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The Most Popular Sites on the Web: Great Quotes From Their Founders


They are all household names now: AOL, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, eBay, etc., but at their beginnings, nobody knew they would become the online powerhouses that they are today. Here are notable quotes from these and other notable sites' founders and/or those instrumental in getting these sites to the places of prominence that they hold today online.

Steve Case, creator of AOL

"We always believed that people talking to each other was the killer app. And so whether it was instant messaging or chat rooms, which we launched in 1985, or message boards, it was always the community that was front and center. Everything else—commerce and entertainment and financial services—was secondary. We thought community trumped content."

Larry Page, co-founder of Google

"One of the first things we did was just understand the relative importance of things. It used to be in the early days when you did a search for, say, a university, if you did that on an early search engine like Alta Vista, you would get pages that just said university like three times in the title. It was based on looking at the text of the documents—that was the traditional way of doing it. We said, Well, given you have all these documents on the Web, why don’t we try to figure out in general which ones are more important than others, and then return those? Even in the very early days when we were at Stanford, you could type “university” into Google, and you actually got the top 10 universities. I think that basic notion really helped us a lot. In a sense, it’s humans who do the ranking. It’s just that we capture everybody’s ranking. We looked at things like: How many people link to this Web page? How do they describe it? What’s the text they use in the link itself? You can capture the collective intelligence of all the people who are writing Web pages and use that to help the people who are searching. We use an automated mechanism for capturing all that. It’s a sort of group intelligence. That’s a powerful idea."

Eric Schmidt, Google

"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had."

Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia

"How do you innovate a social community—social rules and norms that allow for good-quality work to take place? What you have to balance there are, on the one hand, if a Web site is essentially a brutal police state where every action could easily result in random blocking or banning from the site and nobody can trust anything—that doesn't work. Complete and total anarchy, where anyone can do anything, also doesn't work. It’s actually the same problem we face off-line. It’s the problem of living together. It’s the problem of a good city government."

Elon Musk, PayPal

"Given that money is low-bandwidth, it’s digital, it seemed like there should be something innovative that was possible in that arena. When you think about it, the vast majority of the financial system is just entries in a database. And transferring money is pretty simple—all we do is change one entry in the database and update another entry. All you need is a unique identifier like an e-mail address. By the end of the first year we had a million customers."

Chad Hurley, YouTube

"We just saw an opportunity where we had digital cameras, we had cell phones that had video capabilities, we had these video files sitting on our desktops—but there weren't any services out there dealing with storing and serving these videos, making it easy for people to share them."

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

"The Web was growing at about 2,300 percent a year. I made a list of 20 different products that you might sell online. I picked books because books are very unusual in one respect. And that is that there are more items in the book category than there are items in any other category, by far. There are millions of different books active and in print. I was also looking for something that you could only do on the Web. And having a bookstore with universal selection is only possible on the Web. You could never do it with a paper catalog. The paper catalog would be the size of dozens of New York City phone books, and it would be out of date the second you printed it."

Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay

"By ’94, ’95, the first technology to make Web pages interactive had come out. I was really interested in the theory of markets, this idealistic theory that says if you have an efficient marketplace, then goods are traded at their fair value. So finally I came on this notion that with the Web, with the interactivity of it, we could actually create a place, a single market, where people from all over the world could come together and actually trade with full information on a level playing field and do business with one another regardless of who they were. And so that’s when I sat down, frankly, over Labor Day weekend in September of ’95, and wrote the original code for what I called Auction Web—very rudimentary."

Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!

"The challenge was always trying to keep up with what users were expecting and what they wanted. We remember counting the number of different countries that used Yahoo in the early days, and it didn’t take too long before 90-plus countries around the world were using Yahoo without even our telling people about it. So it was just total word of mouth."

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

"I’d say our style is basically just, well, flea market. People have stuff to do, they’ve got to do it, no business-speak, just getting the job done. The site is about as mundane as you can make it. It deals with everyday life, but sometimes there are people who just really need to reach out to people, and sometimes our site works out for that. The best example might be the way people re-purposed our New Orleans site during Katrina, because immediately survivors started notifying their friends and family using our site to tell people where they wound up. At the same time, friends and family were looking for survivors by asking on the site, Hey, has anyone seen so-and-so?"

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