Magazine article Information Today

Consumer Online Hype and Hoopla; Happenings at the Interactive Service Association's 10th Annual Conference

Magazine article Information Today

Consumer Online Hype and Hoopla; Happenings at the Interactive Service Association's 10th Annual Conference

Article excerpt

If you were an information professional in Boston in mid-July, you weren't alone. Hundreds of other information industry types were in town attending the Interactive Service Association's 10th Annual Conference and Alliance Expo at the Marriott Copley Place. Had you made the trip hoping to hear something you hadn't heard at other consumer online exhibitions this year, you would have been disappointed. In an environment that is supposedly changing at warp speed, what was presented - at least in the panel sessions - could not be described as fresh.

"The Great Online Debate," the showcase event on the final day, had all of the surprise and spontaneity of a Saturday morning TV wrestling match. We've seen it all before, and this particular scene is beginning to get tiresome. You know the plot. Russ Siegelman, general manager of the Microsoft Network (and confirmed industry lightning rod), was verbally assaulted by a tag team of senior executives from the "Big Three" consumer online services. Siegelman countered with innocent surprise at suggestions of unfair advantage and restraint of trade on the part of Microsoft. Gosh golly, why are you so afraid of us? There are more people with telephones than operating systems in this country, suggested Siegelman, attempting to resuscitate old fears about the regional Bell operating companies. But Microsoft, with its huge penetration of the world's desktops, has become "the dial tone of the digital age," warned Steve Case, president of America Online. All we're asking for is "a level playing field," added Robert Massey, the recently appointed president of CompuServe.

The fact is, they all may be worried about the wrong playing field. The other black cloud on the horizon for established consumer online services, specifically, the Internet's World Wide Web, was largely ignored in this particular session. It was, however, the subject of at least a portion of the Opening Plenary session, which was subtitled "The Hoopla, Hype, and Reality." Opinions of the speakers on this panel varied widely on the subject of what role the Internet will play in consumer online activities. Charles Brumback, chairman of the Tribune Company, felt that the opportunity will be "all incremental" and that "online services will continue to prosper." Brumback described the market at this point as a "limitless pie." Limitless is a word that might also be used to describe what his presentation budget must be. His audiovisuals were spectacular.

Walter Rickard, chairman of NYNEX Entertainment and Information Services, had a different view. He speculated that there will be "a structural change in the industry" and that the new "navigation structure" will be based on home pages versus large collections of resources assembled under a proprietary interface (read Big Three). Rickard also had an impressive array of audiovisuals. It's good to be chairman.

Surf's Up!

If you have visited some of the more interesting home page sites recently, you can't help but ponder the future role of aggregators. If you want today's national news, try http://www.usatoday.com. Weather? Visit the National Weather Service at http://www.nnic.noaa.gov. Detailed sports can be found at http://ESPNET.SportsZone.com. How about this hour's news from Canada? Check out http://www.radio.cbc.ca. Or locate a Civil War photo for your daughter's school project from a wonderful Mathew Brady collection at http:// lcweb2. …

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