Party Like It’s 1999: 10 Old Tech Ideas That Are New Again

Timing is everything—especially in the tech world. If you follow trends in technology, science, or business for long enough, you realize there are very few new ideas. Instead, the combination of the right idea with the right timing and execution is usually the key to success in any field.

Look at all the snazzy tech products that have sprung up around us in recent years—iPhones and iPads, Kindle e-book readers, mobile and gaming apps, GPS and mapping technologies. And some services are so ubiquitous that we don’t even notice them anymore, like Internet banking or online shopping.

It made me think back a decade to 1999-2000, the height of the tech bubble, and consider which of these ideas were already around back then, but either didn’t quite pan out or failed. (Of course, you could go back much further than that, but 10 years feels like an eternity in tech these days.) If you paged through Red Herring, Fast Company, or Technology Review in the late ‘90s, I suspect you’d find many ideas that look a lot like the current tech landscape.

So I informally surveyed a few techies and venture capitalists on both coasts, and have compiled a list of 10 old ideas from the dot-com era that have finally arrived. In some cases, the old product was not positioned correctly, or the technology of the day didn’t support it well. But in most cases, the main issue was the timing of the market—the offering just wasn’t compelling enough at its price point or it cost too much to produce back then. Now times have changed.

This list is by no means comprehensive. If you’ve got a company or idea that I missed—or if you have a different take on the reasons for the turnaround—please leave a comment below.

Without further ado, here are 10 oldies that are new again:

1. Group-buying sites (Mercata vs. Groupon)

This is the quintessential old idea whose time has come. Mercata, the Paul Allen-backed dot-com that withdrew its IPO in early 2001 and closed down, struggled to gain traction in part because it competed for consumer-product deals with e-retailers and big portals like Yahoo and AOL. In the past couple of years, Groupon solved this problem by focusing on one deal per day, but across very different kinds of stores. A down economy, mainstream use of the Web, and lack of competitors didn’t hurt. Now there are more than 100 group-buying sites around the world—mostly blatant knockoffs of Groupon, which is … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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