What’s Changed In the Past 17 Years?

Nothing much really. The technology of the Internet is basically the same as it was 17 years ago. HTML is basically the same with a few tweaks. And while there are more plugins, ad networks, analytics, etc, the tradeoff is that a page loads equally slow now because of the extra baggage as it did 17 years ago.

(Amazon in 1995)

(Incidentally, for the next 5 days,Amazon is giving away my book, I was Blind But Now I See, for free)

You can say, "there's more people". That's true. But the US and most developed countries had pretty fast adoption early on. A large part of the recent growth of the Internet is due to high population countries like China, Indonesia, and yes, Nigeria (the 7th most populated country in the world).

(Ebay in 1995)

Certainly video has hanged. But the formats and technology are more or less the same. It's just someone (youtube) figured out how to put them all in one place and everyone decided to use Youtube instead of Yahoo video for random reasons that we'll never figure out.

(the first version of Google was called Backrub, because of the dependence on backlinks that reference a page)


Search engine technology has incrementally gotten better but not much. Pagerank, the algorithm that powers Google is primarily a tweak based on a patent written in the 90s by Robin Li when he worked at...Dow Jones. Robin got so frustrated that Dow Jones, the father of the most capitalist media company in the world, wouldn't do anything with his technology so he left and went to the  most communist country in the world, China, and started Baidu.

(Yahoo in 1995)

Well, you can say, Yahoo has basically been destroyed since 1995. And my answer is....has it? Maybe the stock has gone down, and management has changed a few times. But let's even say it was the #1 website in 1995. It's now...the number 3 website in the world (or #4 if you break YouTube out of Google). I probably use it as much today as I did in 1995. Maybe more.

Advertising has changed a little. But not much. The first banner ad had a 78% click-thru rate. Now banner ads have less than 1% click-thru rates. We just tune them out and focus on the content. So the age-old adage "content is king" has not changed at all.

(the first banner ad appeared on HotWired in 1994)

What about social media? The phrases "social media" and "web 2.0" are made up terms that mean nothing. Back in 1995 there was the first "social network", Tripod, which quickly got snapped up by the largest search engine, Lycos, and then left to die. Then it was followed by Geocities, Friendster, Myspace.

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And then, of course, the direct descendant of Tripod, Facebook, launched in the mid 00s:


So where are we now? The newest popular website to hit the top 10 of most popular websites is a site with almost no design, no videos, no fancy plugins, that lets you send messages no greater than 140 characters to your friends. Here's the first version of Twitter. What made it special? The 140 characters.

(the original Twitter site)

Business models have barely changed (you could play games and get coupons on the Internet in 1994, you could buy books and clothes on the Internet at discounts, all the same as now). Technology has barely changed. Pages load at about the same speed despite bandwidth significantly greater. Design, if anything, has become more minimal. None of the programming on ANY website at all can be considered rocket science (which is a good thing. Makes it easier to build sites and grow and standardized the "world wide web", "triple dub" throughout the world).

There were blogs then (called "home pages"), there were crazy acquisitions, there were browsers, etc.

So what's changed?

The Internet economy has put me through hell. I've changed. I've failed at 20 or so businesses and succeeded at about 4. I've been divorced. I've been through personal hell. I know I've changed. I've gotten better. I had to learn from all my failures. I'm ready.

And I bet since 1995 you've changed also. Think about it.

I can't wait for the next 17 years of changes.


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  • seshank vemuri


    You got me pumped up, I just want to write that resignation letter and throw it on my managers desk, take a shit in the thrashcan, Pee on the moniter and leave this place with my head held high. 

    Waiting for my startup prototype to be done. Not sure i will have the above mentioned dramatic exit, but sure i will have one. 

    • SpecialK77

      Peeing into the holes of a CRT monitor was easy, trying to pee into the holes of an LCD monitor is much tougher…that much has changed in 17 years…  Good luck.

