March 29, 1999
Glitzy Webbies paint only a partial picture of the Internet's future
San Francisco's politically and sartorially brilliant mayor, Willie Brown, was a fitting host for the third annual Webby Awards earlier this month, where what people wore often got more attention than the Web sites being honored.
But you could say the same thing about the Oscars, where who's wearing what, and who they're with, makes for more interesting conversation than which movie is going to sweep the awards this year. The point is, the Webby Awards made for a glamorous and entertaining evening that highlighted some of today's best and most popular Web sites.
The Webby Awards show that while the Web is going mainstream, the Internet technologies behind it -- IP, HTTP, HTML, XML, and Java -- are getting more invisible, even as they become more ubiquitous.
These trends point to a twofold future for the Internet. On one hand, there are high-profile, often high-budget public Web sites designed to entertain, inform, or just plain sell to an increasingly large mass of consumers.
This is the world of the Webby Awards, where popular sites such as Amazon.com, the Internet Movie Database, and Salon Magazine win awards year after year. The dominant mindset in this world is that of broadcasting -- creating content centrally and then delivering it to as many people as possible.
On the other hand, there are the Internet and Web technologies used by companies, their employees, and soon even their customers to facilitate communication and commerce. Such internetworking technologies aren't as high-profile or as glamorous as the Webby Award winners, but they will change the world more profoundly.
The two worlds couldn't be further apart. Web site producers, a.k.a. Webcasters, think like magazine publishers and television producers: Create a compelling online experience, use it to draw in as many viewers as possible, then make money by selling goods and services to those viewers or by selling their eyeballs to advertisers. The focus in this world is on flashy Web sites.
Internetworkers, by contrast, use Internet technologies to connect people, enable new ways of doing business, make existing processes more efficient, and in many cases to restructure their organizations, social groups, supply chains, distribution channels, jobs, and lifestyles. The primary focus for internetworkers is on Web applications.
Personalization technologies enable Webcasters to deliver content tailored to each viewer's preferences or past behavior and thus engage in one-to-one marketing. But the content production is still done on a mass scale, and the customization continues to happen within the confines of a discrete site.
Over time, Webcasters will become more like television producers, and their sites' visitors more like TV watchers -- especially as the Web and television converge.
Meanwhile, internetworkers will be reinventing their respective industries. Their applications may not appear on sites at all. In fact, the applications may not even be recognizable as part of the Web -- particularly when users start accessing them through cellular phones,watches, toasters, and cars.
Behind both worlds will be the universal connecting power of IP, HTTP, HTML, and other building blocks of the modern Web. The worlds built with those blocks, however, will be wildly different.
What Web worlds are you building? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dylan Tweney (email@example.com)
has been covering the Internet since 1993. He
edits InfoWorld's intranet and Internet-commerce
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