March 17, 1997

The Last Word
The business approach to the Net's three C's
By Eric Lundquist

  Have we clicked through sufficient Web years to have passed the first Web decade? I think so. Last week's Internet World in Los Angeles was remarkable not so much for the gee-whiz breakthrough products of past shows as for variations on the three big C's of the Net: commerce, community and communications.

In the past couple of years, the most fun for me was to be amused by the products cooked up by Webheads trying to figure the best way to capitalize on Net protocols. Web sites, audio and video streams, Internet telephony, and avatar-inhabited worlds all carried the "what a great idea, and it sort of works some of the time" breathlessness.

Last week's show marked a more serious, businesslike approach to the business of trying to make a few bucks out of all those investment dollars that venture capitalists and Wall Street investors have poured in over the past couple of years. In part, the business approach comes from a recognition that currently, the main sources of spending on Web-related products are companies intent on transitioning from proprietary closed networks to the promised land of intranets and extranets and whatever other Net modifiers can be cooked up.

On the commerce side, you had AT&T; and Wells Fargo Bank championing a combo Web hosting and credit processing scheme to jump-start Web-based buying and selling. You also had Oracle going through a fervent pitch on why its Web application server overcomes all the limitations inherent in most Web transaction schemes. The Oracle pitch would have carried a bit more weight if the demo had worked.

Communications was characterized by a pileup of push products on the information highway. PointCast, BackWeb Technologies, Marimba and at least 10 other companies were all busy extolling the virtues of a Net transformed from a "don't come to us, we'll come to you all the time" model. Think there will be a winnowing of push vendors this year? You can bet your cyberbucks on that one.

Although there was less emphasis on the need to build community on the Web, it will have to take place before the other C's--communications and commerce--gain traction. The PointCasts and BackWebs must define why their communities are a better place to live. It is important to discuss how BackWeb is cool because it takes advantage of network downtime or Castanet is neat because the transmitter/tuner model holds the promise of scaling to millions of users, but they must demonstrate why their products are a better way for a user to experience the benefits of the Net.

That type of community brand building has been more the province of the Procter & Gambles of the world than the techies' data sheet approach.

It's odd to think that a Web decade and a turn to a more businesslike approach to the Web took place in a city built on Hollywood fantasy, but that was the case last week at the L.A. Convention Center.

Comments? Contact Eric Lundquist at

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