What's The Greatest Web Software Ever Written?
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In 1993, the year Mosaic brought the World Wide Web within reach of millions, Howard Rheingold wrote The Virtual Community (Secker & Warburg, 1994) about his experiences with the Well, originally named the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link by co-founder Stewart Brand. The Well, launched in 1985, was a follow-up project to Brand's Whole Earth Catalog.
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The Well existed as a dial-up virtual community hosted on servers in Sausalito, Calif. It served the Bay Area, where participants dialed in to forums, discussion groups, and other forms of electronic communication. Rheingold found it so addictive that his little daughter used to say, "Daddy is saying 'holy moly' to his computer again," and the rest of the family knew he was talking to his friends at the Well.
World Of Warcraft: 8.5 million fans
When Jim Gray, the highly regarded Microsoft researcher, disappeared while sailing off the coast of San Francisco in January, a spontaneous community formed around the task of capturing and inspecting satellite data to track him down. The effort failed, but the idea that such a search could be mounted on the Web with large numbers of volunteers coordinated around different tasks would have been impossible without a much earlier example of such a virtual community: the Well.
Speaking of virtual communities, much has been made of a three-dimensional virtual world known as Second Life. For my money, more significant examples of 3-D virtual reality can be found in massively multiplayer online games, which offer playful, real-time activity where the actions of one participant affect another. The possibilities in terms of training people to complete complicated team-oriented tasks seem obvious. The godfather of this genre is Blizzard Entertainment's World Of Warcraft. Introduced in 2004, World Of Warcraft's 8.5 million rabid fans--3.5 million in China alone--put Second Life's 6 million registered residents in the shade.
Here's my list of the greatest Web software so far, in alphabetical order: AltaVista search, Amazon, AOL Instant Messenger, Craigslist, eBay, Hotmail, XMLHttpRequest, the Well, and World Of Warcraft. Not bad, but that's only nine. Three more to go. Must soldier on.