MapQuest and Other Internet Zombies

The internet dream of the 1990s is still alive, if you look in the right corners.

More than 17 million Americans regularly use MapQuest, one of the premier digital mapping sites long overtaken by Google and Apple, according to data from research firm Comscore. The dot-com-era internet portal closed 20 years ago, but its ghost lives on in the “Go” that is part of the web addresses of some Disney sites.

Ask Jeeves, a web search engine that started before Google, still has fans and people who type “Ask Jeeves a question” into Google searches.

You might be kidding AOL, but it’s still the 50th most popular website in the US, according to numbers from SimilarWeb. The Second Life virtual world of the early 2000s never went away and now has a second life as a proto-metaverse brand.

Some online stars of yesteryear have stuck around much longer than expected, showing that it’s possible to carve out a life online long after the celebrity is gone.

“They’re almost cockroach brands,” said Ben Schott, brand and advertising columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. “They are small enough and tough enough not to be killed.”

A comparison with rushing bugs may not seem be a compliment. But there’s something heartwarming about the pioneers who shaped the early days of the Internet, lost their temper and dominance, and finally carved out a place for themselves. They’ll never be as popular or powerful as they were a generation ago, but moldy internet brands could still have a fruitful purpose.

These brands have managed to stay alive through a combination of inertia, nostalgia, the fact that they produced a product people love, digital moneymaking prowess, and the quirks of a rickety internet. If today’s internet powerhouses like Facebook and Pinterest also lose relevance, they could stick around for decades.

System1, which owns MapQuest and HowStuffWorks, among other websites, has a strategy of attracting people to its collection of digital properties through sales pitches or other techniques, turning them into loyal users and earning revenue. money from their clicks or other sales. It’s not far from the web strategy of the early 2000s of turning “eyeballs” into revenue.

Michael Blend, CEO and co-founder of System1, said his company has spent money on internet advertisements to attract people to MapQuest and has also improved its mapping features. A feature added since System1 bought MapQuest from Verizon in 2019 allows delivery couriers to plot long routes with many stops.

Blend said Gen X nostalgia or online marketing might persuade people to try MapQuest once or twice, but the company wanted to make the site useful enough to keep them coming back regularly. He also said more than half of people using MapQuest are young enough to never have experienced it in its prime.

Blend is proud that MapQuest has stuck around for so long. “There are a lot of internet brands that have come and gone and you never hear from them again,” he told me.

I don’t have a good explanation for the resilience of some internet properties from the 1990s. People search for Ask Jeeves even though its owner, internet conglomerate IAC/InterActiveCorp, dropped the English Butler name in 2005 and ceased trying to compete with Google search over a decade ago. The website now called is primarily a compilation of entertainment and celebrity news.

A spokesperson for Disney, which once owned the Internet portal, had no solid explanation as to why some of the company’s Internet sites still had Go fingerprints. (Years ago , The Onion mocked Disney for this.) Typically, today’s websites are often built on remnants of the old Internet, like a modern mansion erected on the foundation of a 19th-century house. .

Schott mentioned something that I can’t get out of my head. He said when a once-loved restaurant chain or industrial plant closes, the typical public reaction is sadness for what people have lost. But Schott said when internet properties like Yahoo and Myspace sag or die, it’s often seen as a joke.

“There’s a weird schadenfreude when tech companies fail, which I don’t think happens to other industries,” he said. “I don’t know what it is.”

Maybe that’s starting to change. When Microsoft retired its 27-year-old Internet Explorer web browser this month, nostalgia poured in. As the internet ages – and those of us who remember its early years as well – the more emotions we might feel for what came before.

  • China’s eyes on its citizens: A New York Times investigation found that surveillance by Chinese authorities is more extensive than previously thought. Police want facial recognition cameras where people eat and shop and even in private spaces like apartment buildings and hotels. Authorities are buying equipment to build large-scale databases of iris and DNA scans. The goal, my colleagues reported, is “to maximize what the state can discover about a person’s identity, activities, and social ties, which could ultimately help the government maintain its authoritarian rule.”

    Watch the survey video here.

  • Complaints about bait and switch: Small business owners say Google has hooked them with free personalized enterprise messaging and other business software and is now demanding payment in a process they found clumsy. “It seemed unnecessarily petty to me,” one business owner told my colleague Nico Grant.

  • Other automakers are envious of Tesla: Established automakers like Ford want to sell more of their cars directly to online shoppers, like Tesla is doing. One problem: Many state laws require cars to be sold through dealerships, writes Paul Stenquist for The Times.


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