Maybe it's because I'm into my fourth week of sitting around with my broken leg up in the air. Maybe it's because I've actually managed to catch up on a lot of the industry rag reading that I've neglected for a long time. Maybe it's just because my painkillers are wearing off -- I can't put my finger on the exact reason but I'm cranky.
Dang cranky. Almost Andy Rooney cranky. And I must get a few things off my chest. Here are 10 things about the web media that have stuck in my voluminous craw:
Irritant 1: "DotCom"
Dot Com? Dot Com? Where did this phrase come from? Previously used as a way of indicating the period and the top-level domain designator at the end of a domain name, it has suddenly become a way of describing Internet-based businesses. "Oh, that's a dot com." "Did you see how the dot com stocks are going crazy?" "Have you gotten your dot com yet?" Arrgghhhhh!
Puh-leez, people this little bit o'e-jargon has done nothing but confuse people by meaning nothing and seemingly indicating "high tech" or something. Heck, Joe's Pizza n' HotWings down the street could get a domain name. Do they then become a "dot com?" Do we refer to companies with toll free numbers as "800s" (or "888s")? No! It's just another way of getting your message across or providing service, not some magic incantation.
Irritant 2: Stickiness
This one definitely needs head up the list in the "this is news?" column. Currently the white-hot, bleeding-edge buzzword in the web media world where portal-worship is edging closer to gaining tax-exempt status, "stickiness" indicates a portal's ability to keep visitors on the site and keep them coming back by offering every known e-service known to human kind.
That thing that used to be called a "search engine" is now a place for free email, horoscopes, breaking news, free web sites, e-commerce, babysitting, dog grooming, and virtual endoscopic examinations. Okay, I'm lying about the last three. But it won't be long now before YahooMaternity butts heads with YahooEmbalming, leading to true cradle-to-grave, never-leave stickiness.
Why does this irritate me? Because it's not a new concept! Back in the day, we used to talk about ways to keep people on a site and "keep 'em coming back." It's just obvious common sense. But now that it's a big buzzword, heck -- it probably just raised somebody's net worth a billion or so.
Irritant 3: Breathless re-discovery of old business practices
So I'm sitting around reading a back issue of Interactive Something or Other and come across a headline proclaiming: "ROI Becoming New Measure of Ad Campaign Success!!!!!" I nearly choked on my hospital-issue scrapple.
Using return on investment to measure success? What a concept! Imagine actually making money in the Net biz? Imagine actually using a real-word business principle as a measure of success? Somebody give these geniuses an economics Nobel!
In the real world I inhabit (we haven't gone public yet), stuff like profitability and ROI aren't obscure biz concepts -- they're a way of life. And you can bet that in a few years, the stock market probably is going to see the light. Kids, the flower's not off the vine yet. But we'd better shape up before it comes crashing off.
Irritant 4: Bandwidth/technology hype
If we are to believe the hype I've read lately, all of our customers have 500 MHz Pentium III machines with 256 megabyte 3-D cards and 21" flatscreen monitors jacked into the Internet via a cable modem, DSL, or T1 connection. They've all also downloaded the latest versions of all browsers and have accessorized said browsers with every hot plug-in on the web. These wonder machines never crash, are always on, and are upgraded every six months. Sounds like your customers, right?
Yeah. Right. In some tech-editor's wet-dreamworld, perhaps. I don't know about you, but we're still designing sites to work on IE 3.0 via AOL and LotusNotes. Most of our clients will let us get away with an Acrobat file or two, but generally anything beyond an animated GIF is out of the question. As far as I can tell, everyone's using maybe Pentium 90's with 15" monitors over 28.8 connections. Far from the hype, I'd say.
And close to reality. From the studies I've seen, modems will continue to be the dominant form of Net access until 2003 (Gartner Group). Jupiter claims that 40 million households will still be on modems by 2002 with a mere 19 percent using broadband. In 1999, only 8.8 percent of Net users will be cruising on cable modems. It ain't a rosy picture.
Pushing the high-end stuff is good for computer manufacturers, but not so good for those of us in the communications business. Let's not forget that a measurable proportion of the US population doesn't even have telephones. We're a ways from tech-vana.
Irritant 5: "Portalizing"
Portals here. Portals there. Everybody's got a portal these days. Intranets got 'em. Every user on the web's got 'em. Every niche marketeer is trying to create one for their niche. "Portals" were a good concept at first, but the word's been so overused that it has lost all semblance of meaning. Does everyone who shares their link list instantly publish a "portal?"
Some of us don't think so and some of us think the whole concept is dang funny. In fact, my buddy Gareth Branwyn (of Wired's Jargon Watch and StreetTech) has even gone as far as to create his own "vanity portal" about himself. (Now the question is how sticky is he?)
Irritant 6: Uncritical new biz model hype
One of the things that's really been cranking my rod has been the way that the web press rarely (if ever) criticizes anything, especially new business models cooked up (as far as we can tell) during late-night dorm room wacky-weed smoking sessions.
Priceline.com's a revolutionary idea, right? It even has a patent for its business model, right? Have they made any money yet? Do they have any real plan for making money yet? "Don't bother me, kid!" I hear them saying, "profit's such an analog concept!"
In fact, they're so forward-thinking that their prospectus even admits that they're selling tickets for less than their cost in order to "increase revenue." Whoah! There's a concept!
It'd be far less irritating if someone in the press actually called them on stuff like this rather than uncritically accepting "the bigger the loss, the better the idea" line all the time.
Irritant 7: Buzzword creation
If there's a word for it, it must be good, right?
Concepts that have run their useful course seem a lot more interesting once there's a new buzzword involved. It's not a newsletter, it's "permission email." It's not an interesting site you want to spend time it, it's a "sticky" site. It's not aggregating like content on your intranet, it's "portalizing" your site. Our sites don't strive for profits, they're "monetized."
As a wise sage once said, "Words are like sponges -- if you use them too often without wringing them out, they become soggy and moldy." They do a good job of excusing shallow thought, too.
Irritant 8: Short-term thinking
This could be lumped in with irritant number six. When was the last time anyone actually questioned the longevity or long-range viability of a new e-business? Sure, it might look like the coolest, hippest tech today, but who's gonna be using it (or variants of it) five years from now?
Does anyone care past the IPO? Does anyone remember push technology and web malls? They sure seemed like good ideas at the time, didn't they?
Irritant 9: Riding the big names
I am sick of reading about Amazon.com (I'm guilty of writing about it, too), the Go network, Yahoo, Infoseek, Lycos, US Web, DoubleClick, Sun, Netscape, and Microsoft. I can't believe in a world of millions of web sites and uncounted web companies, these are the only companies doing anything interesting out there. In fact, I know they're not.
As UberGeek of Cool Tool of the Day, I get to review thousands of pieces of software every year. And there's tons and tons (and tons) of mega-cool software and ideas out there (just go to Haptek's Web Site if you don't believe me).
Most of them never see the light of day because they can't afford expensive flacks. Unfortunately, the rip-n-read school of fast web journalism often frowns on actually doing research into the fringes of the Net, and that's too bad for all of us.
Irritant 10: Aren't those web companies wacky?
Finally, do you really want to read yet another article about how those wacky web companies do nifty things with their crazy employees? About how they work all night long existing on Jolt cola, pizza, and stock options? Do you really care how many pinball machines and dented Ms. Pac-Man machines they've got stashed in the boardroom? And does it matter that the CEO is 25?
Earth-to-writers: that was news four years ago. Today, it's just doing business. Get over it.
Thank you for listening. My soul is unburdened. Now where did I leave that copy of Inter@ctive Week?
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Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.
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