Bonus: What the Web Was Like in 2005

I look back on web technology in 2005 — a world before social media, smartphones and the cloud!

Browse. Search. Subscribe.
Browse. Search. Subscribe. That’s what it was all about in 2005. Photo by Kris Krug, at Gnomedex 5, June 2005.

Earlier this week I began chapter 4 of my serialized memoir, Bubble Blog: From Outsider to Insider in Silicon Valley’s Web 2.0 Revolution. There are twenty chapters in total, plus an introduction and epilogue. So there is a long way to go yet. Much of what I’ve published so far (parts 5-11) has focused on 2005, a key year in Web 2.0. That was when Web 2.0 became the driving trend of Silicon Valley, and Read/WriteWeb got swept up in a new tech bubble. But what was the web like back then? It’s now 18 years ago, which in internet years means a couple of generations!

In this post I’ll reflect back on 2005 on the web, and what it meant to me and my generation. This post is for paid subscribers to Cybercultural, but you aren’t already you can become one for just £5 per month. Your support is much appreciated and will help fund even more internet history. I’m currently working on a ‘prequel’ about Web 1.0, which will be the next serialized book to be published on Cybercultural.

As I noted in a previous bonus post, the first three quarters of 2005 were full of startup launches (e.g. YouTube, Reddit), acquisitions (e.g. Flickr, MySpace), and technological advancements (e.g. Ajax). Over that time, I’d also found my groove with Read/WriteWeb — especially after my revelatory first trip to Silicon Valley in September/October 2005.

As 2005 drew to a close, I did a re-design of my blog. Although it still looks a little amateurish (I wasn’t a professional designer), it consolidated the “RWW red” branding. TechCrunch hadn’t yet gone full green, Mashable, GigaOm and ProgrammableWeb had all opted for blue, and so I was the only red tech blog that I knew of (Boing Boing had a red logo, but otherwise it used traditional blue links).

RWW in Dec 2005
RWW in Dec 2005

Even though Web 2.0 as a trend had taken off after the Web 2.0 Conference I’d attended in October, it wasn’t yet apparent in the Technorati Top 100 list at the end of the year. There was only one tech blog that focused on Web 2.0 in the list at that point — Mike Arrington’s TechCrunch at number 70. There were other tech blogs on the list — two gadget blogs in the top 10 (Engadget and Gizmodo), the official Google blog at 14, Kottke’s already long-time blog at 21, A List Apart at 27, etc. — but the tech news blogs had yet to make their mark.

Fast-forward just a year (Dec 2006) and TechCrunch was up to number 4 and Read/WriteWeb was at number 68. Another year on, TC was number 2 and RWW was number 18 (just ahead of the official Google blog!). RWW made the top 10 in May 2008. So things moved fast after 2005, as Web 2.0 became all-encompassing in Silicon Valley.

Web 2.0 Business in 2005

There was cautious optimism at the end of 2005 that people could actually make money from Web 2.0. In a post I wrote on ZDNet at the beginning of December, I discussed one of the trending product categories at this time: mashups.

“Mashups is a current hot topic and many people are getting excited about the possibility of earning money by mashing up several services into one. I recently did a review of the top mashups on the Web today and was impressed by the quality and number of mashups and API services, from Virtual Places to mashingtonpost.com.”

In another ZDNet post, I talked about some “new Web 2.0 services of note.” In hindsight, my best call was mentioning Atlassian, then a relatively unknown enterprise startup:

“Atlassian is an Australian company that provides enterprise software solutions. The reason I’m mentioning them is a tip I got from a reader, who said “rumour has it they are doing more business than JotSpot and Socialtext combined but with no VC and not much coverage as I can tell!” That’s impressive, but note that it’s unverified.”

Goes to show the value of insider information! Getting tips from Aussie and Irish entrepreneurs was about as close as I got to getting news that way, though — Mike Arrington had quickly cornered the market on Silicon Valley insider news.

RSS and Pre-Social Media

Like many tech bloggers of that era, I was obsessed with RSS. In retrospect, we all over-estimated how much of an impact RSS would have on the wider culture. Of course, it was algorithmic feeds on social media services that won out in the end. But in my 2005 wrapup, I was hopeful that RSS would lead to further content innovation:

“When I think about what will be the big products and services in 2006, I look (as I did last year) to RSS services and also next-generation search services. There’s a real need for search services that can not only aggregate the vast amount of content on the Web - but effectively filter and organize that content based on individual preferences. There are some promising companies tackling this big problem: Rojo, Findory, Newsgator, PubSub, Topix.net, digg.com.”

I have always been an advocate of the individual user controlling his/her web experience, and I (rightly) wanted RSS to be a conduit for that. But it never happened — perhaps apart from podcasting, where RSS still reigns. None of the services I name-checked above achieved wide success in the culture. The closest one of them came to that was Digg, however (as I will write about in a later post) it spectacularly imploded several years later, just as it was on the cusp.

In many ways, 2005 was a glory age in the internet. It was a time before social media (Facebook was still for students only), before smartphones, and before “the cloud.” You weren’t always online, which in retrospect was a good thing. Perhaps the only bad thing about that era from a tech perspective was that Internet Explorer still dominated the web browser market; but even that was a product category with promise, since all the cool bloggers were on the relatively new, open source Firefox (version 1!).

It was a time of web creativity, before the one-size-fits-all of social media came along. The beauty of blogs was that they were individualized — if you used Movable Type or WordPress, you typically did your own web design to differentiate your site from others. You had sidebars, which had “blogrolls” (a list of your blogger pals), your Flickr photos, linkblogs, and more.

Ah, the web in 2005… I do miss it, although I’m pleased to see the fediverse is showing great promise as we head into 2024. Open networks are always better and more fun.

Stay tuned for 2006 memories as I continue Bubble Blog next week 😃

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