    • Guest

      Suggestion : dont quit until the prototype makes as much money as your current salary. (Read James other posts also on how tough it is to do business on ones own. Very tough). Also dont burn bridges.

  • LKM3

    I think you picked the wrong case study for this one.

    We all know the Internet is a vastly different place than it was 17 years ago and no amount of shoehorning examples will show otherwise.

    • ok. how so?

      • Stewart


        • tradeoff is the 1000 extra plug-ins on every page that load from 500 different sites. I find page load times to be the same. 

          • Stewart

            i’d guess therefore that your connection is much slower than mine! 100mbs down 50 up?

          • Yeah, where do you live!? I’m 10 mbs tops. Are you in North Korea or something?

          • Stewart

            ha South Korea has the top speeds, I’m in Northern England…I’m sure there’s fibre in NY state though..? 10 sounds like the dark ages… ;)

          • Yes, the dark ages sounds about right. 

          • Stewart

            On a more pertinent point, I do think that youtube and wikipedia have changed the world, I also think always on internet and ‘presence’ whereby which I move seamlessly from device to device are changes, I guess it depends on ones level of usage…

      • frank r

        Online mapping is a big innovation since 1995. It wasn’t obvious to many people then that the web would make available free, high-quality maps in a form compact enough to download quickly even on a 56K dial-up connection. That is a massive productivity enhancer.

        Things like zillow.com was no-brainers in 1995. But the devil is in the details. All the data-heavy productivity enhancers are like this: obviously useful but expensive to build and with no certainty about revenues. There’s been massive improvement in this area. Infrastructure and user interface is the easy part, building the database and figuring out a way to get paid is the problem. There continues to be massive innovation in database-heavy productivity apps.

  • Dyish

    Maybe everything in the world isn’t www but we just don’t know that… Who knows, maybe there is cia.______.gov? Hmmm, now you have me thinking…

  • Kane1626

    Nice article, James.

  • Stewart

    you don’t need to, chrome doesn’t even use the HTTP anymore, did you know?

  • Stewsam

    do you think the world hasn’t changed in the last 17 years? I’d guess that you’re less than 40 years old if so…?

    • Wow… How you deduced that I am less than 40 years? This is the most remarkable discovery ever!!

      • Derek

        Despite appearances nothing ever stays the same. Change is the only constant in life. All things are in constant motion bit are on different time scales. We happen to live in the now which is as good a place as any so enjoy it!

  • PositOrange

    Beyond the incredible burst of commerce and technology (which is expected) its the overall impact on relationships and reputation and human factors that is more unexpected. People find dates and spouses online more than ever. Marriages and relationships live and die based on stupid Facebook gossip. Sites like http://www.dirtyphonebook.com and Google making all kinds of information publicly available changes how reputation works and how job searches can work for people. All technology has impacted the economy significantly, but its the effect on human interactions that is really surprising as even non-technical people have embraced a lot of this type of technology for their daily lives.

  • I remember typing “porn” into that old Yahoo page when I was 10. Ah, memories.

  • Jeff g

    You are kidding, no change in 17 yrs!
    I can’t ‘remember that far back but
    Smart phones
    My first iPad ( incredible simple down loads movies videos of Neil Gaimen address )
    No need for land line
    No plug in or cable needed for Internet access ( I know different plug in)
    I guess it’s more than 17 yrs ago but dial up Internet
    A stat I heard new apple computer is 56 x faster then cray computer from 1983 ( ok I can’t add but how much faster are computers than 17 yrs ago)
    What about the screens now vs then?
    How about cameras in smart phones?
    I’m pretty sure you’re just looking for comments and a little outrage
    (no outrage here, I’m working on my pacifism)
    Btw I just started following the blog, it’s great, thanks
    Jeff g

    • Roy

      Those are changes in gadgets the hardware part…..but not in the “internet” itself…..just in the way we consume it

    • guest

      – today we can download in GBs. Not sure 17 years back individuals could do that. the dot com boom resulted in far more optical cables allowing us to do this.
      – Websites are Ajax (web 2.0) enabled ie no full page load needed for updates.  pages are far more dynamic.
      – browsers/computers have becomes far more powerful/better.
      – information has really really exploded and available at nearly 0 cost. now there is no excuse that info is not available, for not doing anything.
      – what about map info available with so much details , so much better than before.
      – not sure email/docs was available with so much more space back then.

