Facebook's Birthday: 13 Other Tech Start-Ups Founded in 2004

Who knew Facebook would grow into a behemoth? Not these companies.

ZI Italy

Facebook turns 14 today.

The massive social network that boasts 2.13 billion monthly active users across the world has become the single most influential force on the Internet — and IRL. For most, it’s hard to remember, or imagine, the Internet before it.

But the Internet did, in fact, exist before Facebook, and in 2004, when Facebook got its start as, a social network just for Harvard students, it was far from clear that the iconic blue and white site would come to dominate the Internet.

In 2004, Friendster was the dominant social network, MySpace had been around for less than a year, Google was still a year away from its IPO, and Youtube a year away from its start.

On Sunday, Mark Zuckerberg, now 33, offered a reflection on his Facebook page: “I was 19 when I started Facebook, and I didn’t know anything about building a company or global internet service. Over the years I’ve made almost every mistake you can imagine. I’ve made dozens of technical errors and bad deals. I’ve trusted the wrong people and I’ve put talented people in the wrong roles. I’ve missed important trends and I’ve been slow to others. I’ve launched product after product that failed.”

He added, “we’ll fail again and again, but that it’s the only way to make progress.”

The original Facebook: bro-y Harvard students and a basic interface that focused on the profile. 

Wikimedia / DatBot

In fact, a number of other 2004 start-ups grew faster and raised more than Facebook in its early days, so, for an anti-celebration celebration of Facebook, the social network that we love and hate, Inverse took a look at 13 other tech start-ups that also got their start in 2004. Some are long dead, others are still around and facing challenges.

OkCupid in March 2004


January 19, 2004 - OKCupid

Studying leads to love, in more ways than one.

OKCupid was co-founded by a group of Harvard students that had previously created SparkNotes, which provided study guides for subjects like literature, poetry, and history. After they sold SparkNotes to Barnes and Noble in 2001, they began working on OKCupid, which is known for its use of multiple-choice personality questions to match members.

The dating service was named as one of Time’s 2007 Top 10 Dating Websites, and was acquired by internet and media company IAC, which also owns, for $50 million in cash in 2011.

By the end of 2017, the dating site still has an estimated one million members — though its attempt to go to real names, like many dating apps, led to a serious backlash that threatened these figures.

January 2004: Squarespace

Another startup launched from a dorm room, Squarespace is a software as a service content management system started by then-University of Maryland student Anthony Casalena with a $30,000 investment from his father.

Squarespace competes with Wordpress, Weebly, and Wix. Unlike these other services, Squarespace’s services, which in addition to its CMS, includes an integrated website builder, blogging platform, hosting service, e-commerce platform, and domain name registrar are bundled together.

The company, which raised $38.5 million in its Series A funding round and another $40 million in Series B, has won a number of awards, including landing at #45 on the 2013 version of Forbes’ annual [“America’s Most Promising Companies”]) list and four Webby awards the following year.

Early Squarespace.

Orkut was named after this guy, Google engineer Orkut Büyükkökten.

Wikimedia / NMaia

Orkut was most popular in Brazil and India. 

Flickr / e.gpdoc

January, 24 2004: Orkut

Long before Google+, the search engine company made its first foray into social networks with Orkut — after it failed to buy Friendster. Orkut was a social service created by engineer Orkut Buyukkokten (and, oddly enough, named after him as well).

Though Orkut never really caught on in the United States, it became a hit overseas, and in 2008, was the most visited website in both Brazil and India. It also had the dubious distinctions of being censored in Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Google officially shut down the social service in December 2014, after a respectable ten-year run.

February 2004 - Feedburner

Feedburner was a Chicago-based RSS management platform that offered a way to manage and track RSS statistics. This was a game-changer for the still-new world of blogging, as it was the new ability to track “influence” (long before it was called such) that helped usher in the error of blog monetization.

The company was named by ReadWriteWeb as 2004’s most promising company, and its promise was met in June 2007, when the company sold to Google for about $100 million.

One of its co-founders, Dick Costolo, subsequently became the CEO of Twitter from 2010-2015.

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Flickr / Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

February 2004 - Flickr

Before Instagram, Flickr was the world’s most popular social photo sharing site.

Founded by Vancouver-based company Ludicorp, Flickr was originally built out of a massive multi-player online game called Game Neverending. After Ludicorp’s owners Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake realized that Flickr was the more viable product, they shifted efforts to focus on its development.

Yahoo acquired both Ludicorp and Flickr in March 2005 for a sum between $22 to $25 million, and in June 2017, both Yahoo and Flickr were acquired by Verizon in a $4.8 billion deal.

Despite its changes over the years, Flickr is still going strong, with over 90 million monthly active users (as of November 2017.)

An early 2004 version of the Flickr homepage. 

Web Archive

The OG Gmail

April 1, 2004: Gmail

When Google announced the beta release of its free e-mail service with 1 gigabyte of storage on April 1, 2004 — over 100 times as much as the free versions of Yahoo and Hotmail — some thought it was an April Fools’ Day joke.

As an article described one day before its official beta launch, “According Google founder Larry Page, the inspiration for Gmail came along because he and Google co-founder and president of technology, Sergey Brin realized search is number two online activity and checking e-mail is number one.”

Gmail was revolutionary for several reasons: it was based on JavaScript, unlike Hotmail and Yahoo, which were built on plain HTML and as a result very slow; it offered much more storage than those previous services; and it introduced “conversation view,” the now-seemingly obvious grouping of e-mails together by conversation, rather than time of receipt.

