Is data simply today's CB craze?

Thu, 10/31/1996 - 7:00pm
Roger Brown

For example, at last month's Convergence: Digital Television and Internet conference in San Jose, Stephen Weiswasser, president and CEO of the Americast consortium, was decidedly bearish. "The number of people on-line and the growth rate of on-line is decreasing significantly," he was quoted as saying. "Right now, it appears that the average customer knows that the Web is not all it's cracked up to be."

After a bit of analysis, I've determined that Weiswasser is right — and wrong at the same time. Without numbers to back up his claim that the on-line world is shrinking, I won't argue that point. I will acknowledge that the Web isn't everything it's cracked up to be, but that's a temporary situation, and already, there's plenty of work underway that will change the face of the Web.

We hear all the time that technology doesn't create good business models. Consumers don't buy new technology or spend money on services unless there's a compelling reason to do so. But technology companies don't typically build technology unless there's at least a perceived marketplace need, either. While there's a lot of money being spent on hardware, there's real market pull, too. Millions of people are on-line chatting, exchanging e-mail, downloading files, looking up information or simply surfing the Web. Corporations have invested heavily in developing Web sites and Intranets to keep their employees tied together electronically.

Yes, the CB radio was cool for awhile, too, because it gave strangers a new way to meet and communicate. But the problem with the CB radio was that the content never changed, so people became bored.

To avoid becoming the latest passe fad, data providers have to do more than provide a new pipeline for information exchange. The keys are to develop localism, avoid creating hardware that has only one application and to keep the medium fresh. We've already witnessed the top three cable operators, with a combined subscriber count of more than 30 million homes, launch their own services, each of which can be customized to appeal to local markets. That's powerful. With the additional speed and bandwidth a cable network offers, the content can be upgraded beyond today's static, often uninspired Web postings to captivating, video-intensive "programs" that will keep people coming back time and again.

Access to such networks will get easier, too. Soon, you won't need a computer to access the Internet — you can use a cable set-top box or the TV receiver itself. But just like no one wants to watch nothing but old TV re-runs, few will be turned on by "Frequently-Asked Questions," or a list of someone's most recent press releases. It's time to unleash the game developers and Silicon Valley artists on the Web. Otherwise, maybe we'll say, "10-4 good buddy," to the whole thing.

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