Monday, August 13, 2001 11:36 am. Apropos of nothing in particular, I had a little insight this morning when I realized the whole pitiful dot com thing was about television! All those idiots were obviously convinced the web was going to be like TV, and were thinking “oh if I had only gotten in at the beginning of TV, I’d be a rich man today!” That was the fatal temptation.... (You heard it here last! ...) I saw a special a few days ago on some weird quasi public “Metro” channel here in Nueva York, and today I realized what it was about all those dot com entrepreneurs in the film — they were like advertising guys! Of course. And all the business models were going to make zillions with advertising — and no matter how much the web obviously differs from television, the temptation was just overwhelming. And I can sort of see it: after all, who understands why anybody makes money with television advertising? It’s always seemed ridiculous, but still the money is made. ... But not on the web....
The fact is, there are plenty of web sites that are obviously doing well — the electronic vendors I deal with from time to time, like Digikey and Jameco, for instance, or other gadget suppliers, like Musician’s Friend — because they have things to sell which we want to buy, and it’s much easier to do it on the web than any other way. But these people have been invisible in the dotcom boom and bust, because their business has nothing to do with advertising — and all the dot com worshippers knew so bad their teeth ached, that the big money was going to be in web advertising.... Only problem was, they were wrong.
An early indicator of this lunacy was the push phenomenon. For about 6 months, they were all yammering about how everything was going to be push this, push that. Civilians will remember the Microsoft tripe that arrived with all those channels you were going to sign-up for? That we always ignored and avoided, with some effort? Well that was the tattered remains of push: as far as I can tell — they were always oddly reticent about it, and life is short — in some magical way they would turn the internet into a tv/radio-like gadget where you’d subscribe to channels and happily consume the drivel there — and naturally, be helplessly influenced by the advertising! ... The whole thing collapsed, because of course people hadn’t the slightest interest in subscribing to these things, but that didn’t stop them, and they went on to the magnificent dotcom catastrophe awaiting them, eyes fixed firmly on the past....
Right right — that’s why, for the next act, portals were so important! If you couldn’t somehow herd them into channels, well you’d dupe them into going to a particular page when the machine lit up, and then of course they would all helplessly devour the precious tasty advertising awaiting them there! Oh yes it’s so clear now....
And then I realized the double whammy: advertising is mostly designed to influence those of lesser intellectual attainments. If for some reason you doubt this, just consider who is more likely to make their soft drink or automobile purchase-decision based on skimpily-clad young women.... There are occasional purely-informative exceptions, but by and large advertising is inherently intended to influence the easily-influenced.... But web advertising was pointed at exactly the wrong people: largely somewhat-geeky, relatively-intelligent early-adopters.
Which suggests that some day, when Gilderesque dreams of universal broad-band access bring the unwashed millions to the web — then in that glorious time, web advertising may actually work.... But not right now....
Once I had a dot-com;
Made it run.
IPO’d on time.
I had lots of options;
Now they’re gone.
Can you pare the prime?
— Rich Galen, www.mullings.com
sung of course to the tune Brother Can You Spare a Dime
And here’s a thought for today about the dot-com crash et al: what if all that stuff actually worked!? I mean the web is still noticeably broken; stops without warning, incredibly slow otherwise — even on fat pipes. This never got better, although all the dot-comers just assumed it would. If anything it got worse. Amazon.com makes money only because it’s still easier to buy a specific book there than in a mall bookstore (where it’s 50/50 the title will be in stock, at best). So when Mr. Average User goes on-line, he’s still subjected to incomprehensible delays and bugs. What if this stuff had worked the way it always does in the TV demos? People might well have surfed the web in the anticipated quantities, all that stupid advertising might’ve worked — and we’d all be rich!
Obiter dictim Tuesday, February 6, 2007: And eventually, they did make money in web advertising, didn’t they? The most successful is Google, totally advertising; they found something people wanted on the web — searching for other web sites! ... But still today, there is less money made than televsion, even as the latter media staggers into oblivion....