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three internet myths

Dispelling Internet Myths through actual observation and measurement (written 1998)

The Internet can be supported through advertising- Practically every day our venture capital firm receives a business plan predicated on advertising revenue for success. Give away  computers? Make it up in advertising. Free e-mail and web hosting? Advertisers will drool over your targeted mailing list. But advertising supported services have rarely subsidized a business at a rate greater than 30 cents per person per hour. So, an individual incurring only $1000/year in web costs might cover their expenses with a user base of 100 visitors - provided each spends a few minutes every day surfing their content. A larger site, burning ten million dollars a year needs a million active users each day, or they will never emerge from debt. With only 50 million users on line, how many large sites can survive?. And the middle is squeezed even tighter from both ends..... (These slides are from my March 1999 keynote address at the Advertising Research Foundation entitled "Advertising the Future"). [Note added in 2006- these numbers are still about right. All that has changed is the number of internet users, and the hours they spend on-line. Fortunately, with free-user supplied content, internet access paid for by the web surfer, and cheap computing, many sites can lower their costs far enought to match their advertising income].

The pace of civilization is spiraling out of control- Well, this one is partially true. Everyday, people are assaulted by a rising tide of  messages- whether e-mail, TV shows, advertisements, faxes, or other interruptions. But how fast are these seductive bits of distraction growing? A reasonable estimate, shown in this figure, is the number of messages grows by about a factor of 10 per century. Remarkably, this growth is relatively constant, but of course shifts from telegraphy to telephony, from letters to e-mail. Since our time is fixed and numbered, a 10x growth implies each message demands, on average, 10 times less attention. So its no wonder the art of letter writing and long afternoon strolls  languishes in the past. Perhaps there is a small comfort to realize the 10x growth rate is neither a recent phenomena, nor too fast for society to hope for an uneasy truce.

Better User Interfaces, like browsers, unleashed today´s exponential Internet growth from a techie to a mass market- Patently false. As the enclosed graph illustrates, the number of host computers on the net has been growing at a constant rate since the mid 70´s. The net itself has evolved from DarpaNet to Bitnet to UUCP to the Internet (as seen in each sub-curve that rises and then falls), but as one service is subsumed, the next continues its relentless beat. Netscape, in 1994, had no discernible effect on the growth of the Internet. What did happen in 1994 was the number of users crossed a million. Which meant either you, or someone you knew, was on-line. Had the WWW and browser not been invented, AOL and Compuserve would have become even bigger- serving the same user needs for information, communication and curiosity in a different, more proprietary way.

Contact Greg Blonder by email here - Modified Genuine Ideas, LLC.