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RealTime IT News

Blast From the Past

Surfing along the information superhighway the other day, I came across a handful of dated clippings from the Net's earlier years. I got a kick out of the good old days, and I thought readers might too. While not exactly ancient history - in Internet time, it's a throwback.

The landscape is constantly shifting like grains of sands for fast-paced high tech and Web companies. But for new investors and Netizens alike arriving late to the party, the history often gets lost in the shuffle. To illustrate just how much wheeling and dealing has taken place in so little time, I plan to start throwing together a blast from the past segment on a semi-regular basis.

Half a decade ago this month:

Taxman H&R Block was busy pouring $70 million into its CompuServe sibling to better compete with up-and-coming rivals AOL and Prodigy. The upstart had plans the following month to axe its $5 per hour surcharge for online access in favor of a new flat $9.95 a month plan. Under the new plan, users cruising along on 9600 baud modems would enjoy a handsome five free hours and get charged $2.95 per hour thereafter. A year later, the fledgling subsidiary's revenues would actually surpass its parent. But not long after that, bruised and battered by more nimble competitors, CompuServe is sold a la carte in a billion dollar three-way stock deal to WorldCom and eight hundred pound rival AOL.

The DOJ was busy trying to make head or tails over Microsoft's move to bundle its new Microsoft Network online access with its late-August launch of Windows 95. The software giant's plan called for $4.95 a month for 3 hours, with additional hourly usage billed at $2.50 a pop. Estimates at that time had more than half of total online usage clocked at just under five hours a month. New sign-ups were in for a big surprise when Softie fell so far behind on access billing, charges didn't start showing up on their credit card statements for nearly a year following usage.

Time Inc. announced that it would begin charging users to access its PATHFINDER Web service. That's the same property that stands today as one of the Net's worst flops, with its parent company pulling the plug on the hemorrhaging experiment just five years after it began. Misery loves company, and Disney, the only other media powerhouse on the Web, is doomed to suffer a similar fate. Sharper entrepreneurs quickly recognized that eyeballs need to be monetized, and good content needs good branding and distribution.

Netscape hits the new issues market running. With 3.5 million shares slated to price at $13 apiece, demand forced the upstart browser to bump the offering to 5 million shares priced at a gaudy $28 a pop. At the opening bell, shares tripled before settling back to $50. Netscape's chairman Jim Clark is worth half a billion dollars on paper, rubbing elbows with America's upper crust. Creator Marc Andreessen also can afford his fair share of double lattes with a net worth of roughly $50 million.

Following a post-secondary offering pullback, shares of Mecklermedia skyrocketed 25% higher in a single day, settling in at its 52-week high of $41 and change. Two months prior, in one of the first signs of investors' insatiable appetite for Internet related issues, shares in the start-up climbed 40% in just two days, boosted by its wildly popular Internet World trade show and Internet related magazine publications. Three years later, Penton Media would acquire the company for $274 million in cash. As part of the deal, CEO Alan Meckler would retain an 80% stake in the Mecklermedia-owned internet.com, before taking the company public in a $50 million IPO last year.

Below is a snapshot of a handful of Internet