(Note: While I'm on vacation this week and next, I'm offering some feature material in lieu of our news coverage. I hope you enjoy and learn from these think pieces, and please don't be afraid to contribute your thoughts on them to our discussion section )
Having covered the Web for a living since October, 1994 (and having worked online for nearly 10 years before that) it's a good time to sift the past for Clues as to where it's going.
Today's Web is a pale imitation of Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu , which among other things protected versioning and copyright. Meeting Ted in person, at the 1984 Comdex, was one of the highlights of my life. Reading his "Computer Lib" and "Dream Machines," which my wife found in a Birmingham, Alabama basement in the summer of 1981, was a life-changing experience.
Hypertext languished until questions of money were removed from it. The Internet became the network of choice because no one demanded money from it. "Precious bodily fluids" were exchanged without question because a single sugar daddy paid all the bills. Ted Berners-Lee's work also came directly from a lab, CERN, which practiced the scientific principle of openness.
The pre-Web Internet was hopelessly (and gloriously) idealistic. Those who worked with such resources (often without pay) saw a future where honest communication would bridge gaps and change the world for the better. The values of those days are still felt, often intensely, by those who are new to the Web and those who seek neither personal nor political profit from it. The uselessness of flaming, the ignorance of spam, and the joy of finding someone else who gets what we're feeling - they haven't changed, and they won't. Don't forget that.
Born of science, not commerce, the Web nevertheless went through its "gold rush" period, a frenzy of epic proportions. The huge gains on early players like Netscape, Yahoo and Amazon brought in capital to create new winners like Inktomi. In retrospect it brought in too much capital. Cluelessness abounded, from the comical (Boo.Com) to the arrogant (Go.Com), as venture capitalists and corporate chieftains alike displayed their stupidity for all to see.
Certain assumptions drove the boom. First-mover advantage, the need for scale, and the demands of brand all drove budgets to unbelievable heights. The Y2K "dot com" Super Bowl was the high-water mark, with companies throwing their entire stakes on a single 30-second spot. As time passed identification became simpler - from http:// to www to simply .com - by the end of this year even the .com will be redundant. A company's Web address has become its name.
Along the way great fortunes were made - Masayoshi Son, Ted Leonsis, Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos. Others were lost - Pointcast, DEN, and NBCi. New buzzwords appeared (portals, e-tailers, push technology) and many sank without a trace. Entire industries, like newspaper stands, travel agents, and the voice telephone business, were destroyed or made redundant.
It's important to note here how many people lost their livelihoods, and how many people were threatened, by the rise of the Web. Middle managers and small service businesses were destroyed. Governments at all level had their authorities challenged. The hold of interest groups - political, social, and religious - was severely threatened by a world in which "enemies" at their most attractive were just a click away.
The Web, in other words, has made enemies, powerful enemies, who will attempt to reshape its future and set their own structures in concrete over the next several years.
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I write daily for ClickZ, and weekly at Andover.News. I write monthly for NetMarketing, Boardwatch, and Intellectual Capital. I've been in Advertising Age and the Chicago Tribune .Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. Twice each month I'm at OneChannel.Net and I'll be coming soon to ISPWorld. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Takes on the News
What We Learned About Money
Money is just one value that's important in evaluating the Web. It was an irrelevant, even negative influence on this technology before 1994. But in the last five years it has often seemed to be the only value.
Now that some of the fever is subsiding, what have we learned about money?
Clued-in is Stephen Goldfarb , whose detailed description of the men who lynched Leo Frank in 1911 reopened an important debate in Georgia's history. More important to readers here, it's an example of what the Internet is at its best.
Clueless are the pro-gun hackers who hijacked the Web site of Violence Policy Center. Not only did they demonstrate the Web's dark side, but they also did tremendous violence to their own cause.
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