I was taking the subway uptown yesterday afternoon and as I stepped out of the train I thought I saw the word Lycos on the advertisement on the station wall. Upon closer observation, it was not an advertisement for Lycos, but by then I was already thinking about my visit to the Lycos NYC office in 1995 when I first met Jerry Colonna. It was in the building that sits on the north end of Union Square in a dumpy office with the name Point Communications on the door. Point was a web directory (ie at Yahoo competitor) that Lycos had bought in 1995. Jerry told me that Point was driving a lot of the traffic on the Lycos network and I asked him where they hosted it. He pointed to a closet with a PC sitting on the floor with the back opened and a bunch of wires sticking out. “It runs on that thing”, he said. I thought to myself that one of the top trafficked websites on the entire Internet was running in a closet. That was a different time.
Lycos was a web search engine created at Carnegie Mellon that was turned into a business by the Internet holding company CMGI in 1994/1995. Jerry was working for CMGI at the time I met him and CMGI was quickly assembling a portfolio of Internet assets around the Lycos brand to rival Yahoo. CMGI took Lycos public in 1996 and, according to Wikipedia, in 1999 Lycos was the most visited Internet destination.
But easy come, easy go and Lycos was sold to Terra Networks in May 2000, the first in a series of sales to international owners that led to slow and steady decline of the brand.
But back in 1995, Lycos was in the thick of it. It was the east coast rival to Yahoo, which was the leading Internet brand. If you were selling your website (that’s what you did back then), you shopped it to Yahoo and Lycos. And Jerry was right in the middle of all of that. I was thinking of leaving and starting a VC firm to invest exclusively in Internet businesses (ie websites). At that first meeting, I thought Jerry would be a great partner to do that with. And, after a series of meetings, that’s exactly what we did. But that’s another story, longer, and even more interesting.
We’ve come a long way in 20 years. Google eclipsed all of these “web 1.0” properties as search became the dominant way users accessed the web. Facebook showed that the web was going to be a social experience a few years later. And Apple showed that it was going to be a mobile thing a few years after that. And everything has moved off servers in closets to the cloud. Things look a lot differently now. But it helps to go back and think about how it was back then. It gives some perspective.