Facebook is winning the social networking war, but here’s how Amazon almost did it first

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Image: David Ryder/Getty Images

It may seem like Amazon is suddenly hungry to take over the world, but the company has been focused on dominating the internet for a very long time, a fact we were recently reminded of via a profile on early social networking site PlanetAll.

If you’ve never heard of PlanetAll, that’s because it’s one of the few social networks born in the ’90s that came long before Facebook.

A couple of years after PlanetAll launched with a goal of connecting friends and family on the internet, Amazon acquired the company in 1998. Calling one of the features on its site a “smart address book,” PlanetAll allowed users to connect with other groups around particular interests, offered news updates, horoscopes, and offered a calendar reminder service that worked with the then popular Palm Pilot mobile organizer.

However, the move wasn’t an example of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos somehow having the foresight to make Amazon a social network before Mark Zuckerberg. Instead, Amazon’s acquisition was primarily designed to help Amazon get its books to more people.

A screenshot of PlanetAll from 1996.

Image: internet archive

“Portals are a great business to be in, but it just doesn’t happen to be our business,” said Bezos following the announcement of the acquisition. “Amazon is and has always been focused on being an ecommerce destination, and that will remain the focus.”

But as the Timeline profile on PlanetAll notes, Bezos and his team later realized its mistake and filed a patent application in 2008 for a ‘social networking system,’ but by then it was too late, a social networking gold rush was already in effect.

“Portals are a great business to be in, but it just doesn’t happen to be our business.”

As for the title of “first social network,” that title belongs to GeoCities, which arrived around a year before PlanetAll and was eventually acquired by Yahoo. You see a trend here? The early players in social media that sold out too quickly soon disappeared under a fog of parent company mechanics, a fate Facebook managed to successfully avoid to become the world’s biggest social network.

Remember this the next time you think back to why Snapchat repeatedly turned down multi-billion dollar acquisition offers in just the last few years from Facebook.

But despite Bezos’ apparent miss, he may ultimately have the last laugh. From the ubiquitous Amazon Prime, to the Kindle and internet appliance Amazon Show, to its growing reach in brick and mortar retail via Whole Foods, it’s beginning to look like we’ll all be using Amazon soon, in one way or another.

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Tags: amazon big-tech-companies business facebook geocities planetall social-networking tech

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