Before Google became a household verb and Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, there was citysoup.ca, a social networking and e-business site linking Tri-City schools, community groups, businesses and government agencies.
It cost millions of taxpayer dollars to build and was considered ground-breaking for connecting people with services.
And now, 10 years after it was introduced, citysoup.ca is finally being put out to pasture.
Both Port Moody and Coquitlam are redoing their city websites and citysoup.ca will be retired at the end of the year.
"The site was literally three generations behind where it should have been," explained Dan McDonald, Coquitlam's manager of corporate communications, noting Coquitlam will spend $250,000 plus staff time to redesign of the city's web services.
When citysoup.ca was developed a decade ago, it cost $4.5 million in federal funds, $4.5 million in cash and in-kind services from the two cities, and even Douglas College and School District 43 kicked in a few thousand dollars to participate. The city of Port Coquitlam opted out of paying its $75,000 share and built its own website instead (and has been a leader in online engagement of its citizens).
Also on board were technology companies that contributed $4.5 million in equipment and in-kind services. At its height, citysoup.ca included a business centre, a web broadcast studio, free internet stations, training, hosting services, website development and online payment capabilities.
McDonald said the cash outlay for a new, easy-to-navigate website is significantly less today because technology is much cheaper and the city has talented people who can help with its creation.
PoMo, meanwhile, has hired Vision Internet for $24,000, including hosting and development, for a two-year contract, and will stop paying Coquitlam $35,000 in annual hosting fees this summer.
At least one PoMo councillor is not sorry to see citysoup.ca go.
"I never did see the benefit in it," said Coun. Gerry Nuttall. "I didn't see the benefit in it when we put in. What was it, $1.2 million? It never took off."
Nuttall said citysoup.ca should serve as a warning to governments that try to compete with business in developing technology.
"Anybody with a head on their shoulders would have looked at $14 million and wondered where the pay-back was."
The plan was to market citysoup.ca and repay the grants and loans but that never happened. A private firm, CS Networks Inc., was supposed to market the product and pay the cities royalties in exchange for the assets but it gave up after two years and handed citysoup.ca back to PoMo and Coquitlam, which have hosted and managed citysoup.ca ever since.
A $400,000 provincial grant announced by then Port Moody-Westwood MLA Christy Clark was also supposed to help with the sales effort but the Smart Choices Society formed to oversee citysoup.ca in 2001, gave up and quietly disbanded in 2007.
Citysoup.ca was a hard sell, admits Coquitlam's manager of information communications technology. "The technologies had changed to the degree that marketing it as a product was no longer viable," said Rick Adams.
Still, the cities should be acknowledged for "blazing new trails," he said.
PoMo city administrator Gaetan Royer agreed, saying: "Port Moody's partnership with Coquitlam to create a community portal was ahead of its time in 2000, when Google Maps and Facebook didn't even exist. It served us well for a decade."