  • Stu

    The reality is that over the last 17 years, the internet has masked the fact that as humans we really have not advanced that much.  We still use metal boxes with gas to get around, we still have an outdated educational system, we still have the same political systems with the same left/right nonsensical arguments, we still have to work for pieces of paper with funny ink on them to survive, etc.

    What I hope for at some point WHEN the current unsustainable infinite growth paradigm finally implodes on itself is a TRUE awakening to what we should be doing as human beings.  Unfortunately, the present circus will continue until then.  I will make the best of it. 

    I hope to live long enough to see the real change.


    • Yes, I agree. I think the true awakening happens on the inside but then none of the outside really matters that much after that. 

      • Verry

        I like the way James Altucher evolved…..it is so…..Human

    • Lalalatootietoo

      I so agree!

  • My son aged from 3 years old to twenty – a ton changed for him. So change is a personal thing- some people never change after a certain maturity level – and human nature has stayed somewhat consistent for centuries. That said, people do change.

    Things are only things – they serve limited purpose. Looking towards things to gauge change, I believe is misguided.

    As you said Individuals on the other hand can and do create change for themselves and others. And James your changes have influence and enabled change for many people. The ripple effect begins and change occurs regardless of technology advancements, or lack thereof.

  • I will always remember that the first thing I searched for upon going online in January 1997 was ‘Terri Hatcher nude’, having heard the incredible news that this brave new world had such things in it.

    Pathetic, I know, but perhaps not untypical, and it now seems quite quaint and innocent compared to what was to follow!

    • MarkW99

      LOL – my first thought when I first saw the internet was “this could end war”. Then I searched Demi Moore in a bikini.

  • I sure can’t wait for the next 17 years of changes too… Hopefully it’ll be changes for the better.
    I wonder what kind of changes we’ll witness though.  Imagine what the iPhone will look like in 17 years.  Imagine what new cool features a BMW will have.  Imagine what school textbooks will be like – electronic?

    Better yet, I wonder what the state of our economy will be like in 17 years or if there will be tuition reforms for colleges.  Hopefully we’ll experience economic prosperity by then haha.

  • I agree that the financial crisis has opened a lot of eyes and minds that might have never looked this way had their “Plan A” worked out better… For me, I knew right away. I was at Bear Stearns in the early 90’s when this all started and I immediately knew this was the opportunity of my lifetime. That was when I chose myself and it was the best business decision I’ve ever made. I have been telling people to quit their jobs for about 15 years now. Everybody thought I was crazy ’til about 3 years ago :)

  • Derek

     I picked me in November 1995 or was it 1996. (The past is becoming a tad more vague than it used to be because it’s hold over me is waning.) I backed myself to stop being an employee in a shipyard where the management got away with everything but murder and decided to grow and sell bonsai a passion of mine in the real world.
    Computers were expensive toys (which I now realise translates as something I couldn’t justify spending hard cash on) back then and the Internet was something I had heard about. The so called financial ‘crisis’ was yet to arrive so history shows I was ahead of the game for once (even if I didn’t know it at the time!).
    I’ve yet to make a million but I don’t really need to because from that day to this I have been free of the employee world and that in itself is a result worth having.

  • Angel Milev

    Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

    I got my takeaway from his post.Of course many things change everyday. 
    Thing is how do they affect you and which one of them do YOU allow in your inner world.
    All hell breaking loose won’t bother you if you’re in a coma.

  • Verry

    17 years ago…James altucher’s brain still no scar and wound….now….His brain full of memory that change his view on this world

  • Rogerreesbentley

    Ummm.  There may be a couple of little things you missed.  smartphone?  Ipad? cloud? Facebook?  Each of these have changed the world in the last 17 years.  Maybe you missed them?

