By Jordan Gold, UniNews online Web
I'm getting old. I've been doing this web thing for 34 years, since August of 1994. For those of you not dealing with the Internet on a full-time basis, I'm aging twelve times faster than you are. Things change so fast on the web that it's very hard to keep up. That's why one month in the real world is equal to one year on the Internet. Web years, I call them.
Remember way back in '94? Mosaic was the overwhelming web browser of choice, there were very few commerce sites on the Net, (one of them was UniForum's) and Gopher was still popular. GNN was the number one web site and almost no major corporation had a site. Most of the hot debate online centered around whether or not the web should support online commerce. The Internet should not be commercialized, many cried indignantly.
Browser wars were just beginning, and a host of browser companies were lined up to do battle. Companies that did web development were just starting to arrive on the scene. Converting text to HTML was laborious, with few tools on the market. Internet World in San Jose in May had about 50 exhibitors and a few thousand attendees. There was no Java or Shockwave, Explorer or Netscape. Mark Andreesen was recruited to California by Jim Clark to form a company known as Mosaic Communications (later Netscape). Microsoft had just noticed that the Internet existed. Internet World magazine began publishing late in 1994, the first Internet magazine. And there were few books about the Internet.
Just like the real world is MUCH different today than in 1963, the online world is MUCH different today than it was 34 web years ago in August, 1994. Books are a great example. While there were almost none about the Internet in 1994, today there are hundreds of titles dominating the computer section of your local bookstore. The computer publishing division of my company, for example, has published more than 50 books about Java alone!
When things change so fast online, it's very difficult for those of us immersed in this on a daily basis to keep up. There's no time to come up for air. We have to redesign our web sites every six months or so to keep them from getting stale. We're always on the lookout for that hot new development tool that will help us gain precious productivity so that we may accomplish more each day. However, with things changing all the time, many of us are probably so overwhelmed that we do nothing, always waiting for that new technology to come along. Some sites fall victim to that feeling of helplessness and themselves NEVER get updated.
Decision-making at Web Speed
To run a business effectively, however, you have to make decisions. For example, last year, when we needed a commerce solution for our web site, we looked at all the products available for the web at the time and made what we considered the best choice at the time - Netscape. We knew that newer technology was coming at some point from other vendors, but we couldn't wait. We knew that Microsoft would be offering a compelling solution, but we couldn't wait. So, we made the best choice at the time. If we were building a website today, we'd use the same criteria to choose a software solution. Twelve web years later, however, a lot of things have changed. Netscape may or may not be the best choice available today. I'm not sure what we would be choosing today. But I know we made the best choice at the time.
Making decisions in a fast moving environment is very risky. You have to accept that you might not always be right. For example, I ALMOST signed a deal with a technology company that went bankrupt while I was negotiating with them. If it wasn't for our corporate legal system, which invariably slows down all deals, I would have signed with that company and wasted tens of thousands of dollars. But who knew at the time? The technology was very impressive and the company looked very promising. I wasn't betting my entire business on this decision, but I was risking a lot of company money on it. Today, I still need a technology solution for this particular problem.
Once burned, I found that when I was looking for a reservations system for our travel site (Arthur Frommer's Encyclopedia of Travel, www.frommers.com), I was much more conservative. After evaluating all of the solutions, I went with the market leader, Travelocity. There might be other reservations systems that would offer us a viable solution, but Travelocity is powered by Sabre, the world leader in travel reservations. They aren't going out of business!
I doubt that I will continue to be conservative in making technology decisions, especially on low-priced, high impact solutions. However, the higher profile and higher priced a decision is, the more conservative I'll be in making that decision. That's just human nature, after all.
See Ya Next Year!
I'll be writing another column next web year, in July, 1997. Feel free to send me email before then with comments and suggestions. Until then, Happy New Web Year! Don't celebrate too hard on June 30. With only 30 days in a year, a hangover can last a long time!
Jordan Gold is Vice President and Publisher of Macmillan Online, a division of Simon and Schuster/Viacom. His worldwide web site can be viewed at http://www.mcp.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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