|Chapter 22 : The Web's a Bitch|
(or: The Blind Leading the Blind)
|Dec 16, 1999
I’m taking my MBA.
It’s funny. Nowadays, the Internet is a big topic in almost any MBA course you have.. Marketing, Technology, Organizational Behavior. They all refer to the Internet in some way or another. The Strategy courses focusing in on information technology as an enabler for strategic competitive advantages focus in on the Internet the most.
So, what’s the big deal? The Web is going commercial. It’s a fact of life. Of course, the Web will not be ‘taken over’ by commercialism, as is the dire prediction of the old school pundits. That is simply impossible. Give a few million people access to bear their souls in pure Jerry Springer fashion to millions of other anonymous people, and they will. Give people the opportunity to blather endlessly on about their favorite furry pet, going so far as to play the role of ‘Fluffy’ typing to a dog and cat audience, and they will.
Keep adding a few million users a year, and the ‘public’ sector of the Web will always be stronger and more robust than the ‘commercial’ side.
But the thing that worries me is sitting in these MBA classes, listening to students and teachers talk about the Internet and the Web. It makes me cringe. It makes chills go up and down my spine as we discuss cases about USA Today Online. Students come up with helpful suggestions such as "Well, if they link to other sites, then usually people link back" to increase traffic. Professors try and reconcile how moving to the Internet is a new ‘business model’ and does the ‘print business model’ fit?
It’s like a back office clerk given a spanking new copy of Windows 95 with no computer training whatsoever, finding Excel, and proclaiming that they can add together any two numbers with this new thing called a ‘spreadsheet.’
Meanwhile, during the whole discussion, all I could think of was TEETH. The Bubatek ™ thing they had going on really starts to hit on the power of the ‘Net and 'what it was supposed to be'. Almost every significant word in an article could be a link to somewhere. You could target it to related topics, stories, background articles, web sites about the countries involved in the disputes, CIA public-access dossiers on the major players, and links to Webster’s for those big, tough words.
New search engines like Google, the next generation of web site catalogs, bases relevance of keywords on linkage within the web itself.
The gathering of relevant information that is easily accessible is the power of the Internet.
The question that is always raised in these classes, and the way MBA students, professors, and business in general, seem to think is ‘How do I port this business model to the Web?’ The next question is ‘What pieces of the Web can I take advantage of?’
Professors, MBA students and business people without any knowledge of the technology, let alone the web itself, armed with their trusty AOL account and a copy of Frontpage are ready to attack and rule the Internet.
They think simple hyperlinking is the big thing. "Oh boy, I can link this here, and link that there! It'll be cross-branded that way!" Even those who try and think up these new ‘business models’ (read: portals) seem to short-change the Web and the potential for more. See, because the big thing is not the Web. It’s the technology. It’s IP addressing. It’s TCP. It’s new generation languages for easy creation of GUI interfaces for more powerful and robust back-ends.
It’s a four-tier system, adding a new tier in front of the classic client-server system. But then it’s more, as well.
A company I worked with, Netcast, had an original idea. Streaming music over the ‘Net, in the background, like a radio, on the PC while you work. What? Been there done that? This was before RealAudio and MP3. But what was more innovative is that they were going to link information together. Rumors, articles, tour information, ticket sales, album song lists, album and paraphernalia sales, and so on, easily gotten to by clicking on the hidden window when a song the listener liked came on.
What’s the big thing today? You can listen to snippets of NPR previously broadcast, or download the latest single to play on your new $99 walkman Rio. Show me how this is such a drastic change in ideology, a change in ‘business models.’ Please, it’s repackaging what we have today, not changing the way things are done. Some businesses are just starting to catch on, but it sure is slow going.
It’s not a new business model. When you move a business to the Web, you’ve changed your product. You’re no longer selling books, flowers, or newsprint. You’re not selling the weather, MS-NBC, or Victoria’s Secret lingerie. You are selling an interactive, information specific experience that seeks to minimize the fluff and maximize the useful. You’re selling an entertainment experience that can remain static in some areas, but direly needs to move and groove with the user as they pass through your little piece of the world.
You see, because it doesn’t matter that you offer all the information yourself. People are going to move on by you at some point. Why try and be everything to everyone? Why try to be ‘My Branded Webpage’? The power of the Web is that it allows you to direct people to information what you don’t have.
Worried they won’t come back? Worried about your hit count for advertisers, your stickiness, or losing them to the competition that has their own ‘My Branded Webpage’? If you provide them with what they need, whether on your site or by passing them somewhere else, you have provided a needed service. The power of the Web isn’t to provide a storefront, it’s to provide access to information.
And this applies to commercial and non-commercial sites. What business don’t realize is that they aren’t entering a new ‘business model.’ They’re entering a new environment. What personal or other ‘non-commercial’ sites try and refute is that they must provide an entertaining experience to their users, as well.
"But that’s not how we used to run the web in 1994!" they cry.
The world has changed, as so has the population that uses the Web. More and more people are buying iMacs and ‘Internet-Ready’ Compaqs, Dells, and Gateways. You have to make the Web accessible to people who don’t know Unix commands, or to hit ‘Stop’ and ‘Reload’ when the browser hangs. You have to deal with people who call the Internet ‘Netscape’ or ‘Explorer.’ Or people who say ‘My Internet is not working.’ Designers need to get on board with the Web Standards Project.
Things are not the way they were in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 or even last year. Businesses, MBA students, professors, and other users need to understand that there is more the Web than hyperlinks and banner ads. It’s a whole new world out there. Why try and fit a square peg in a round hole? Cut out a new design for the peg and hole and party down.
In about 3 months this tirade with be outdated technologically. But I highly doubt the ‘bright stars’ of our future, the MBA’s, or those that are teaching them will have come close to understanding, really, what it’s all about.