We SEOs work with the World Wide Web and the Internet every single day, and probably spend a great deal of our off time on it as well. One of the brilliant things about today’s technology is that we’ve become used to its rapid evolution and continuing changes, even when it means our jobs get a little more challenging. When I joined Beanstalk twenty months ago, we were at the very end of an era —Google’s Panda had literally just been released, causing SEOs all over the world to rework their strategies. This year’s Hummingbird has required another alteration to the way we work with our clients and the web in general.In the perpetual race to out-puppet the puppetmaster that is Google, we have come to assume that many things are concrete: the importance of certain social media properties, a set of specific tools to be used to gauge your success, and a general sense of what Google deems important in the rankings race. But the wonderful thing about the Internet is that it is anything but concrete; in the three or so decades of modern browsers, the Internet has grown exponentially and for every successful website or product there are handfuls of other tools that didn’t work. It’s fascinating to go back through history and imagine what could have been if these sites had won the race to the top. In the spirit of Halloween, I took a stroll through the graveyards of a few choice sites and tools to dig up some of the oddest web products now laid to eternal, irrelevant rest.
Google didn’t become the most successful web company on the planet by playing it safe; it’s widely known that its employees can spend 20% of their time on developing crazy projects. If you have a news alert for ‘Google patents’ you’ll inevitably find that the company is always filing the weirdest claims on technology that isn’t even possible yet — or, weirder still, releasing news related to a brand new piece of tech which was patented years before being realistically viable. But you don’t get to the summit of Mount Everest without encountering a few frozen corpses (they serve as landmarks), and you don’t become Google without some flopped experiments.
One of the most fascinating of Google’s discontinued products is Google Lively. It was an online 3D social arena which looked a great deal like Second Life, except that it was integrated with the Internet and accessible from one’s browser. You could explore a three-dimensional realm and chat with up to 19 other people in the same room. You could also hang Youtube videos on the “walls”, embed your personal Lively area to your blog, and read your email. Second Life users disliked the non-customizable realm and the lack of virtual commerce, and Google quietly shuttered Lively after only six months of life.
Right now we all rely on Twitter — for news, for gossip, and for collectively sharing how awesome the last season of Breaking Bad was. But before our beloved little blue bird there was Jaiku, a Finnish-based micro-blogging service that took its name from a play on the Japanese haiku. Released in 2006, Jaiku was compatible with Nokia phones and allowed users to post short messages, similar to how Twitter works right now. The company was acquired by Google to open-source the product; in 2009, Jaiku re-launched on Google’s App Engine. But the little bluebird had taken over the world by then, and Jaiku became defunct in 2012.