For several years now we've been told repeatedly that the number of Net users
is growing at breakneck pace.
Just a few months ago the wires were abuzz with the news that there were
over 200 million people who used the Net regularly -- but now it seems that
the wheels might be falling off the Internet trolley.
Latest reports out of the USA indicate that the Net audience is beginning to
shrink and that the amount of time people are spending on the Web is also
Research firm Cyberdialogue claim that some 30 million people in the
USA have stopped using the Internet, and the latest Nielsens/NetRatings report
shows that "at work" Net users have reduced their browsing time by 20 percent
with "at home" users spending 2.3 percent less time online.
So what's going on here? Why are people deserting the Net?
Could it be that the Internet is going to become the CB radio of the
early 21st century?
Anyone who can remember the 1970's is surely aware that CB radio was one of
the biggest crazes of that decade. Immortalised in movies like Smokey and
the Bandit, the popularity of CB radio soared to massive levels -- driven
by many of the same things which have made the Internet so popular today.
It was a low-cost form of communications that effectively thumbed its nose at
the regulators and allowed people to interact remotely, almost without
restriction. In fact, the similarity between Internet chat and CB radio
is so strong that many of the former "good buddies" who spent their days
chatting endlessly into a microphone are now hunched over keyboards doing
the same thing via IRC.
Of course the CB radio craze died out almost as quickly as it had begun when
users became disenchanted that the hype no longer matched the reality.
They were also lured away by the ready availability of
new alternatives such as cellphones, computers, and later on -- the Net itself.
Should we be worried that the Internet might be about to follow this same
boom and bust cycle?
I'm not predicting the end of the Internet as such. No matter what happens,
the Net will continue -- just as, even today, there are millions of CB radio
enthusiasts who can be heard echoing across the ether.
One still can't help but wonder however, whether the arrival of interactive
digital TV and other newer technologies might see a continued decline in
the popularity of the Internet (and the WWW in particular) as a place to hang out.
Ten-four good buddy?
The AFR Go All Retentive
The Australian Financial Review
is an excellent publication which provides some great content in its print
edition and used to do the same online.
I say "used to" because they've just made the same mistake that many other
online publishers have made before them -- they've decided to try and charge
for some of their online content.
Wake up boys!
If Microsoft couldn't squeeze money out of the Net this way via its
Slate site and our
own AFR equivalent, the NBR, had to admit defeat, what makes you think you
can do it?
As I've said many times before, to succeed on the Net you need to understand
the three key elements: the medium, the culture and the technology. It seems
as if the AFR has only got two out of three and doesn't have a clue about
the culture of the Net which says "if I can't get it for free here then I'll
just go somewhere else."
By the way -- did you realise that the
NBR has quietly started
slipping some of its content back online without making a big fuss about it?
Maybe the dollars won't flow bit it appears that a penny or two has dropped.
Aardvark Weekly, The First Edition
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