Magazine article Information Today

This Is BQ's Best of All Possible Worlds; Here's Some Advice on How to Survive the El Nino-Like Effects of the Net

Magazine article Information Today

This Is BQ's Best of All Possible Worlds; Here's Some Advice on How to Survive the El Nino-Like Effects of the Net

Article excerpt

April fool! Actually I am writing this column on April 1, while that madcap funster, El Nino, pesters and pelters un-sunny Southern California with--can you believe it?!--snow.

Not just the great Southwest suffers from El Nino's antic humor. Some 2 weeks ago, the cover of The New York Times Web version ran a picture of Central Park with bundled tots sledding in the snow. A week later, I spoke with a colleague from New York who complained about the sunburn he had gotten from a sortie into Central Park on the Friday following the snowy scene. That day, verified by The Weather Channel, the temperature in Central Park reached 84 degrees!

Fun's fun, Senor El Nino (the more respectful title allotted by California Department of Transportation workers), but we've got a world to run here. And humanity would appreciate it if you could please put a sock in it!

Actually, it's not so much the weather itself. Obviously some people live with snow and precipitation for months at a time. It's the unpredictability that drives you nuts. Deserts and semi-arid areas suffer through weeks of unrelenting precipitation. Frost belt locales enjoy unprecedented warm winters. Tornado warnings go out to communities where no one has ever even seen a basement except in a movie. (Do parking garages count?) Enough, already!! Uncertainty gives me a headache, and El Nino is a migraine maker big-time.

When you stop to think about it, the El Nino experience is a lot like what traditional information industry and publishing executives must feel when they I look at the Internet and its Web. (How's that for a whiplash segue? Why should I be the only one with a headache?)

The difference is that the meteorologists predict that the effects of El Nino will wane as the year continues and that someday the El Nino phenomenon will subside completely until the conditions that produce it recur. The Internet and its Web, however, will not go away. They will evolve, but always in an upward path--more users, more connections, more content, more features, more input, more output. The effects will vary, but the condition will not subside.

Just this morning, AT&T announced that it would follow the lead of America Online and up the price of unlimited access. "At last!" you can hear relieved traditional industry players murmur. "Someone finally realizes that You can't get or give something for nothing."

But look closer. The reason for the price increase stems from the massive usage that has slowed down the Internet. Ultimate solution? More Net structure. In fact, not only does every day bring new people onto the Net, but Netters already online have begun staying online longer. Why not? The money saved from Internet telephony alone could pay any increases and still leave fistfuls of currency to spare.

As faster linkages--cable, 56 K, ISDN, ASDL, etc.--come into use, people who expected to save time doing the same things will discover that the new speeds support whole new uses, like streaming video, that leave them online longer and longer. "A little more money for a lot more value," so sayeth the Net.

Leap of Faith

Traditional information industry players have missed a lot of turns in the road when it comes to the Internet and its Web. Most of the misses look rather ugly when viewed with 20/20 hindsight. Frankly, one finds it hard to explain how the online industry could have missed so many opportunities to get ahead--to lead the new wave of online. The early visionaries saw the world-shattering possibilities of online information. They tooted their horns for it. But few listened back in those early days. And after years of sweating and slaving to build footholds in niche markets, I guess they forgot their original beliefs that someday the whole world would go online. So when the world actually did go online, the pioneers were not only not at the helm, they missed the boat. …

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