The 1999 Wish-List

As the last needle falls off my dried-out Christmas tree, as I nosh on my last leftover turkey sandwich of the year, and as my Furby finally stops its insane chattering and goes to sleep my thoughts have turned away from the wild ride that was 1998 towards the great unknown of ’99.

Here’s my ‘net biz wish-list for the new year, a list of trends and events that I long to come true. Of course, as those of us in the West and Northeast who wished for a white Christmas found out, wishes can come true — with results that may not be what we had hoped for .

1. Industry-wide pricing standards. The other day, my fax machine coughed up an offer for “Free Web Sites and Domain Name Registration for [my] Company!” I don’t know how I got on this list. Obviously, this fax had been intercepted and forwarded to me by the ClickZ elves that help me write this column every week.

But it disturbed me: How many of my clients had received this? How can I get them to appreciate the value of what my company is giving them when offers like this come over the transom? I’ve spent literally months of my life writing cost proposals to bid on projects by price, when the real measure should be value and functionality.

Sure, competition is vital, and I don’t mind going toe-to-toe with anyone on comparable projects. But anyone who’s been a “customer” of government services knows that low-bid decisions can be low-quality decisions. Prices for web work are all over the landscape, and everyone gets hurt. The film industry has done a great job of taking the high ground — we should start getting paid fairly for the services we provide.

2. Better audience measurement. Prices on web media are all over the landscape, too. One site charges $100 CPM. Others charge $5 CPM. Some want to work sponsorship deals. Some pay for performance.

That’s all fine. But one of the reasons chaos reigns in media is because no one really knows who the audience is. Web CPMs should be universally higher than print CPMs because we’ve got the (theoretical) capability of actually measuring our audiences. We’ve got the ability to target. We’ve got the ability to deliver the right ad to the right person every time.

But measurement up until now (with some exceptions) has been a haphazard game of guesstimation, credibility-straining hokum, and apples-to-oranges comparisons. It’s starting to get better. And it’s a tough problem to balance measurement with privacy. But I can dream, can’t I?

3.Content (and other) sites that make money. As the New Year’s hangover wears off, Wall Street might start taking a cold sober look at overvalued ‘net stocks. Right now, we’re living the life of McCauley Caulkin — loads o’ cash, little responsibility, and absent parents looking over our collective shoulders. Stocks in companies who continue to loose money keep going higher against all common sense. This year might be the year that the bloom comes off the proverbial rose unless some serious green starts showing up. I wish profits for everyone.

4.Bandwidth for all. Nothing’s given me a rosier view of the future than my cable modem. All that bandwidth has really shown me that the ‘net can be an incredibly exciting and useful place. But for Mom and Pop pluggin’ away on their 28.8 clunker, that new computer might start gathering dust as soon as they get sick of waiting for graphics to load, multimedia to play, and Java applets to start running. Universal, inexpensive access to high bandwidth would change everything. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

5.Computers that work. Come on you hardware and software whizzes out there can’t we get some programs that don’t crash all the time, don’t take up 500 megabytes of my hard drive, and don’t repeat trips to Amazon.com for how-to manuals?

We’ve got lots and lots of cool gadgets now, but the average person confronted by operating systems that require uninstaller programs, registry editors, and fancy utilities to keep them limping along ain’t gonna keep coming back. Computers are still too unreliable — would you put up with a car that crashed every other day?

6. Multimedia standards. One of the best things that Netscape did was start distributing Shockwave with new versions of its browser. And Microsoft’s Active-X install technology is cool, too. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all design sites with multimedia standards in mind, knowing that the cool stuff we’re doing would be visible by all our customers? Java is a step in the right direction, but it’s got its problems. Let’s start jazzing up the web for all. One thing that could help is

7. The end of the browser war. While Microsoft and Netscape/AOL duke it out over whose standard is going to prevail, the rest of us who have to do everything two or three times to maintain compatibility are sick of the show. Grow up, adopt some standardization, and quit giving us features we don’t need. Does the world really need another variant of the MARQUEE tag in ’99? I don’t think so.

8. And while we’re at it, the breakup of Microsoft would be nice, too. Microsoft’s domination has very little to do with browsers and a heck of a lot to do with unfair tactics across the board and the crushing of competing (and often superior) technologies in the name of monopoly. I bet that Bill’s laughing all the way to Switzerland over the focus on Internet Explorer. That’s the least of the problems. And Netscape getting together with AOL really doesn’t strike to the heart of the issue. Bringing down Goliath would help everyone.

9. An industry-wide public service campaign to allay ‘net shoppers’ security fears. Over the holidays, my relatives were still expressing disbelief that I use my credit card online. My family’s weird, but they’re not too far out of the mainstream. A lot of folks have problems with shopping sites that have technical glitches, but a lot more of them are worried that their card is gonna be intercepted by some teen uber-hacker bent on getting porn for free. We need an industry-wide push to help put their fears to rest.

10. I heartily wish for sites that work. Who hasn’t been stymied by a shopping site that dumps their cart or crashes in mid-transaction? Who hasn’t been driven to the point of insanity trying to find a corporate phone number on a site? Who hasn’t wished that some numbskull would make a search engine that actually helps us search instead of giving us too many choices? Who isn’t sick of brochure sites that don’t help us making buying decisions? And who out there wouldn’t like to strangle the next company that thinks it’s cute to put MIDI background sounds into their sites?

I’m sure we’ve all encountered these problems. It’s time in ’99 to start producing sites that don’t crash, that give consumers interactive tools to help them through the process, that actually contain useful information, and that really help people make their lives better and more productive.

11. Finally, a happy and prosperous new year for all of us in the business. We’ve come a long way over the past year, and it’s been a wild ride. But next year looks good and I’m sure we’re in for another exciting time. I wish the best to all of you!

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