October 18, 2007

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Famous on and off the Web
Sites so famous, they don’t even need the .com
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

It’s time.

As of this week — due to no particular benchmark or anniversary, just because I say so — the Internet is no longer that newfangled thing, that mysterious invention that only the nerdiest of nerds really understand or even know about. Nope — it’s mainstream, regular, mundane even. Every business worth its salt has a Web address somewhere in its print ads.

Some of the most famous Web sites are purely online. Even so, they’ve become household names, and it’s not necessary to reference the Internet when talking about Some Web site names are recognizable even to people who wouldn’t know a URL from an IP address. For example:

• Amazon: Once upon a time, there was this Internet thing that you could get to on your Prodigy or your America Online. And once you were there, you could buy books. Amazon was there early, fully realizing the potential of this new medium to deliver graphics, sound and dynamic content to any home computer, and wouldn’t it be great to use that medium to sell pages of ink-soaked paper bound together? It’s since grown to be a purveyor of, well, just about anything, from pet food to electronics. As a side benefit, it’s an easy-to-search database of just about every book ever published.

eBay: If Amazon is the place to buy anything, eBay is the place to buy anything from anybody. Early commercials emphasized the “rare find” aspect of bidding at eBay auctions. Find that lamp you saw while vacationing in Kuala Lumpur! Complete your Stevie Nicks B-sides collection! As the years have gone on, eBay has become a launching point for individuals with small reselling businesses as well as yard salers who snatch up other people’s junk and flip it for profit.

Google: Once the young upstart among a crowded field of search engines, Google is now the first place most Web surfers go when they need to find something. The name has even, as technology reporters have been persistently reminding us for years now, become a verb. It’s standard practice, for instance, to Google your blind date’s name to make sure he/she isn’t a convicted murderer/arsonist/Scientologist.

• Craigslist: OK, I’ll admit this one isn’t quite as well-known among the ‘Net-impaired as the others above, but shoot, it was a key plot point in the first season of Dexter on Showtime, with virtually no exposition given, and that’s good enough for me. It goes even further than Amazon and eBay in offering whatever anyone could possibly want: products, apartments, jobs, dates. It’s all person-to-person, with the site just acting as a meeting point. And astonishingly, it’s free for just about everybody. Its only ongoing revenue comes from companies posting job ads, and that’s only in a few cities.

What do all these sites have in common? Well, they’ve all been around a while. They all focus on people who are looking for something — information, something to buy or someone to take long walks on the beach with. And they all make it pretty simple, with search boxes and detailed lists of categories.

If there are any sites you’d like to nominate as household names, write me an e-mail.