The Web And TV

The television set is not television programming. Television programming is visually dominated, mass market-oriented, pre-packaged, passive media. Web programming is text-dominated, mass- and niche-capable, open-ended, interactive media.

We view television for a performance. We interact with the web for information flow.

The web is like a library. The TV is like a stage. One can compliment the other.

Those who control TV and other rich media interests have consistently carried out propaganda campaigns against the web, claiming that because of bandwidth constraints, the web is an immature environment. We are constantly being promised that high bandwidth is just around the corner, and when it arrives it will transform the web and make everything so much better for all of us.

Let me tell you that this is a load of monumental crap.

The only reason the rich media brigade want more bandwidth is to sell more rich media. But they are missing the point entirely.

The web meets a set of needs that are much less dependent on rich media, than they are on having quality, well-structured, easy-to-find information. Amazon, eBay and Yahoo did not build their empires on rich media but rather on rich information. The vast majority of the best web properties focus on being useful, not being flash.

This is a very different business model from the mass marketing consumer one we know. As Esther Dyson has stated, it is based on giving attention, not getting attention.

No matter how much bandwidth we get, there will continue to be a need for an environment within which we can access information in an organized way. You see, people still buy books even though TV has been around for 50 years. They still read newspapers even though they could just watch the TV news. That’s because there is a significant set of information in the world that humans prefer to digest by reading.

As long as people want to ask questions, want to communicate and explore in their own way, there will be room for the web and email. In 10 years time, we will still have an environment — whether we call it the web or not — that is full of pages and pages of information, searchable through hyperlinks and search engines.

We will use this environment to hone our knowledge, to earn our income, to find out the best products and services to buy, to find out all sorts of things. We may access this environment through a 26-inch monitor we now call a television set or a 17-inch monitor we now call a computer, or a 3-inch monitor we now call a Palmtop — who cares?

Because rich media (and much of the computer industry) has so much money, they are able to corral the debate on the future of the web around bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. A much more important debate is being ignored. It has to do with information structure, structure, structure.

If the web is to fully embrace its promise, considerably more attention needs to be paid to how we plan a comprehensive information infrastructure for it. How do we create an environment where these millions of web sites and hundreds of millions of documents are organized in a logical and cohesive manner?

Right now, the web needs flash marketers and advertising executives like a hole in the head. It needs librarians and information specialists like never before.

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