Blast From the Past: 7 Websites That Were One Thing, But Now They’re Another

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Once upon a time, back in 2005, there lived on the internet a website called YouTube. It’s a name that, today, many people recognize as a video-sharing website — and much more — that’s owned by Google. But over a decade ago, YouTube wasn’t what it is today. In 2005, YouTube was a dating site.

Yes, you read that correctly. YouTube began as a dating site.

It’s something that the co-founders have discussed in interviews, but the rest of us rarely do. Since the late 90s, how many websites have transformed into something completely different from what they originally set out to be?  Download our free collection of brilliant website design examples here. 

As it turns out, many of our most beloved destination sites — some of which we frequently write about and are essential to marketers — were borderline unrecognizable when they first launched. What were they then? And what can marketers stand to learn from it?

Spoiler alert: It’s been a long time since people recorded things in stone. It’s the internet, and it allows for progressive changes to design, product, and the way they’re marketed. But remember — be strategic. If you’re looking to make some big changes, check out our quick guide to branding.

7 Websites That Used to Be Something Completely Different

1) Amazon

Before:

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Source: Newfangled

Founder Jeff Bezos is said to have chosen books from his list of 20 products he thought would sell online, because they were the lowest-cost and most universally-demanded. And sure, Amazon still sells books — and a lot more. The amount of growth it has witnessed in the two decades since its incorporation is beyond impressive.

Today:

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2) Netflix

Before:

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Source: Netflix

When Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph co-founded Netflix, the intention was clear — they wanted to create an easy way for people to rent and return movies, without having to drive to the now-extinct video store. Now, things look a little different.

Today:

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3) Facebook

Before:

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Source: Wayback Machine

There have been many pop cultural references to Facebook since its 2004 launch. But on the surface, founder Mark Zuckerberg’s intentions were fairly clear — to allow students at Harvard to connect online. Eventually, the network expanded to most U.S. colleges and universities, until it was announced in 2006 that anyone would be able to join.

Today:

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4) YouTube

Before:

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Source: Wayback Machine

It’s true — as we mentioned earlier, YouTube had very brief beginnings as a dating website. Its founders have spoken to the press about it on more than one occasion. CEO Chad Hurley once told Time that the intention was for YouTube to serve as “a video version of HOTorNOT.com,” a site in which users would rate the attractiveness of complete strangers on a scale of one to 10. To the delight of its many current users, that’s no longer the case.

Today:

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5) Inbound.org

Before:

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Source: Wayback Machine

As the story goes, a pair of friends — Moz co-founder Rand Fishkind and HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah — started Inbound.org “for fun,” and to provide a platform for the content creators who were following the somewhat-new principles of inbound marketing. There were member-powered discussion boards, Q&As, and job listings. And while the foundation of that community is still, at its core, very much the same, the site provides even more to do and see.

Today:

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  • Current model:
    • An online hub where good Marketers come to get better.
    • Members can do more than ask questions and start conversations — they can post original content on Inbound.org. That comes with the opportunity for other members to “upvote” it.
    • Offers discussion boards, original content, and ways for members to earn badges, among other marketing-related resources. As Casey Henry — who oversees growth for Inbound.org — says, it’s “a community where marketers access, share, and leverage marketing resources all in one place.”
  • Members: 204,929

6) BuzzFeed

Before:

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Source: Wayback Machine

It seems like BuzzFeed has really earned a name for itself in the realm of listicles, like “6 Items That Totally Overreact To Being Microwaved,” and other light — but fun — content, like quizzes to determine how many marriages you’ll have, based on your favorite cheese. (Even we can’t make this stuff up.) But it wasn’t always like that. BuzzFeed was actually founded on the principle to detect only the most important news items that were “on the rise and worth your time.

Today:

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7) Airbnb

Before:

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Source: Wayback Machine

When Airbnb — first known as AirBed & Breakfast — started out, the mission was to help people make money. Much of the focus was on homeowners, and the efforts to help them earn supplemental income by renting extra space, empty apartments, and even fold-out couches to kind people. And yes, renters also benefitted by finding affordable places to stay when traveling. But since its inception, Airbnb has gotten a major makeover — one that’s safer, more expensive, and offers more than just lodging.

Today:

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What’s Your Before-And-After?

Things change. Businesses, brands, entrepreneurs, and websites do, too. Maybe your original idea isn’t going in the direction you had hoped. Or maybe, you know you can make it bigger.

These examples show that it’s more than acceptable — and often beneficial — to ask questions like, “What’s next?” or, “What needs to change?” Of course, positive evolution takes time, and these brands had an average period of 12 years between their “Before” and “Today.” So be patient, but be creative. With that combination, there’s no limit to where your brand and its online presence can go.

What are your favorite before-and-after websites? Let us know in the comments.

25 website must-haves

 

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