Inside the Tornado: The Information Industry in 1995

Article excerpt

In the October 1994 issue of Information Today, Tim Miller revealed his ongoing fanaticism for online information services and technologies and retraced the major developments that occurred during his years in the industry as "both an avid online user and an industry analyst..." ("An Online Fanatic's Retrospective," p. 55). The following month, he offered his prediction, how the online information industry will look in the year I999 ("Online in 1999: Ten Predictions," Information Today, November 1994, p. 55).

Tim's contribution for the last issue of this year is an insightful assessment of the changes that have taken the information industry by storm in 1995.

The year 1995 will go down in information infamy. It has been a year of paradigm shifts, of discontinuous innovations, of fundamental and massive change in the marketplace. We will look back at 1995 as the year the tornado struck the information industry, changing it forever.

The tornado came in the form of the Internet, which caused a dramatic shift in the way information is disseminated and sold to business and consumer end users. The vortex that touched down in the past 12 months has sent us spinning away from a world of fee-based, intermediated, proprietary information services to an anarchic world of free-flowing, openly accessible, low-cost, advertising-sponsored copious information coming to end users via the Internet or consumer online services and accessed through nearly ubiquitous and standard interfaces.

For end users, the tornado holds the promise of great information riches and the threat of information chaos. For information professionals, it at once portends both career threats and career opportunities. For information vendors, the Internet tornado sets a radically altered economic stage that will turn some companies into massive winners and others into major losers. In the space of a single year, the tornado has wrought tremendous change.

The Internet at the Vortex

"Tornado" is a word used by marketing consultant Geoffrey A. Moore to describe what occurs in a marketplace when new high-technology products reach critical mass and the vast middle ground of potential users--the "bell" of the bell-shaped curve--begins to adopt products en masse.

Moore describes this phenomenon in a new book entitled Inside the Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley's Cutting Edge, (Harper Business, 1995). ". . . there comes a flash point of change," he writes, "when the entire marketplace, under the pressure of continually escalating disequilibrium in price/performance, shifts its allegiance from the old architecture to the new. This sequence of events unleashes a vortex of market demand pent-up demand is converted into a massive purchasing binge . . . companies grow at hypergrowth rates, with billions of dollars of revenue seeming to appear out of nowhere."

This year, the Internet and consumer online services like America Online were a classic example of the tornado Moore describes. After 10 years of being the domain of early-adopter information hounds, specialized analysts, and librarians, consumer online blossomed into the mainstream in 1995, fed by a critical mass of affordable, enabling technology, more usable interfaces, and a wave of media awareness.

Now, the latest Nielsen study pegs the number of active Internet users at 24 million. Netscape, a nine-month-old Internet company (co-founded by a 23-year-old kid) generating a couple of million in revenues this year alone, reached a market valuation of $3 billion-more than Delta Airlines.

Is the Internet hyped? Assuredly. But hysteria doesn't negate the fact that the Internet tornado will fundamentally remake the information space we have been in for a decade. We saw the tornado happen with facsimile machines, with photocopy machines, with word processing, and with e-mail. It is now happening with online services.

The New Information Ethos

The Internet's tradition of free information dovetails well with the advertising-supported model that is beginning to dominate the Internet. …