When I was a kid growing up on the interwebs, times were different. We played flash games instead of Snapchatting. We hadn’t collectively decided that “Facebook” and “Google” were the winners, and actually thought that Friendster and Yahoo stood chances. So many great memories. Who woulda thought that the internet would become as ubiquitous and porn-filled as it is today? Hey, maybe it would be fun to go back and find out what happened to our favorite old-school websites!
#6. Turns Out Neopets Was Run By The Church of Scientology
OK, that was probably a mistake.
Neopets was a hugely popular virtual pet simulator birthed in the very late ’90s. On its surface, it was simple: You fed your pets, played games with them, and … fought them. Think “Disneyfied Pokemon,” and that pretty much nails it. The economy was surprisingly robust, too. It featured a working stock market and a bank, and you earned money by selling items at your own store or playing advergames. Sure, the whole point was to get eight-year-olds addicted to Happy Meals, but it was still a ton of fun and genuinely addicting, way before microtransactions were a thing.
Nowadays, the money tree probably accepts credit cards.
I made my Neo-living as a junk trader. I had people send me their unwanted shitty items in bulk for nothing, then I individually sold them at my store as cheaply as possible. By the time I stopped playing, I had a million Neopoints in the bank, about 20 paintbrushes, and had tricked all my neighbors into giving me their passwords. If you know what the the hell I’m even talking about, then you know I was a fucking God of Neopia. Now my pets are probably all dead.
Oh, well that’s reassuring.
So as you can imagine, it was quite a shock when I learned that the site’s investment group were actually diehard Scientologists. A guy named Doug Dohring bought the company in 2000 and implemented a series of L.-Ron-Hubbard-based organizational structures that supposedly were used trillions of years ago, called the Org Board.
In case that sounds sinister as fuck, it was! One of the site founders, Donna Williams, was just as startled, and explained in a Reddit post about how Cruise & Co. actually bounced plans around to implement Scientology teachings directly into the site. That plan was shut down, because for some reason, Williams felt compelled not to expose millions of impressionable children to a cult (other than Disney). She even said that new hires were forced to answer strange questionnaires about which lines looked “friendlier” and weird shit like that. This must have caused some internal tension, because all of sudden in June 2015, the moderators stopped policing the forums and the profanity filters broke down, which likely resulted in more than a few awkward parental conversations about furries.
While this revelation is certainly creepy, I take some solace in the fact that apparently Scientology’s super-secret structure of organization which has been passed down for millennia involves turning your homepage into one of those spammy sites that you get redirected to after accidentally clicking on a flashing banner ad.
Shit, this is owned by Nickelodeon now? How deep does this go?
#5. Myspace Straight-Up Deleted All Your Stuff
Before Facebook ate it, Myspace was the de facto social media site of the early aughts. One of the appeals (and detriments) of the site was its personalization, which Facebook strictly forbade. Myspace users spent hours uploading photos, writing brooding poems, and agonizing over who would make it into their Top Eight. Pages and pages of personal memories. And the site removed it all without telling anybody.
And on that day, millions of music autoplayers cried out in terror.
In 2005, after stumbling through rebrands, Justin Timberlake bought Myspace and tried to turn it into a predominantly music-based platform. 2013 saw a formal relaunch with a focus on music discovery almost exclusively. The old profiles and stuff basically got folded into the mix: All the site’s blogs, videos, photos, and posts vanished. Users had no warning.
For some people, this probably came as a welcome purge of “the emo years,” but a lot of people in my generation came of age on Myspace. Those were real, personal memories and irreplaceable photos. Imagine if Lisa Frank waltzed into your closet and just tore up your journal. Understandably, people were a little miffed at the news.
“I spent weeks rewriting Harry Potter books from Draco’s perspective!”
Myspace’s official response was “tough luck” for a while, but they eventually released tools with which you could download HTML versions of old blogs and photos … assuming you still have access to your 10-year-old X420XBlaze@hotmail.com email address. If not? Cry Justin a river, because it’s gone.
Myspace even ended up screwing over the very industry that was sort of keeping it afloat. Before this 2013 relaunch, Myspace was a fairly popular place for bands to host their fan pages and upload music. Unfortunately, the redesign forgot to include things like “fans,” and popular bands had to start over from scratch. Huge stars like Britney Spears (and, incidentally, Justin Timberlake) went from millions of friends … to zero.
“Hey you know what people love? Sideways scrolling!”
Today, Myspace is just a shittier version of Pandora that no one I know uses. You’d think a major internet company would know not to stick to a brand name that everybody knows is shit, right?
#4. Napster Just Won’t Die
I’ll never forget the day I figured out I could just download any song I want in a matter of … well, at the time, hours. Suddenly, my hard drive was crammed with albums I didn’t even know I wanted, and I could fill the room with the beautifully-crafted croons of Evanescence at the touch of a mouse click. And because literally everyone and their grandmother were committing crimes, it was all fine, for some reason. Napster soon became the poster child for the RIAA’s harsh anti-piracy measures, which, after years of extensive lawsuits and bad PR, only succeeded in making the world hate Lars Ulrich again.
Every angry song was Limp Bizkit, every comedy song was Weird Al.
Napster was shut down in 2001 by the courts and quickly relaunched as a legal download service. But it never caught on, mostly because none of the tracks worked at all on iPods and had other strict usage restrictions. That would be like Netflix not running on Windows. However, in 2008, Best Buy, of all people, bought the service for a paltry sum. (Grammar disclaimer: Corporations are people, so we’re good.) Interesting, because Best Buy was probably one of the biggest companies most affected by declining CD sales. Their idea was to focus on deliverables beyond music, and they thought the deal would secure them cred with record labels somehow. What, did they expect a ransom payment from Sony or something?
They chugged along a bit under the radar until 2011, when Best Buy sold Napster to its direct rival, Rhapsody. The plan this time was for Napster to be folded into Rhapsody’s music service, but as of today, that still hasn’t come to fruition. In fact, if you go to the site, it says that the opposite is happening — that Rhapsody is becoming Napster. Which is extra weird, since Napster had about a quarter of the subscribers that Rhapsody did at the time of the sale — a loss of half a million under Best Buy’s ownership. It’s not exactly clear why these companies are so reluctant to dump what is obviously a tainted brand name. Especially since at this point the market is so saturated with better services that don’t evoke the word “lawsuit.” Is there anyone even left willing to drop another $9.99 on another music thing? I guess they just figure that hey, after 19 years, what’s another “soon?”
Pro tip: It’s usually sketchy when a business has to clarify that what they are selling is “100 percent legal.”