Internet Brands Of Yesteryear

by Steph Wood

Nielsen, in collaboration with UKOM (UK Online Measurement) recently published a list of the web’s top 50 brands. It makes for interesting reading, not least because the included ranking table names the top UK brands of January 2004 by way of contrast. Names like ‘Freeserve’, ‘Kelkoo’ and ‘’ that were once a massively significant part of British lives, that now conjure up a flicker of recognition in the minds of the few.

It’s a timely reminder of just how quickly the Internet has evolved, and it begs at least two questions: what happened to these brands and do similar fates await the brands we take for granted in 2011?

Brands That Survived and Thrived

It would be short sighted to suggest that any brand has the power to last forever, but though the top 50 has apparently been the site of much upheaval, the Top 10 has been relatively static. This gives us the ‘Magnificent Seven web brands’: MSN, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, BBC, eBay and Amazon. The seven have changed places a little (Google usurping Microsoft’s crown, eBay falling whilst Yahoo, the BBC and Amazon remain static), but it would seem unlikely that any of these brands would become less significant without significant business problems.

The remaining three of the 2004 top ten have hit harder times: the service that succeeded Ask Jeeves is just outside the top ten, whilst AOL fell 9 places. Freeserve’s disappearance was a rather more ignoble end. In 2004 ‘Freeserve’ was already fighting against the flow of public recognition to become ‘Wanadoo’ before being absorbed into Orange, the 39th most significant brand.

New Trends and Old Brands

By far the biggest change in the lists has been the emergence of social media networks. In 2004, people were very content indeed with their desktop instant messaging clients. In fact, the very idea of a ‘social media network’ was unfashionable enough to be something that your parents dived into to spy on their successful high school friends. Nowadays, ‘Friends Reunited’ is on its third marriage and entirely washed up after once being the twenty first most important internet brand. Facebook (3), Youtube (8) and Twitter (38) now feature, but many more of the extended list have social media network-like structures: Wikipedia, Trip Advisor, Blogger and Skype. More still integrate directly with Facebook, mimic social media features and, in the case of Zynga, even trade mostly through social media.

Beyond social media, a number of offline brands that were simply late to the party have elbowed out brands established in 2004 that are still arguably significant in the modern world (Banking has dropped off the edge of the list, even though their internet business is healthy). Formerly offline brands like ITV, Asda and the National Lottery are joined by Government brands like the NHS and Directgov in the new top 50.

Brands That Simply Didn’t Survive

Not every formerly significant brand was simply elbowed out of the top 50 by an influx of new names as the Internet diversified in purpose. Many have simply lost out to the competition and been absorbed by other brands that may or may not rank highly in public perception, even if they’re doing good business. Tiscali, Blueyonder and Demon Internet were all internet services that followed the same trajectory as Freeserve.

It’s probably worth pointing out the impact of the biggest brand of them all on all this. Take, one of the biggest ‘oh, yeah!’ moments of the Nielsen list, a service I and many other British people used regularly but simply forgot about. Like so much in search (remember Lycos?), Google maps just destroyed its competition with access to the best map data, its competencies snowballing from aerial views to the infamous streetview service. Even services like the much maligned Google Shopping must have contributed to the downfall of Kelkoo and

I’d love to be able to reveal which of the brands of today will be completely forgotten by 2018, but there’s too many factors to consider. Could Google (or one of the other top brands) muscle in on the territory of other sites? Almost definitely. Could Google itself be toppled? Perhaps not in seven years, but never say never.

Steph Wood is a 24 year old blogger working as a copywriter for Holidays 4 Scuba Diving. They have lots of love for internet trends and nostalgia.