And as it’s grown, it’s added additional features like chat, calendar, docs that have continued to keep it at the top of the e-mail game.

By February 2016, Gmail had hit the 1 billion user mark.

April 2004 - IMVU

Social network IMVU is based on 3D avatars. In the IMVU metaverse, users chat, play games, and buy and sell virtual goods.

Though 3D avatars didn’t really end up taking off (partially because Facebook led the real-names/real-identity movement among social networks), IMVU still boasts 50 million registered users, 3 million monthly active users, and over 20 million items for sale.

And it generates most of its revenue not by selling advertising, as Facebook does, but by the sale of its own virtual currency which users then use to buy and sell virtual goods.

An Imvu avatar. 

Flickr / dan taylor

January 14, 2004 - Kayak

Co-founded by Orbitz co-founder Steve Hafner, is a travel fare aggregator that changed the model of how travel websites make money.

Whereas the standard model was for websites like Orbitz or Expedia to make money on each airfare sale, the truth was that visitors only did that 2-6 percent of the time.

So, they decided that Kayak should serve as providing leads to the airlines, rather than selling tickets. This meant that they would essentially be a Google for the airlines, and make money off of a pay-per-click model.

The model worked. By August 2007, according to Hafner, the company had become profitable and, in December of that year, it acquired rival site Sidestep. It went public in 2012 and in 2013, was acquired by Priceline.

Today, Kayak is still going strong, available in 18 languages and more than 30 local markets.

Kayak Public Beta

August, 2004 - OpenStreetMap

Inspired by Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap was founded by Steve Coast to create a free, editable map of the world. Users can contribute via manual surveys, GPS devices, aerial photography, as well as other free sources.

By 2012, it had grown to over two million active users, and its mapping data has been used by Craigslist, Foursquare, and Strava (which has made headlines more recently for unintentionally exposing the coordinates of military bases around the globe.) In 2012, Apple ended a contract with Google and built its own map using TomTom and OpenStreetMap data.

OpenStreetMap has nearly five million active users, not bad for a crowd-sourced mapping platform.

Digg, looking old-school. 

Wikimedia / DatBot

October, 2004: Digg

Digg was created as an experiment that allowed users to discover, share, and recommend content — essentially a pre-Reddit Reddit.

Digg members could submit a website to the platform, and others could vote (or “digg”) the page up or down. This created a constantly-updating real-time aggregated list of the most popular content on the Internet.

In July 2008, Google was in talks to purchase Digg for $200 million, but walked away from the deal during the due diligence phase. Eventually, the company was sold, in parts. In July 2012, the Digg brand, website and technology were sold to the Betaworks for $500,000; the Washington Post’s SocialCode project hired 15 of its staff for $12 million; and finally, a number of its patents were sold to LinkedIn for approximately $4 million.

The new, Betaworks-owned version of Digg calls itself the “homepage of the Internet” and still counts about 1 million MAU.

October, 2004 - Tagged

The brainchild of Harvard grads Johann Schleier-Smith and Greg Tseng, Tagged launched in mid-2004 as a platform designed to help its users meet a large group of people in a short amount of time.

Initially targeted at teens aged 13-19, in October 2006, they opened their user base to people of all ages.

As the social network grew, it gained both positive and negative attention. In 2009 it paid over $1.4 million in legal fees for its bulk email, which had previously earned the network the moniker “the world’s most annoying website” from Time.

In October 2010, Deloitte ranked Tagged #100 on its list of the top 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and clean technology companies in North America, and it was often held up as an example of a social network that could still grow in the era of Facebook.

October 13, 2004: Yelp

In July 2004, two former PayPal employees, Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons joined forces to create Yelp, a platform that publishes crowdsourced reviews of local businesses.

It officially launched in October of that year, with $1 million in funding from their incubator, MRL Ventures. That success in funding continued as it raised several more rounds in the following years, helping the start-up to grow quickly. By 2010, the company had $30 million in revenues and more than 4.5 million crowd-sourced reviews. By 2012 the company had expanded to Asia and Europe. In 2012 the company went public and became profitable two years later. As of 2016, Yelp had 35 million monthly visitors and 95 million reviews.

Like its more famous 2004 startup mate, Facebook, Yelp has amassed a loyal user base and community that review often. It has also had its share of controversies, with Businessweek and others questioning if Yelp is actually good for businesses.

Yelp in October 2005. Even a year into its existence, people were trashing other Yelpers. 

November, 2004: World of Warcraft

Launched in November 2004 by the already successful game-maker Blizzard Entertainment, WOW is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that quickly became a cultural institution.

Blizzard Entertainment released Warcraft: Orcs and Humans for the PC in 1994; that was over 20 years ago. The first Warcraft game tasked players with gathering resources, building cities, and amassing an army of warriors comprised of either orcs or humans.

In just four games, Blizzard turned a fantasy role-playing series into a cultural institution. Warcraft is so big, there are illegal theme parks in China dedicated to the series; soon, the long-awaited film adaptation by Duncan Jones will release in North America.

With a peak subscriber base of 12 million players in 2010, World of Warcraft is still the most-subscribed-to online video game on the planet, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Happy birthday, Facebook!

Congratulations on your Unicorn status, and changing the world as we know it.

Now, how about you use your massive powers for good?


—The Internet.

Unsplash / Adam Jang

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