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10 dotcoms that are dotgone

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On the 25th anniversary of the .com domain, Elizabeth Diffin looks at 10 once great, now long forgotten, dotcoms.

Twenty-five years ago Symbolics, a Massachusetts computer company, added .com to its name. A trickle of other companies followed suit, but it was not until the late 1990s that this trickle became a flood as the dotcom bubble inflated. And inflated.

But when it burst, it claimed countless dotcom businesses, including online pioneers such as Letsbuyit, Boo and QXL. Some simply ceased to be. Others were absorbed into larger corporations. We cast back to the high-profile dotcoms that ended up on the scrapheap.

Trinny and Susannah in 2003
Their website focussed on what to wear, rather than what NOT to wear

1. Before What Not to Wear brought them fashionista fame, Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine launched clothes shopping site Ready2Shop.com in November 1999. Perhaps best remembered for its cheeky adverts of the pair posing naked with strategically placed melons and fried eggs, the site also offered fashion advice for which High Street and designer duds might suit which body types. At the time, Constantine said: "Ready2shop is like going shopping with Trinny and myself". A year later, the site closed, and its fashion pundits went on to make their names offline, on TV.

2. Pronounced "Quick-sell", QXL.com was the original European auction site. It was founded by former Independent journalist Tim Jackson in 1997, two years before its rival eBay arrived on the British scene. Although QXL technically survived the dotcom bust in 2001, it shut its doors in 2008, after it became obvious that eBay had a virtual monopoly - figuratively and literally. The European wing, Tradus.in, continues to vigorously auction football jerseys, saxophones and everything in between.

3. Health and beauty retailer Clickmango.com took off quickly with financing and a famous face - figurehead investor Joanna Lumley - in April 2000. But after renting trendy loft space in Brick Lane, east London, and spending £1m on its website, there wasn't much money left for the actual site. Its online shop also didn't sell quite enough vitamins and health supplements, and three months later, Clickmango closed. But co-founder Toby Rowland, who had worked in children's programming at Disney prior to the launch, had no regrets: "Sometimes you just have to get on board… If I hadn't, I would still be making children's television."

DOTCOM GROWTH
21m domain names registered between 1985 and 2000
57m domain names registered between 2000 and 2010
Source: OECD

4. A precursor to Orange Home UK, Freeserve.com was launched in September 1998 as one of the first British websites to eschew a subscription fee in favour of taking a share of telephone charges. Within six months, it had a million subscribers and became the first British dotcom to float on the stock market in summer 1999. But less than 18 months later, Freeserve was on its way out - it was sold to France Telecom. The name still lives on in the UK though Orange's free email service, fsmail.net.

5. Online music retailer Boxman.com came on the scene in 1997 and, pre-iTunes, was once Europe's second most popular retailer. It also sold films and video games. Its founder Tony Salter was one of the loudest voices campaigning for including e-commerce sales in the music charts. But after failing to secure new financing from investors - including musicians like Suggs of Madness and Marie Fredriksson of Roxette fame - it closed up shop in December 2000. Its fall from grace was only highlighted by an aggressive auction held to make up the company's debt.

6. In 2000, Petspark.com featured in the BBC series Inside Dot Coms, a success story for securing a big-name US dotcom as a partner. In the end, this same partner led to its downfall. Pets.com, one of the most disastrous US web ventures of all time, owned a 30% share in the e-tailer that sold pet food and accessories and opened up pre-Facebook "social networking" for pet lovers. At the time, "the goal was clear - to create a place where pet and animal lovers could meet and share their experiences as well as shop for all their pet care needs". By 2004, it had quietly closed. Perhaps the world wasn't quite ready for pet websites - Wetnose.com and Petspyjamas.com also folded in the dotcom bust.

Tesco internet shopping in 2000
Online shopping, 2000-style

7. Before Last.fm or Spotify, there was Broadcast.com, an audio and video broadcaster born in September 1995 as AudioNet.com. Although founded by media entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner in Dallas, Texas, it eventually grew to become the leading audio/video broadcaster on the internet, aggregating content from television, radio, sport, CDs, films and audiobooks. It was also one of the first websites to dip its toe into multimedia advertising on the web. Yahoo! announced its acquisition in April 1999, and it eventually got absorbed into its conglomerate.

8. More than 10 years ago - before loyalty cards became common - Beenz.com created its own internet currency. The UK start-up rewarded customers for making purchases from participating websites with an imaginary currency called "beenz", which could then be redeemed for real-life products and services. But once credit card companies got in on the online action, the website itself was worth beans. It was sold in 2001 and no longer exists.

Boo.com logo
Some flourished, others floundered

9. Today those stuck for what to cook can simply type random ingredients into a search engine to generate a recipe, but in May 2000, when Foodoo.com launched, online recipe banks were few and far between. Foodoo signed up the likes of Antony Worrall Thompson, Ken Hom and Gordon Ramsay to provide recipes and articles. At the time, Worrell Thompson said: "The internet is the way forward and this combination of management and chefs will deliver the best food and drink internet business around." Some £1.6m was raised for the site but by November it had closed.

10. The most infamous of British dotcom busts, Boo.com was founded in 1998 with the lofty vision of becoming the world's "first truly online retailer of sportswear and fashion". Due to technical snags, the site didn't launch until November 1999. But its graphics-heavy site took ages to load, was difficult to navigate, and was not Mac compatible. It never took off. After failing to raise £20m, Boo closed in May 2000. Almost 10 years later, the maker of Flash - the then embryonic software that made Boo look good but run slowly - says it's on 99% of internet-enabled computers.



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