Discussion Questions 1. The origins of the Internet are unusual in the history of commercial media. What makes them unusual and what qualities does that impart to the medium? The Internet began as a national defense initiative and government ownership of the network prevented commercial activity until 1991. Another interesting aspect of Internet history is the degree to which academic researchers across the country, and soon the world, became involved in various developments. That may have been responsible for the early “anything goes” culture of the Internet.
The introduction of the first graphical browser was a watershed event, making the Internet accessible to the average computer user. The word “democratization” is often used to describe widespread adoption of the Internet. That brings, among other things, pressure for more control over content that some find offensive. That is one of the continuing tensions of the Internet.
If you want your students to understand the environment of the early Internet, it survives in the Cluetrain Manifesto. The manifesto and the first chapter of the book are available at http://www.cluetrain.com.
2. What do you believe are reasons for the highly visible failures of some of the early Internet enterprises? Do you see any parallels in more recent years? Are there any currently popular Internet sites that you think may not be sustainable? Some of it was the time; not as many people were on the Internet and few had broadband connections, so ecommerce had 2 strikes going in. Costs were a major issue; the sock puppet was great fun but didn’t warrant the cost of a Super Bowl ad. I think this and more boils down to unrealistic expectations. Internet businesses like Amazon that had a basically sound model and were willing to grow along with the market have prospered.
There are businesses in all spaces that fail. They were bad ideas in the first place, they were badly managed, or just plain bad luck or timing. Are there businesses that failed just because they were started on the Internet? If you can think of one, let me know.
On the other hand, there have been plenty of problems. Will Groupon make it in the face of competition, merchant displeasure and consumer coupon fatigue? Netflix had a business model that just didn’t work; subscription revenues that didn’t scale with costs. The more movies users rented, the more money they lost. Then they didn’t handle the transition to streaming well, either from a business or a PR perspective.