History is littered with examples of dominant forces that later fell by the wayside. The Roman Empire, disco music, Dallas Cowboys, and so it is in the tech world.
We will look at some ways that we all used to enjoy digital media before Spotify and YouTube came along.
RealPlayer from RealNetworks.
If you grew up in the 90s, you probably used RealPlayer at some point. Whether it was to listen to music or watch a video clip. As it was one of the very first streaming applications to gain widespread popularity.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s most people were running painfully slow, dial-up connections. Which meant that their streams were often fairly low quality. Assuming they worked at all. RealPlayer was notorious for being a clunky error-prone program that was jam-packed full of advertising. But it was still a piece of tech that most people tolerated because few other programs delivered streaming media. That is until Microsoft and Apple started providing Their own streaming software in their consumer operating systems. Also made streaming software freely available for administrators, who previously had been forced to pay RealNetworks to get this functionality on the servers for their websites.
And then, as time went on standards like Adobe Flash made the clunky Real Player more and more irrelevant. But believe it or not, Real Player is actually still around today as a general-purpose media player. Supported by ads and subscription fees. Even if the general consensus is that other media players, like VLC, accomplished the same tasks in a simpler package. Bottom line, I don’t see Real Player making a big comeback soon.
Next up, Winamp
Winamp was a more general-purpose music player than Real Player. Debuting in 1997, it quickly caught on with PC users around the globe and eventually boasted a user base of around 90 million right out of the gate.
People loved its resource light operation. Its incredible customizability and its ease of use. All you had to do to build a playlist was select and drag some mp3s in to. You could be your own personal DJ. It was a cool idea.
Unsurprisingly, when apps demise was largely the work of bigger companies, AOL bought Winamp in 1999. They used it as a vehicle for expanding their own Internet service by asking users to sign up for AOL whenever they try to install Winamp. To fight the Fact that AOL’s parent company could have just made money by offering their huge music library to win abusers instead.
Since many Winamp users were music enthusiasts and power users who cared about audio quality and the overall listening experience. The integrated AOL ads and the fact that their beloved player had been taken over by a company known for a sandboxed internet service, was pretty off-putting.
Winamp was eventually sold to a Belgian company. An updated beta appeared in 2016 with another update in 2018. A new version is expected sometime this year. But the many years of neglect, combined with the popularity of modern streaming audio services, means that while Winamp still has about 30 million users worldwide, it’s unlikely to recapture its past glory.
A file-sharing service that quickly became known as a hotbed for music piracy. The basic idea behind Napster was that it allowed users to download music from the computers of other users. Suddenly giving the public access to tons of free music, including hard-to-find tracks.
So, all you needed to do, to be the cool kid in class, was to know how to use Napster and have a CD burner. The record companies sued Napster and won. Because the courts found that, while Napster wasn’t providing the music itself, it knew that copyright infringement was going on on its network and had the ability to stop it, but did not do so.
This differs from torrent applications like qBitttorrent, which only allow users to connect to any of thousands of servers that provide tracker files. It’s a much less centralized approach and a more difficult target. After they forced the original Napster to shut down, the Napster logo and Brand lived on.
They were purchased and have since changed hands a few times. With each subsequent owner attempting to capitalize on Napster’s name recognition to sell licensed music, both personally and through a subscription model.
Rhapsody eventually bought Napster and actually still exists today as a streaming music service with a monthly fee similar to Apple music.