    •  Cloud was always around. It just got a meme all to itself: “cloud”. This was around in 1980, let alone 1995. Facebook – tools to make your home page and link to other people, has always been around. Facebook “won” but the tech was there long before. ipad and smartphones yes. But that’s not the tech underlying the internet.

  • James,
    Fundamentally nothing has changed simply because this is the same paradigm. You will see change when there is a paradigm shift. These things are unpredictable and dramatic.

  • Richard Dykiel

    I like this post – great conclusion built on inexact, or incomplete premises. Yes, how we changed is most important, and yes, the next 17 years will be as thrilling, or more, as the past ones. You simply sidelined the growth in the infrastructure that made the Network near ubiquitous, the fact that I’m now moving most of my entertainment (books, music, etc..) to the cloud (less clutter in my house), and the fact that I can access this anytime from the little thing I carry in the pocket. As for the social media, even if the ideas were around in 1995, how do you qualify the explosion in usage that makes people say “it didn’t happen until it was on Facebook”?

  • wakproductions

    Great article James! One of your best.

  • “Google” became a verb. 

  • Zensouth

    The comments on this post are funny. I like when people say that iPads and Youtube are changing the world. I guess. . . they change the world about as much as an Xbox 360. My line of thinking is, if you removed all the iPads from the world and shut down Youtube, what would change? Not much. Maybe no more watching movie trailers. 

    They’ve changed the way we waste time, the way we entertain ourselves, but I tend to agree with you James, there hasn’t been any monumental change.

    • Richard Dykiel

      Yeah right… I would be curious to see how James could continue self-publishing books and sell them, and have people read them so easily on iPad/Phones/Pods…. And entertaining ourselves is a major use of our time; whether it is a waste is another discussion.

  • beaky

    whats changed is peoples posture, more hunched over now, and arms are shorter to make eyeballs closer to small screens.

  • Chubbydavis

    17 years …the hookers in NYC have gotten better looking!!!

  • aki

    I got on AOL in HS in 1998. After Friendster/MySpace/FB became popular I wondered why b/c AOL/Homepages basically did the same thing. And isn’t Twiiter just public instant messaging?

  • Otwdtfgcsg


    You’re making the exact same point that I have been articulating at work for the past few years (my background is IT infrastructure and software development, I’m an IT Director at a technology company in the mid-west).  And skimming these comments it seems that it’s about as popular among your readership (or at least some vocal part of your readership) as my message at work have been.  Put differently, I agree with you… to paraphrase, nearly everything that’s “new” in this current iteration all things technology, is a re-hash of what we had 17 years ago.  Granted, it’s a more friendly (and maybe cleaner) version of what was, but it’s not  fundamentally much different.  We talk about the Cloud allot, and it’s featured prominently in most annual reports (read any recent report from Microsoft or VMware), but despite what they, or what many SaaS providers would have you believe, it’s not much different than any other hosted service was 17 years ago.  While the Cloud does enable us in some new ways (e.g. it allows us to iterate through design stage decisions using things like AWS that previously would have been wasted on dev infrastructure), in many other ways we’re just converting large capital expenditures into even larger operational expenses that extend out forever (but that’s future us that has to worry about the climbing operational cost…;).

