What the Web Looked Like Before Google

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Google: What would the Internet look like if there were no Google today? 

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On the occasion of Google's 15th anniversary, it's tough to imagine the Internet without all the Google services we use for our Internetting, so let's go back to 1998, the year Google was born, to look at how the Internet operated before Sergey Brin and Larry Page introduced us to searching with PageRank.

We Used AOL, Hotmail, or Netscape for Email 

Back in 1998 the number one most popular website had the exact same function as one of Google's most popular services today: email. According to a Media Matrix report from 1998, AOL got the most traffic, which shouldn't surprise too many people who were cogent in 1998 — you were reminded by slews of AOL CDs snail-mailed to your door. However, the webpage may look a bit foreign. Many of us dialed into AOL using the proprietary AOL software on those CDs, but if you managed to get online some other way, after typing http://www.aol.com into Internet Explorer (no Googling, remember?) you would find an email and chat services portal that looked like this. Not the link to AOL Netfind, the company's entrant to search that didn't survive Google.

After AOL, Hotmail and Netscape both come in the top 20 most visited website in 1998. Hotmail's homepage was even sparser than AOL's:

Netscape had its own "webmail," but also advertises for AIM on its homepage with search powered by Excite, which still chugs along as a part of Barry Diller's IAC. At the end of November 1998, a few weeks after this screenshot was taken, AOL bought Netscape.

We Used Yahoo, Lycos, or AltaVista for Search

Before Google became synonymous with looking things up on the Internet, Yahoo, which first indexed the web, was the number two most popular site online. Today, it still (somehow) attracts a ton of traffic, coming in at the number one spot just a smidge above Google, according to Comscore numbers from this August. Back then, Yahoo was considered "good," to quote this 1998 article usability by Jakob Nielsen. After-all it had a page load time of three seconds. "This is one of the fastest download times among major websites," noted Jakob Nielsen. (Today, those three seconds would be a little slower than average.) He also praised Yahoo for its "minimalist" design, "links, links, and more links everywhere you turn," and the "structured navigation system." That "good" site looked like this:

Indeed, unlike the single-box homepage that Google introduced in 1998 the fashion for search engines was links, links, and more links everywhere. Altavista and Lycos both indexed searches with categories all over the homepages. Here's Altavista, "the most powerful and useful guide to the Net." They had the Bill Clinton presidency covered.

We Used Internet Explorer

IE 4, which came out in 1997 doesn't even look that alien. But this year, Google Chrome overtook Internet Explorer as the most popular gateway to the Internet:

We Would Blog at GeoCities

Okay, so Blogger, which first launched in 1999 and was then bought by Google four years later, isn't the most popular service out there anymore. But, it's always fun to remember GeoCities in all of its GIFed glory. After AOL (email), and Yahoo (search), GeoCities came in as the number three most trafficked site. Here's its homepage in 1998.

And because the screenshot doesn't show it, yes, that clip-art was an animated GIF:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.