What happened to free web hosting?

With T35 Hosting celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year, I was digging through some old boxes to find something cool to put on the site. To my surprise, I found the original web hosting business plan! Thumbing through it brought me to the largest section: “The Competition.” Quickly skimming down the list, I was shocked to see so many old names… names that weren’t around anymore. Partially for the benefit of the readers and partially for nostalgic reasons I decided to come up with a list of the biggest free web hosts of the late 90s and take a quick look at where they are today.

Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #200
Free Hosting? 100mb Today
Alex Ranking: #1,660
Free Hosting? No

FortuneCity, founded in 1997, was one of the first free web hosting providers. They also grew to become one of the largest, consistently ranking in the top 200 web properties in the world. These days they have completely dropped their free web hosting plan (which used to be the only service they offered). Their new site looks sleek, but the paid hosting plans (and prices) are nothing to write home about.

Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #100
Free Hosting? 5mb Today
Alex Ranking: #70
Free Hosting? 15mb

Geocities is perhaps one of the most well known free hosts. So popular in fact, that it eventually got Yahoo’s attention and was purchased in early 2000. Re-branded as Yahoo! Geocities, it now caters towards paid business plans, although a 15mb free hosting plan is still offered.

Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #150
Free Hosting? 75mb Today
Alex Ranking: #18,931
Free Hosting? No

Although Hypermart was relatively late to the scene in 1999, it became a quick favorite by offering a whopping 75mb of space. Unfortunately it has since stopped providing its free web hosting plan. In a somewhat botched maneuver they attempted to force-convert their free members to paid accounts. Since the late 90s they have went from being in the top 150 web properties to barely making the top 20,000.

Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #500
Free Hosting? 500mb Today
Alex Ranking: #26,384
Free Hosting? No

Xoom was also a fairly popular free web host that got a significant boost when it was purchased by NBC in 2000. Unfortunately the new management had very little experience in running a web host. The company soon failed and closed up shop. The domain itself was unused for years until recently when it was purchased by paypal-like company.

Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #1000
Free Hosting? Unlimited Today
Alex Ranking: #161,001
Free Hosting? No

A medium-sized web host, Crosswinds eventually gave up on its free hosting offerings. Today it’s a regular paid hosting provider and its rankings have consequently dropped from 1,000 to not even cracking the top 100,000. There are rumors of the company bringing back its free hosting operation, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

T35 Hosting
Late 90s
Alex Ranking: ~ #2,000
Free Hosting? 35mb Today
Alex Ranking: #5,000
Free Hosting? Unlimited

Although T35 Hosting was never as big as Fortunecities and never had the financial backing of NBC-Xoom, it has surprisingly survived where most others have failed.

A quick look at this list shows a very pessimistic view of the once flourishing free hosting industry. Some of the biggest names in the industry have closed up shop and have repositioned themselves as paid hosting providers. Even companies with deep financial pockets (like NBC-Xoom) have folded under the pressure. What do you guys think? Is there one common link that caused the downfall of so many of these companies? Is this really the end of the free web hosting era? What does it take to survive as a free web host in the 21st century?

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