The History of the Dot Com Era

I graduated from college in 1997. While at college, the Netscape IPO, Yahoo IPO, eBay IPO, and Amazon IPO all happened. When I graduated, I couldn’t wait to go join this incredible time and be part of creating the next future of the internet. I moved to Seattle and joined a private company called Progressive Networks. It quickly changed its name to RealNetworks and went public in November of that year. (The one and only time I’ve worked at a company when it went IPO!) I lived the ups and downs of the Dot Com bubble — watching companies come on the radar, have white-hot IPOs, and then crash and burn even faster.

I have recently been talking to a number of founders and co-workers about this era and realizing that (a) I’m now old and (b) how few of them were in the industry, or even aware of what was going on then. One recently reminded me he was 4 years old in 2001.

It was such a fun and wild time. Companies like Lycos and TheGlobe.com became multi-billion dollar entities on hope, promise, and revenue from selling products to each other and back. As big as the tech / internet bubble was, the telecom bubble was even bigger with higher highs and higher lows, and much of the over-investment in capacity has been utilized time and again since then (and got really cheap for a few years in between too).

Most things that felt like hype back then, are realized today. Technology and the internet are truly mainstream. Billions of people have connected to the internet in the past hour. Instead of it just being about potential, there are now many trillion-dollar and multi-hundred-billion dollar companies that we depend on almost like core infrastructure now.

But, what’s similar is the belief in the future being much bigger than today, and people around us making gobs of money. In some ways crypto feels the most similar to the dot com hype era — where we talk a lot more about the potential, even if the usage isn’t quite there yet. I do wonder what are the Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, and Google in the crypto world today. And this applies to other really important future areas like space, autonomous vehicles, and more.

I wanted to see if there were any great books or movies to dive in deeper so I asked on Twitter and assembled the results below:

Books:

  • How the Internet Happened by Brian McCullough — a great overview on the development of the internet and what the Dot Com era accelerated

Blog Posts:

Movies & Documentaries:

  • Startup.com — the story of GovWorks (pay your government bills online!)
  • E-Dreams — the story of Kozmo.com (just like Doordash today)
  • Riot On! — the story of Riot Entertainment (an early mobile phone)

One thing that surprises me a bit is there aren’t more iconic books or movies made about that era. One reason I suspect is that while the dot com peak was hit in March 2000 and it started falling hard from there, it wasn’t until the tragic events of 9/11 that the era really felt closed. That was such a transformational event I think there have been a lot more content created about that instead. That day still was the most transformational moment of my lifetime until the COVID pandemic.

I love building products that people use. I‘ve helped build Twitter, Facebook Connect, LinkedIn, Robinhood. Investor in Medium, Tiktok/Musical.ly, Discord

I love building products that people use. I‘ve helped build Twitter, Facebook Connect, LinkedIn, Robinhood. Investor in Medium, Tiktok/Musical.ly, Discord