What happened to the million dollar homepage?

What is a pixel? The on-screen display is made up of them, and the raster image file format was created with them in mind, but are they real? In 2005, Alex Tew thought they were and became a millionaire.

Tew, then 21, was looking for a way to fund his business management research at the University of Nottingham. He created a website with a 1,000-by-1,000-pixel grid and sold each 10-by-10-pixel block for $100, promising the site would remain online for at least 5 years. Combined, all the pixels are worth $1 million. The site was therefore named the Million Dollar Homepage.

Did you find Waldo? (Click to enlarge.)

PR is power

At first, most of Tu’s clients were his friends and family. After all, who wants to buy ad space on a website no one has heard of? Tew then invested his profits in public relations services, leading the British press to cover the story. This in itself turns the website into a wildly popular advertising platform.

Tew’s clients range from humble rugby tactics sites or free font sites to The Times of London, online casinos and web hosting services. If you look closely, you can also find Waldo a few times (“Where’s Waldo?”). One client even bought a large block of pixels and rented out nine of them.

The top left corner of the site is booked the fastest.

On the first day of 2006, Tew auctioned off the last free 1,000 pixels on eBay. The winning bid after 10 days was $38,100, giving the site a total revenue of $1,037,100. Taxes aside, Tu donated a portion of the money to the Prince’s Trust, established by King Charles III.

On the day of the auction, if Tew didn’t pay the $5,000 ransom, Tew was threatened with emails in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, and in subsequent emails, the ransom became $50,000. The day after the last 1,000 pixels were sold, the site was flooded with fake traffic and emails and quickly crashed. The issue was resolved after a week as traffic to the site was filtered through a more secure server.

never repeat a joke

At the end of the first semester, Tu dropped out, saying a traditional education was not for him. Meanwhile, hundreds of knockoff sites have tried to replicate The Million Dollar Homepage’s success, but none have succeeded. Tu himself realized that if he wanted to create another feeling, he needed a new gimmick.

Tew’s Pixelotto is similar to The Million Dollar Homepage, except it costs $2 per pixel because the site has an incentive for visitors to click on the ad: among registered visitors who do so, one person will win the site half of the sales revenue. However, the pixels on the new site did not sell as well as the original ones, and the winner received only $153,000 instead of the expected $1 million.

Pixelotto didn’t quite replicate the success of the original site.

Tew managed to stay in the public memory thanks to the complex Adobe Flash game called Shock and Awe, inspired by true events. The goal of the game, released in 2008, was to get President George W. Bush into as many shoes as possible.

In 2010, Tew went back to his old ways with a million people, trying to create a physical answer for Facebook, each paying $3 to be part of a book “Capturing the Faces of a Generation.” The new initiative never succeeded, even when participation became free. Around 2030, a book like this from 2010 might become interesting, but then, it’s like watching that 70s show in the 1970s. Most people are not that visionary.

Two years later, Tew finally had the idea for Calm, a veritable meditation app. In 2019, the company founded by Tew and Michael Acton Smith was valued at $1 billion.

A piece of internet history

Million Dollar Homepage Still Online – Tew has exceeded his promises. Some ads, such as “Win Xbox 360” or “Copy DVD,” are very reflective of the buying era. Other pages of the site, such as the FAQ or the blog, are only available through the Wayback Machine.

In 2019, the BBC reported that 40% of the links on the megapixel grid were dead, and many others were redirected to new domains. This does not include URLs with new owners, or sites that have changed beyond recognition while maintaining the same address.

The original site had some…interesting clients.

An example of a site that’s been active and growing over the years is Date My Pet (don’t worry — the name is for your own pet), probably thanks to smart investing. Another site that still looks like a relic of the Web 1.0 era is Ling’s Cars, which calls itself “the craziest car rental site in the UK”.

On the surface, The Million Dollar Homepage appears to have no real legacy: the idea of ​​selling pixels died out around 2006. On the other hand, the site can be seen as the originator of the non-fungible token (NFT) phenomenon, as the value of pixels comes not from what they are, but from how famous they are. Either way, the site’s story provides the definition of “famous for being famous” and shows how the Internet has changed the world.

TechSpot’s “What Happened to…” series

The stories of software applications and companies that were once mainstream and widely used are no more. We cover the most salient areas of their history, innovation, success and controversy.

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