10 Online Business Ideas That Never Took Off

Search Engines (AltaVista, Lycos, GeoCities)
Though Google is currently the most popular American search engine, it was preceded by a number of other competitors. Adam Berry/Getty Images

Obviously, search engines and Web portals are pretty decent ideas — the Internet as we know it wouldn't exist without them. In the United States, Google has had a seemingly unbreakable lock on the category for years, but once upon a time there was competition in this arena. In the late '90s, it seemed like a company had to start a search engine or some sort of Web portal to be considered a serious player. There was a mad rush of rival Web portals, all vying for their piece of the online pie. AOL and Yahoo! had early periods of dominance, but Lycos, AltaVista, MSN, GeoCities and Excite were all in the game at one point or another. But then Google arrived and steamrolled all of them. Bing is a relative latecomer to the market that's still trying to chip away at Google's dominance, but it hasn't yet succeeded.

There were all sorts of reasons that most of the early search engines and Web portals never reached their potential. Much of it was technology- and algorithm-related, but some were done in by the same problems that plagued the rest of the companies on this list. And this isn't to say that Web portals have disappeared — far from it. They've just gotten more focused. Instead of trying to appeal to the entire Internet, Web portals are now more niche-specific.