(Traffic ranking firms still use essentially the same methodology.) The NPD Group spun off Coffey's work into a new company called Media Metrix.

In January 1996, the firm published what seems to be the first independent ranking of the top sites online.

(In 2003, after acquiring the search companies Inktomi and Overture, Yahoo launched its own machine-produced search engine; now, the human-edited Yahoo Directory isn't even listed on the site's front page.) Some of Yahoo's 1996-era front pages have been saved in the Internet Archive. First, no e-mail: The first webmail site, Hotmail, launched in July of 1996.

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Then you load up Internet Explorer, AOL's default Web browser. There's no You Tube, Digg, Huffington Post, or Gawker.

There's no Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Wikipedia.

—and puzzle over how Google missed the rise of the Web-searching technology that suddenly sprang up to vanquish it? On the other hand, some parts of the Web have become so deeply ingrained in the culture that it's hard to imagine any force killing them outright.

In 2020, we'll get the Internet over electronic ink scrolls powered by algae or something—but we'll probably still be spending a lot of time reading Wikipedia.

In 1996, just 20 million American adults had access to the Internet, about as many as subscribe to satellite radio today.

The dot-com boom had already begun on Wall Street—Netscape went public in 1995—but what's striking about the old Web is how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for. Crank up your modem, wait 20 seconds as you log in, and there you are—"Welcome." You check your mail, then spend a few minutes chatting with your AOL buddies about which of you has the funniest screen name (you win, pimpodayear94). If you're one of the lucky people with an AOL account, you probably do the same thing you'd do in 2009: Go online.Obviously, though, such a model was unable to keep pace with the growth of the Web.In retrospect, it's telling that anyone in 1996 thought this was a sustainable way to catalog the Web.Its main feature was its directory, a constantly updated listing of thousands of sites online.