The World Wide Web Wins
the Online Crown
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
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
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
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.
More articles by Ken McCarthy ||
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