September 2001 Was a Long Time Ago in the World of Technology

By  |  Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 3:35 am

I wrote about my memories of 9/11/01 a couple of years ago, on the eighth anniversary of the attacks. They involve me sitting at my desk at PC World in Boston and learning of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center when my colleague Denny Arar IMd me from San Francisco. (We both assumed it was an errant small-plane pilot, and both got e-mails from the organizers of a wireless conference scheduled to be held at Windows on the World reassuring us that the location would be moved if necessary.)

I remember trying to follow the news on the Web and discovering that major news sites were unusable, and then turning on the TV and attempting, sort of, to work as the day progressed. (By the evening, when my coworker Tom Spring and I had a beer and sat there in stunned disbelief, it felt like Tom, me, and the bartender were the last three people out and about in downtown Boston.)

I’ll never forget seeing a list of people who went down on United Flight 93 scroll by on CNN and seeing my friend Mark Bingham on it. (About half an hour ago, I learned there are conspiracy theorists who believe that Mark wasn’t on Flight 93 and may not have existed in the first place–which is a damned odd thing to hear about someone you knew, liked, and admired.)

And strangely, I associate the launch of Windows XP with 9/11–okay, maybe it’s not that strange. It was the first time I went to New York after the attacks, Rudy Giuliani was at Microsoft’s event–and his unannounced presence remains the most electrifying moment I’ve witnessed in person as a technology journalist.

When I left the city, it was on the first plane I took since the attacks–which happened to be a United flight from Newark to San Francisco, the same route as Flight 93.

As I thought about this tenth anniversary–and particularly about things to say that would be relevant on this site–I was struck by how much the world of personal technology has changed. It all happened little by little, but a remarkable percentage of the things we care about today didn’t exist yet. When the attacks happened, nobody took photos of the scene using camera phones, because camera phones barely existed. We didn’t grieve on Facebook, or depend on Twitter for breaking news. I remember being cheered up by this viral video, but I know I didn’t watch it on YouTube the first time around.

(In fact, 2001 was so long ago that some things that didn’t exist then have since been created, got important, and then faded away, such as the Palm Treo, MySpace, and the Flip camcorder.)

Just off the top of my head, here’s some of the stuff that didn’t exist in September 2001 which I can barely remember life without:

3G wireless (October 2001)

iPod (October 2001)

Windows XP (October 2001)

Xbox (November 2001)

Vizio TVs (2002)

WordPress (2003)

iTunes Music Store (2003)

Skype (2003)

Facebook (2004)

Lenovo ThinkPads (2004)

Firefox (2004)

Gmail (2004)

TechCrunch (2005)

Google Maps (2005)

Intel Macs (2005)

LOLCats (2006)

Twitter (2006)

Wii (2006)

Intel Core Processors (2006)

Hulu (2007)

iPhone (2007)

Netbooks (2007)

Rickrolling (2007)

Chrome (2008)

iPhone App Store (2008)

Groupon (2008)

Android (2008)

Angry Birds (2009)

FourSquare (2009)

Bing (2009)

iPad (2010)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten any number of biggies–feel free to point them out.

And here are some tidbits on specific tech topics:

Web Sites

Here are Compete.com’s rankings for the top sites of August 2001 (the closest data I could get to 9/11) and July 2011 (its most recent findings). What hasn’t changed? Yahoo and several Microsoft sites do well. But Google wasn’t even in the top ten in 2001 (it was #12). Facebook didn’t exist (in fact, Mark Zuckerberg was in high school). YouTube didn’t exist. Wikipedia existed, but just barely (I doubt that I’d heard of it yet). And Netpets, Goto.com, Go.com, Excite, and GeoCities were all big deals.

Top 10 Sites August 2001 Top 10 Sites July 2011
1. MSN 1. Google
2. Yahoo 2. Facebook
3. eBay 3. Yahoo
4. Neopets 4. YouTube
5. Goto.com 5. Bing
6. AOL 6. Wikipedia
7. Go.com 7. MSN
8. Passport.com 8. Amazon
9. Excite.com 9. Live.com
10. GeoCities 10 eBay

Browsers

I’m not sure if anyone who was measuring browser market share in 2001 is still doing so in 2011. But things have changed so dramatically that it’s not irresponsible to compare two different surveys.

On October 25th, 2001, WebSideStory said that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer had 89.03 percent of the market. Netscape had 10.47 percent. Nothing else even registered.

For August, 2011, NetApplications says that IE has 51.8 percent of the market. Firefox has 21.1 percent. Chrome has 14.5 percent. Safari has 7.7 percent. Opera has 2.9 percent. And 6.4 percent of Web surfing is done with mobile devices, a concept that barely existed in 2001.

Consumer Electronics

I don’t have any good comparative data for 2001 vs. 2011. But here are the fastest-selling consumer-electronics categories of the first half of 2001, as reported by NPD–some of which, such as home CD recorders, have since fallen completely by the wayside.

1. Digital Color Television 230.0%
2. Personal Video Recorder (PVR) 198.5%
3. Digital Video Disc (DVD) 93.5%
4. Mobile Multimedia 71.9%
5. Digital Cameras 65.5%
6. Digital Music Players 58.5%
7. Cellular Accessories 49.8%
8. Home Theater System Packages 48.9%
9. Home CD Recorders 47.2%
10. Digital Camcorders 43.3%

I’d like to do some more comparisons, but it’s tough to find data for both 2001 and 2011 that’s consistent enough to be useful. 2001 was, after all, a long time ago–even though it doesn’t feel that way, especially today.

Oh, and how am I marking the anniversary? I’m pausing to remember the people who were lost ten years ago and their loved ones, as well as the people who came to the rescue that day. But I’m also trying to go about my life and enjoy my freedoms–which in my case include getting on a plane this morning to go to Anaheim so I can attend the Microsoft conference at which it plans to lift the veil on Windows 8, the great-grandchild of Windows XP. (Among the other attendees: Denny Arar, who told me about the first attack.)

I didn’t mean to spend 9/11/11 this way–in fact, I didn’t realize what I was doing when I bought my plane ticket–but in a peculiar way, it feels right.

 
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5 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Tragic day. I was in D.C. for some meetings that a.m. Surreal.

  2. Tech84 Says:

    True, in terms of technology it has been already very long just look at how many versions of iPod has been released already.

  3. die steel Says:

    Very happy to see your article, I very much to like and agree with your point of view.

  4. Microsoft project Says:

    Great post. I like your work. I will read more your post.

  5. Video maker Says:

    Great research, ! When I left the city, it was on the first plane I took since the attacks–which happened to be a United flight from Newark to San Francisco, the same route as Flight 93.

    As I thought about this tenth anniversary–and particularly about things to say that would be relevant on this site–I was struck by how much the world of personal technology has changed. It all happened little by little, but a remarkable percentage of the things we care about today didn’t exist yet. When the attacks happened, nobody took photos of the scene using camera phones, because camera phones barely existed. We didn’t grieve on Facebook, or depend on Twitter for breaking news.