RIP Bolt.com: Social networking before we knew what it was

An early teen-oriented social networking site, after trying to reinvent itself as a video site, goes away for good.

Bolt.com, best known as a video sharing site that didn't really catch on, has filed for bankruptcy and shut down. The site had been in acquisition talks with GoFish, which would have been able to cover the $10 million settlement in a copyright infringement case with Universal Music. Earlier this month, the acquisition fell through, and Bolt was essentially doomed.

But it was really MySpace, not YouTube or copyright woes, that struck the first blow to Bolt. Before it shifted its focus to video, Bolt was a teen-oriented social networking site in the days when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was probably getting beat up on a playground somewhere. You could create a profile, talk with other members in chat rooms and message boards (this was the pre-webcam era), and engage in other forms of 1998-vintage "interactivity," like online quizzes and polls.

Bolt circa 2001, thanks to the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive

I was a teen in the '90s and had a Bolt profile out of curiosity, but those were the days when Internet social networking was still a very restricted phenomenon for a number of reasons: first, it was still seen as "weird" (and from parents' perspectives, dangerous) for teenagers to be socializing online rather than in real life; and second, AOL was still a juggernaut in those days. Its chat rooms and message boards, not to mention Instant Messenger, were the go-to place for kids who didn't feel like doing their homework. Then there was the fact that chatting and message board posting was, thanks to the limitations of dial-up connections, more or less all you could do. The infectious draw of viral videos and streaming music was still out of reach for many.

The critical mass wasn't there, so there was no real bandwagon effect to help Bolt grow. Then MySpace came along with its originally music-focused model--if My Chemical Romance has a social networking profile, it can't be just for losers, right?--and online social networking lost much of its "a/s/l?" stigma (that's "age/sex/location," one of the Web's oldest pickup lines, for you newbies). Bolt probably could've found some way to "evolve" and get the word out, but it didn't--the video-site makeover flopped amid the current glut of YouTube clones.

 

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