really know), but also how we discover videos, news and information.

The popular platform is now the largest social networking entity in the world, clocking an average of 1.13 billion active users per day. Some two-thirds of American Facebook users now get their news from the site, per recent Pew Research Center data, and that estimate is only expected to grow as Zuck does his damndest to connect everyone on earth. Yes, everyone.

12. Jan. 27, 2006: Western Union dispatches its last-ever telegram.

Along with phone books and road maps, telegrams are also at the top of the list of things the internet rendered obsolete. The legacy company, founded in 1851 in the heyday of the Pony Express, stopped dispatching the iconic yellow-enveloped messages as a result of rise of email and instant messaging, both byproducts of the internet, yet more proof that digital communication won.

Western Union’s money transfer arm is still chugging along. However, if certain Bitcoin boosters’ predictions ring true, it could very well go kaput, too -- that is if cryptocurrency ever really catches on.  

Related: Why the Rich and Famous are on Fire for Emojis, and Why Brands Should Care

13. Nov. 12, 2014: Kim Kardashian West breaks the internet with her backside.

Love her or hate her, social media mogul Kim Kardashian West is a true mobile millionaire. From her infamous nude Paper magazine shoot, to her popular apps, to her fashion line, Kim K's entire career has been fueled by the way she cultivates her following online.

Many see her rise to fame as a possibility for themselves, no particular tech talent required. The 35-year-old star shows how virtually anyone can leverage (and monetize) their personality in ways that weren’t possible before the internet.
Edition: December 2016

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