The internet is advancing at a breakneck speed and most people have a recollection of some of the most important milestones of the last decade:

2003 – Launch of My Space, LinkedIn, WordPress

2004 – Launch of Facebook, Flickr, Digg and Tagged

But how did we get where we are now? Who were the pioneers and when did advertising on the internet, search engines and mobile marketing all begin?

If you want to have an interesting conversation over lunch or dinner, ask whoever you’re eating with if they know in which year these “digital firsts” started out. They may be surprised by the answers.

First Internet Advertising Agency 

Modem Media, an interactive marketing company, was formed in October, 1987 by G.M. O’Connell, Douglas Ahlers and Bob Allen on the day of the stock market crash.

A few weeks later, executives at Dow Jones  (the first company with which Modem Media attempted to establish an account) dismissed their sales pitches categorically. To make matters worse, the company’s sole PC suffered irreparable damage when it burst into flames when Ahlers tried to install a larger hard drive.

At the time, the pair worked out of Ahlers’ parents’ condominium in Norwalk, CT. From these inauspicious beginnings, Modem Media went on to become the premier interactive advertising agency in the U.S., concentrating early in its career on software development and the design of interactive media on CD-ROMs and web sites.

Its first client was General Electric. Other big names like Godiva Chocolates and J.C. Penney followed. The company’s first work involved building “electronic malls” online for its clients, where customers could shop without leaving their homes.

In March 1994 AT&T named Modem Media “Interactive Agency of Record,” an honor that testified to the company’s market superiority.

First Clickable Web Ad

The first clickable web ad (which later came to be known by the term “banner ad”) was sold by Global Network Navigator (GNN) in 1993 to Heller, Ehrman, White and McAuliffe, a now defunct law firm with a Silicon Valley office. GNN was the first commercially supported web publication and one of the very first commercial web sites ever.

HotWired was the first website to sell banner ads in large quantities to a wide range of major corporate advertisers. Andrew Anker was HotWired’s first CEO.

Rick Boyce, a former media buyer with San Francisco advertising agency Hal Riney & Partners, spearheaded the sales effort for the company. HotWired coined the term “banner ad” and was the first company to provide click through rate reports to its customers.

The first web banner sold by HotWired was paid for by AT&T Corp. and was put online on October 27, 1994.

The First Search Engine

The very first tool used for searching on the Internet was called Archie. The name stands for “archive” without the “v”. It was created in 1990 by Alan Emtage, Bill Heelan and J. Peter Deutsch, three computer science students at McGill University in Montreal. The program downloaded the directory listings of all the files located on public anonymous FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites, creating a searchable database of file names; however, Archie did not index the contents of these sites since the amount of data was so limited it could be readily searched manually.

First Social Network Site

The first recognizable social network site launched in 1997. allowed users to create profiles, list their Friends and, beginning in 1998, surf the Friends lists. Each of these features existed in some form before SixDegrees, of course. Profiles existed on most major dating sites and many community sites. AIM and ICQ buddy lists supported lists of Friends, although those Friends were not visible to others. allowed people to affiliate with their high school or college and surf the network for others who were also affiliated, but users could not create profiles or list Friends until years later. SixDegrees was the first to combine these features.

SixDegrees promoted itself as a tool to help people connect with and send messages to others. While SixDegrees attracted millions of users, it failed to become a sustainable business and, in 2000, the service closed. Looking back, SixDegrees was just  ahead of its time. While people were already flocking to the Internet, most did not have extended networks of friends who were online. Early adopters complained that there was little to do after accepting Friend requests, and most users were not interested in meeting strangers.

First Mobile Marketing Campaign 

First Mobile Marketing Campaign SMS 2001In 2001, Universal Music chose an Island Records single release to be the basis for Europe’s very first mobile marketing trial. It was a cross-carrier SMS shortcode campaign run by Txtbomb.

The first mobile marketing campaign in North America was deployed in 2002 by Labatt Breweries. Labatt also launched a cross-carrier SMS short-code campaign.

Strangely there is very little information available about these first mobile marketing campaigns, so it would be great if any readers could add more information

What other Digital Milestones Do You Remember? Can you tell us about them?