Well, I could make this very simple and admit the truth right up front:
No one knows what tomorrow will bring for the Web, let alone next month or next year. That's not
entirely true: If there's one thing that is certain about the future, it's that the Web then
won't be the Web now.
A couple of trends are worth watching in the coming months:
Web publishing will expand
A 1996 survey by Donald Middleburg and Steven Ross found that 77 percent of daily newspaper
and magazine editors already have or plan to have online editions. While a few Web publications
already have folded, hundreds more are rushing onto the Web.
With the presentation of the first
Clio award to an advertising Web site (L'eggs) and the
increasing numbers of Web users, advertising and public relations practitioners are also
moving onto the Web in greater numbers. (Doesn't it seem like every television commercial now
includes a Web site address?) Many companies use their sites to provide real-time information
to customers (FedEx is one of the best in this regard)
and, not coincidentally, to gather information about those customers in the process. Companies
with products and services to sell are not only setting up their own sites, but also are
buying space on other sites, too a business expected to boom in the next five years.
Web publishing will expand in another way, too. Corporate Intranets computer communication
and information systems closed to the public work almost exactly as the Web works. Every one
of the U.S. Fortune 1000 companies was expected to have an Intranet by the end of 1996, according to
market research firm Dataquest; more than half of all large corporations are expected to have
Intranets by the end of 1998, according to a Gartner Group report.
The Web will collapse
Some people don't disagree that activity will increase on the Web, but they see that as a
threat rather than a promise. InfoWorld magazine columnist Bob Metcalfe has predicted for some
time that the increasing traffic on the Internet will lead to a catastrophic meltdown. And even
Wired magazine, the head cheerleader for the 'Net, ran a piece in early 1996 predicting "The
Great Web Wipeout." The article foresaw an early 1997 scenario in which
... publishers of the largest Web sites are drowning in a sea
of red ink.... Advertising and media analysts predict that by July more than 300 out of an
estimated 500 commercial providers of original content on the Web including virtually
all of the large, high-profile sites will disappear or radically scale
back their operations.
Indeed, 1997 saw a shakeout for many in the Web business. In
February, for example, the Microsoft Network announced plans
to cut 30 to 40 percent of its temporary workers. And in August 1997,
of Newslink reported that more than 100 newspapers had pulled the plug
on their Web sites; among them were some of the earliest sites established
on the Web. But taking their place were hundreds of new Web sites
run by other newspapers,
and many other media companies were also heading to the Web.
CBS, for example, announced plans to spend $100 million on CBS SportsLine,
and other major media players were looking to make substantial investments on the Web.
Just a year after the "Wipeout" article,
... a presence on the Web isn't just a nifty marketing ploy, it's
crucial to any 21st Century media strategy.... Consider the wipeout
Television and the Web will converge
It doesn't take a crystal ball to see this coming. Consumer electronics houses and other
retailers began offering Web TV in late 1996. The box plugs into a phone line and a television
and lets you surf the Web and send email, all from the luxury of their La-Z-Boy recliners
with a wireless remote. At $400, the device is far less expensive than the average PC but
far less useful, too: Users cannot save or print anything they find online. Reviews have been mixed, but some online forecasters
predict that WebTV and similar offerings will attract many new users to the Internet. The purchase of Web TV by Microsoft in early
1997 was particularly ominous.
Other signs of convergence have been around even longer. For instance:
and C|Net. Are they television networks or Web sites
or two, two, two media in one? People involved in such convergent sites need to be able to
adapt to new tasks and challenges.
Web users will take more control of selecting information
With millions of pages of information on the Web, Web users are becoming their own editors,
preferring to receive personalized news each day ("The Daily Me" is what Web insiders call it)
rather than prepackaged news and information. Dozens of newspapers and other services offer
many variation of "The Daily Me." Some examples:
- Pointcast, a free service, lets users pick areas
of interest, then delivers stories either via a news "ticker" on the bottom of your computer
monitor or, when the computer is idle, as a full-size "screen saver." It offers good service
in delivering breaking news, sports and stock quotes.
- A growing list of other services deliver more specialized information than PointCast. Most of the services, such as
NewsPage Direct, charge for delivery of daily news reports on topics of
a user's choice. But a new entrant, NewsTracker, offers links to articles from 300 Web publications for free.
- The RealAudio Timecast Web site takes custom news into the realm of mutlimedia by letting users select a custom daily playlist of audio from daily news and
information sources around the Internet. Users then can listen to the news while doing other things, rather than being forced to read the news on their computer screens.
But none of these services can do what a good editor can do: Find the quirky, offbeat and
important stories and information that don't quite fit into a set of search terms but which
have great appeal for the reader. That ability comes from establishing an intimate knowledge
of your readers. That's not to say that the services are not coming closer to acting as editors:
Excite's Live, for example, lets subscribers "teach" the
system what they like, by telling it, "Yes, I liked that story; send me more like it."
Push will replace pull
With more than 150 million pages on the Web, it becomes harder and harder for users to find information they need and want,
even with the help of the most sophisticated search engines. It's no wonder, then, that many Web
producers are turning from trying to "pull" visitors to their sites and instead are "pushing" content to interested people.
New browsers, such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape's Communicator (aka 4.0), are integrating push technologies
such as PointCast, thereby blurring the line between push and pull.
In addition, some Web producers are delivering Web pages directly to readers via email. The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal and USA Today are among those using Netscape's
In-Box-Direct to "push" content to readers. This type of "webcasting" looks like one of the most active areas for Web producers in
the coming year.
Higher bandwidth will extend the possibilities
But Web sites' use of high-quality audio, video, virtual reality and games has so far been
limited by the speed at which information can be transmitted over phone lines. Fortunately,
that's changing. Until recently, the highest speed at which phone lines could reliably deliver
date was 28,800 bits per second (bps) a tiny fraction of the T1 lines that move data at more than
1 million bits per second in many corporate and educational setting. Now, however, it
seems that 'Net users get another option for higher speed almost daily:
- U.S. Robotics, a leading manufacturer of modems, is working with several
Internet service providers (ISPs) to offer its X2 technology, which allows data to be sent and received at up to 56,000 bps.
Modem chipmaker Rockwell-Lucent has developed a competing 56,000 bps standard, one which is not, of course, compatible
with the U.S. Robotics specification. While the higher speed is welcome news, the competing standards may keep
consumers from upgrading their modems, at least until the dust settles.
- Many regional phone companies now offer ISDN lines, which can carry conversations and
data simultaneously, or can move data at up to 128,000 bps but at costs of $30 to $200
per month. ANother new offering is DSL, which zip data through at more than 7 megabits per second.
- You've no doubt seen the miniature satellite television dishes. Now you can get one that
hooks up to your computer. With DirecPC, Internet users use regular phone lines to request
Web documents, but the documents come blasting back in via satellite at
400,000 bps. Downside: a price of several hundreds of dollars for the
dish and at least $15.95 a month for service, on top of an ISP.
- Cable modems have generated much of the hoopla for high-bandwidth transmission. While early users haev been excited
by the blazing speed of cable connections, technical limits make
it look as if it will be some time before widespread two-way Internet access over cable becomes a reality.
What does this all mean for editors? With an increasing group of tools at
your disposal and the prospects of increased bandwidth, your imagination may well be the only
limit you have in designing Web sites in the years ahead. As Barry Diller, former
head of Fox and QVC and now chairman of Silver King Communications, has put it,
"Those who are willing to play in [the new media], on its own wildly unique terms ...
will have a great and joyous time being present at the creation."