There were no official announcements made, which is a shame, but last week Canada’s most influential online service celebrated its tenth anniversary.
On the morning of November 29, 1995, at simultaneous press conferences in Toronto and Montreal, the Sympatico Internet service was announced.
Although the Sympatico signup software kit was intended to go on sale the following day, some curious and keen Canadians showed up at Bell stores on the 29th asking for the software and were able to purchase it 24-hours ahead of time. (By the way, you can often tell who some of the very first Sympatico members are by their email addresses. Some of them were lucky enough to be able to create accounts using just their first names, such as john@ as opposed to john.smith2000@.)
Backed by a (somewhat unruly and definitely ungainly) consortium made up of most, but not all, of Canada’s 10+ regional telcos at the time, Sympatico would go on to become Canada’s largest and most well-known consumer Internet service provider with millions of subscribers. The Sympatico.ca Website, later to be christened a “portal,” grew and grew to become Canada’s number one Internet media property, with over 15 million unique visitors a month.
For millions of Canadians, Sympatico was the service provider and Website through which they first experienced the Internet. The goal of the service, at least during the early years, was to make it as easy as possible for Canadians to connect to, find, and enjoy the riches of the Internet.
Although I wasn’t part of the launch team, I was privileged to work as a producer on the content side of Sympatico in its first year. My fondest memory of the time was spending a summer working on a “top secret” project that I initially thought would be boring. I was pulled off my main duties and asked to work with a small team that had been mandated by Bell’s president to, come Hell or high water, “put the white pages on the Internet” by September.
That project was, of course, Canada411 (which, by the way, I accidentally named), and to this day I am very proud of having worked on it. Canada411 really did change the lives of Canadians. During the first few months of its existence, I read and responded to all the Canada411 feedback emails sent by users. My favourite emails were from people who had used Canada411 to re-connect with long lost friends, lovers, and family members.
Looking back, there’s no question in my mind that Sympatico was instrumental in getting Canadians of all walks of life onto the Internet and excited about its potential, myself included. (I still use my original Sympatico account at home.) Without the broad consumer base of online Canadians, we as Internet marketers wouldn’t have anyone to market to.
Happy 10th Birthday, Sympatico! And thank you on behalf of Canadian Internet marketers everywhere.
P.S. I’d like to thank Rohan Jayasekera, one of Sympatico’s brilliant co-founders, for his assistance in preparing this article. Rohan also has the coolest Sympatico email address ever: .