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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Strange Secrets About Websites You Use Every Day

Why is Facebook blue? Why is Google buying up electricity? Can you really sell ANYTHING on eBay? We found the odd answers.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

Google’s Side Business

One day, you may go to Google, search for how to pay your electric bill online—and find out that Google will take care of it for you. In short: Google is actually a fully licensed electricity broker. No, it’s not part of some master plan to dominate the world. All those Google searches take up a lot of juice, so the company tries to source green electricity, investing in a large solar installation and hiring goats to “mow” some lawns at its headquarters. But right now, Google can’t find enough power via these routes. So in 2010, it obtained special permission from the federal government to buy and sell electricity as if it were a utility company. For now, the company is focusing on the buying part, but selling could happen too. Google created a subsidiary called Google Energy in 2009 and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of selling power on the open market.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

Facebook’s Blue View

The website turned ten years old in February, and over the course of that decade, the site has undergone many changes—some of which tend to upset its billions of users. Even the original name ( has changed. But one thing has stayed the same: the color scheme. Facebook has been blue and white since day one.  Why? Mostly because of its first user, founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is red-green color blind and has an easier time seeing blue hues.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader's Digest’s Breakup

Gary Kremen founded in 1993. In the two decades since, the site has led to untold numbers of dates, engagements, and marriages. It has also led to at least one very notable broken heart: Kremen’s. Yes, after the founder of and his girlfriend broke up, she married someone she’d met on

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

Amazon’s Short-Lived Celebration

If Amazon had kept one of its earliest traditions intact, almost everyone who works there would have the most intense headache. Why’s that? Because Amazon was once a small startup, doing quirky things like making homemade desks for its first employees (founder Jeff Bezos claims to have built the first ones himself) and heating its first office (a converted garage!) with electric heaters. It also used to have a bell on a computer terminal, which rang in the offices every time someone bought a book. Amazon obviously had to stop that practice. In fact, it lasted only a few days because orders picked up pretty quickly, and the bell lost its novelty.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

eBay’s Broken Experiment

It’s said that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, but nothing proves that quite like eBay does. The auction giant got its start when its founder, Pierre Omidyar, was tinkering with his new website, then called AuctionWeb, and listed a broken laser pointer as a test. Someone bid $14. Omidyar e-mailed the bidder to tell him that it was broken, and the person replied that he knew that—and that he (for some reason) collected broken laser pointers.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

WebMD’s Surprising Solution

Before we go to the doctor with a headache or stomach cramps, we go online, to websites such as WebMD. And for most ailments, WebMD offers suggestions for recovery. For one malady, the site advises to apply ice to the affected area and keep it elevated. That ailment? A sprained ankle. The advice for another condition, though, is a bit less expected: Turn on some music, write some poetry, and maybe go to a movie. That’s right—WebMD offers detailed instructions on how to fix a broken heart.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

Twitter’s Earth-Shattering Speed

On August 23, 2011, an earthquake hit the East Coast of the United States. No one saw it coming, unless you were a lemur or, perhaps, a New Yorker addicted to Twitter. The quake’s epicenter was in northern Virginia, and, according to the National Zoo, the facility’s captive lemurs sounded the warning call 15 minutes before the rest of the area felt the ground rattle. As for us humans? Some of us knew about the quake before it hit us too. Upon feeling the earth rumble under them, many people in the Washington, DC, and Virginia areas immediately tweeted about it. The tweets traveled faster than the earthquake itself; some people in the New York and Boston areas reported seeing tweets about the quake 15 to 30 seconds before feeling it.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader’s Digest

AOL’s Teenage Mole

In late 2011, Eric Simons was building a startup called ClassConnect and was selected for a startup incubator program hosted on AOL’s campus in Palo Alto. When the program ended, Simons wanted to keep working on ClassConnect at AOL, so, armed with a valid building pass, he stayed—for two months. Simons’s plan: work late, sleep on couches, eat the free food, and use the gym locker room as a storage facility and a place to shower. Most likely, everyone else thought he was just a hardworking young employee trying to earn a solid reputation in the company. Eventually, Simons’s ruse was discovered by a security guard, and the teen’s building pass was revoked. But to AOL’s credit, it took its camper’s actions in stride. One exec told CNET, “It was always our intention to facilitate entrepreneurialism in the Palo Alto office. We just didn’t expect it to work so well.” Ultimately, ClassConnect came into existence and morphed into Thinkster.

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Carolyn Ridsdale for Reader's Digest

Craigslist’s Low-Tech Beginning

You may not know the name Craig Newmark. But you have probably used his website, Craigslist, which has monopolized the market for classified ads by reaching tens of millions of bargain hunters and job seekers every month. If you’re thinking of competing, though, here’s a word of advice: Don’t start with a website. Start by sending e-mails. That’s what Newmark did. In 1994, he was a software developer living in San Francisco who wanted to meet other techies in the area. After gathering up some event listings, Newmark e-mailed them to a small group. That group got larger, and the types of things he shared broadened, as members started to ask him to list things like job openings and stuff for sale. When his list hit about 250 people in 1995, he created something more official. He wanted to call it SF Events, but his members had already named it something else: Craig’s List. It wasn’t until 1997—three years into the life of Craig’s List—that it became the website

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest