The World Wide Web Wins the Online Crown

The World Wide Web Wins
the Online Crown

March 1995

A year and a half ago, Delphi surprised the consumer online service industry by giving its customers access to the Internet. Delphi users could not only send and receive Internet e-mail but also use telnet, FTP, and gopher as far back as 1993.

The move was unusual for a number of reasons, not least of which was that, at the time, demand for Internet access was barely a blip on the radar screen. Delphi was aware they were taking a risk. They knew the Internet was uncharted and complicated-to-use and that by making it available they were inviting a potential sea of complaints from users who were bound to get lost or not be able to make things work.

How times have changed. Now the risk to online service providers is not being able to provide Internet services, specifically World Wide Web access, fast enough.

Prodigy, which for a long time was seen as one of the least innovative of the big online ventures, has succeeded in becoming the first major online service to give its users access to the World Wide Web with a graphical interface. Within two weeks of the service being made available, the company reported over 200,000 Prodigy users signed up for it.

CompuServe and America Online both claim to be “close” to providing the Web to their customers. And Delphi has given up trying to develop its own Web interface and has licensed Netscape’s Navigator and Netsite Commercial Server software.

Meanwhile PSI, the largest “pure” Internet service provider, has purchased The Pipeline as a prelude to launching a national mass market service which will take advantage of Pipeline’s critically acclaimed interface. Netcom, with approximately 80,000 Internet service subscribers, made a similar attempt to make the Internet easier to use with its homegrown Netcruiser interface.

Essentially what’s happened is that in response to overwhelming market demand, virtually everyone in the consumer online business has decided to become a World Wide Web access provider. The big commercial services realize they’ll never be able to compete either in quantity or quality with the Web’s prodigious capacity to create content. So rather than fight, they are switching their strategies. Their best hope is to hold onto their current customers and attract new ones by offering lower prices and better service. Nipping at their heels every step of the way will be legions of local Internet service providers with low overheads and high ambitions.

All this is good news for current and would-be Internet users as this scenario will tend to drive cost of service down and quality of service up.

This is also good news for people who are excited about the potential of the Internet as a marketing and communications channel. Currently 7% of US homes use online services, about 42% of all computer owners. Before the ascendance of the Web, in order to reach this fast and growing population you needed to make separate arrangements with each of the online services, and put up with their terms and technologies. A common deal was “you provide all the content and bring us your customers and we’ll give you 10% of the revenue generated by the people who visit your area on our closed network.”

Now any company or organization can afford to develop a presence on the world’s largest and, soon-to-be, most accessible computer network. And most importantly, they can do it in their own way without being taxed or held back by the limitations imposed by closed, proprietary systems.

The future of the Internet can be summed up in ten words: better service, lower prices, more content, more users, more opportunities.

– Ken McCarthy

P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

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