In 1994, before the internet was pervasive, Bill Gates saw video streaming and social media coming down the pipeline.
Nineteen ninety-four was a big year for Bill Gates.
The newly married billionaire landed on top of Forbes’ list of the richest Americans. Microsoft was on the brink of becoming the technology powerhouse it is today.
Something else notable happened in ’94: Gates gave an interview to Playboy magazine in which he correctly predicted the rise of services like Netflix and Facebook.
For context, the internet was a buzzworthy and somewhat mysterious technology in 1994. Time magazine ran a cover story on the internet and had to explain what it was in the introduction (“the world’s largest computer network and the nearest thing to a working prototype of the information superhighway”).
The internet was mostly used by scientists and scholars, though computers were becoming more common.
Still, Gates was a visionary.
He told Playboy that, in the information age, the primary use of personal computers would shift from creating documents to sharing and accessing electronic media across the web.
On how people might use the internet in the future, he said:
“Say you want to watch a movie. To choose, you’ll want to know what movies others liked and, based on what you thought of other movies you’ve seen, if this is a movie you’d like. You’ll be able to browse that information. Then you select and get video on demand. Afterward, you can even share what you thought of the movie.”
What Gates described sounds a lot like Netflix, which launched its online subscription service in 2007. He added that the internet would change the “way we find information and make decisions,” even when those decisions are as simple as what to watch.
His prediction that we might someday tap into virtual communities for information hints at the invention of Facebook, which Mark Zuckerberg founded 10 years after the Playboy interview.
Gates envisioned an online community that knows no physical parameters:
“Think about how you find people with common interests, how you pick a doctor, how you decide what book to read. Right now it’s hard to reach out to a broad range of people. You are tied into the physical community near you. But in the new environment, because of how information is stored and accessed, that community will expand. This tool will be empowering, the infrastructure will be built quickly and the impact will be broad.”
Since its founding in 2004, Facebook has grown exponentially, to say the least. It has 1.23 billion daily active users, on average, and employs 17,000 people around the world.