    Perhaps I’ve been spoiled having a personal cloud that surrounds me for everything I care about (pictures, files, personal videos, etc.) for the past 15 years (albeit on a laptop instead of my phone or iPad)… or perhaps it really is all different this time, but I’m frankly a bit underwhelmed.  I’ve given this topic quite a bit of thought over the past couple of years, because I initially thought I was wrong.  But the more I play with new stuff, the more aligned I am with what you’re saying.  One thing that I do hear implied (but not said) in the comments of stakeholders (my clients and my company alike), is that there’s this silent implication that somehow the Cloud is going to eliminate the relevance of IT/Technology skill-sets, and folks somehow believe that IT people be threatened by the explosion of social media and the cloud.  Really?  Perhaps some should.  But I certainly am not.  By all means, if we can do it in the cloud better/faster/cheaper (like mail relay, or replicating some of backup), or if it is enabling in a real way (e.g. using AWS for development instead of buying stuff that sits around mostly idle) let’s do it.  But if we’re simply doing it to shuffle money into a different column on a report, while at the same time locking ourselves into a vendor or taking on a new operational expense that exists forever… let’s do our due diligence.  Just because it’s a new buzzword, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily enabling or paradigm shifting.  

    As an aside, I’m a huge supporter of bring your own device (e.g. laptop/tablet/ipad/whatever), to let people do their jobs from assets that make sense.  And if it results in fewer IT support calls and reduced risk, let’s do it yesterday!  But if we think that a free iPad app can replace our CRM solution (hosted, on-premesis, etc.), and that this free or nearly free app will solve all of our problems with just a couple of taps on your iPad, I have a bridge that I can sell you. Your Sales people still have to sell.  

  • John Hagelgans

    Anyone have a copy of Mosiac around?  

    Outstanding blog, of course things have changed and will always remain the same.  HTML -> apache is basically CICS (think 3270 terminals) with graphics, but it’s oh so much more pretty than a green or amber 25×80 screen!  It still kills me that I couldn’t convince other people to buy Netscape on IPO day :).Have a look at the new macbook pro with retina display.

    • B2bgreennow
    • frank r

      CICS? No, that was strictly internal to corporations. BBS’s is the real precursor to the modern web: forums as good as this one here, social stuff,distribution of information, linked into a worldwide network via newsgroups, buying/selling, porn, etc. The big thing the web added was the ability to create your own website using your own domain name, so that you became independent of your BBS provider. THAT was the major innovation of 1995. Obviously, the internet and DNS were in wide use in academia and government and a few large corporation since the mid 1970’s, but 1995 was the year DNS and the other internet protocols suddenly replaced the BBS system, which had been big since the mid 1980’s, for the public.

  • Seventeen years ago you could fly places on half-empty planes, be served free hot meals and never have another passenger sitting next you. Your friends could walk right up to the gate to meet you and there was no limit on the amount of liquid in a bottle in your carry-on’s.  Oh yeah, flight attendants were female and all under 40.

  • good alternatif horyzone,,,,

  • One huge change since 1995 is that porn went from a huge industry online to everything being free!

  • Don’t forget to look above the surface.  Other changes:  The democratization of information, short attention spans, addiction, rise and fall of industries, productivity increases, time sucks, and the ability to oogle over my daughter by my friends in third world countries.

  • Bill Corley

    In 1995, when I was trying to understand a new technical concept, it meant hours in the library, tracing down journal articles until I found something coherent that started with first principles.  Weeks could be lost down rabbit holes.  Now, a few hours on Wikipedia and I have a good survey-level understanding of a topic and know where to go for more in-depth coverage.  The sum of human knowledge in the palm of my hand (and no more unsettle-able arguments with friends, thanks to IMDB).  Yes, some things are mostly the same, but the efficiency of knowledge transfer is light years ahead of where it used to be.

  • Darrin S.

    What has changed?  The cost of sharing ideas has become practically nothing.  This is HUGE!  The “Powers That Be” can not direct the discourse of information.  It is as significant an advance as was the first printing press, probably more so.

  • SpecialK77

    Here is what has changed in the past 17 years.  An almost 70 year old school bus monitor is verbally abused by a bunch of punk teens.  It gets caught on video and posted on YouTube.  Someone with a heart is able to use a crowdsourcing fundraising site to give this woman enough money to retire in ONE day.


    This would have never been possible 17 years ago.  The Internet makes such wonderful things possible.

  • michael

    Whats changed? One word, users. Two words, critical mass. Thats whats changed and changed the world.