Has the Internet peaked?

Summary:Has the Internet revolution reached the end of the line?

Has the Internet peaked?

"OK," I hear you say, "he's gone off his rocker. Totally barmy. Barking mad. How can anybody in his right mind ...?"

Let's get this one straight right away: I am not saying the Internet will stop growing. I know the predictions; I've read the statistics. I think many of them are on target. The Web will continue to provide amazing opportunities and considerable growth.

So why, then, am I starting this rumpus in the first place? Because a notion hit me the other day, one that has nothing to do with the stock market slump of the dot-coms, either -- well, at least not directly.

It was just one of those little tidbits of information: lastminute.com, a company that offers special, last-minute deals on a great variety of goods and services, has decided to close its UK Web site for the Christmas season and will use a printed catalog to promote its deals instead. Ironic, isn't it?

Of course, that's just one isolated case of a dot-com taking a realistic look at the bottom line, but it ties in with other information that shows that the Web is not the universally hyped crowd pleaser it was a year ago.

Teachers report their students are getting bored with the Web. Print publishers are closing down their Web sites. Online content companies are producing print publications to increase their advertising revenues. All this looks a lot like realistic appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of a new medium, following the initial, unrealistic claims and expectations.

By now, we have a pretty good idea of what the Web is all about and what it can offer. We are also increasingly beginning to see its limitations and shortcomings. In one word, we are entering an era of realism.

For the past four or five years, the Web was regarded as a revolution, the best thing since sliced bread, the savior of humanity (well, maybe not quite); but anyway, something so far out that nobody really knew where it was going. And that was a big part of its attraction: Anything could happen.

But by now we know: There is a good chance that the Web will be the way it is today for a very long time (at least on an Internet time scale).

Don't get me started on broadband and how it is going to change everything: Research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests that because of the growing demand for bandwidth as well as the increasing data load transmitted over the Internet, we will live with bandwidth limitations for at least another 10 to 15 years.

If you've tried DSL or cable, you'll realize that it makes the current Web much more bearable than a dial-up connection -- it does NOT, however, suddenly turn your computer into an interactive TV set. It is not the promised revolution -- it just makes for a pleasant Web experience, period. There's certainly not enough here to spark a new revolution -- yet.

But technology is only part of the problem. We all know that it is much harder to change human behavior than it is to change technology. And on a usability level, the Web is evolving less and less. We are refining, of course, and Web sites are getting better -- but there will be no more quantum leaps here, either.

Why? Simple. By now, users have pretty much figured out what they want to use the Web for: information gathering; community services; some shopping (but by far not every kind of shopping); game playing; or a mixture of all of the above. We also have increasingly accepted the fact that for many things we do, the Web is not the best answer.

What we have to realize is that because of the very nature of the Internet, compelling new developments encompass the planet in a very short time. (Remember Napster?) By implication, this also means that whatever hasn't exploded on the market yet will probably take a long time to go significantly beyond its current levels of market adoption, at least in relative terms.

So will the Web go on developing? Sure -- and how! -- as an ever-growing worldwide population uses it. There will be plenty of interesting, worthwhile, even groundbreaking developments on the Web.

It's just that -- little by little -- the Web is becoming a mature market, and as such, it has different laws and logic than an emerging technology.

And, let's face it, we live in a consumer society. What if the market out there just was becoming a little bit bored with all that overhyped Internet excitement?

Let's look at it from the positive side: Now that we know what the Web is all about, we can start real development. As the era of mad experimentation nears the end of the line, it creates new opportunities for mature tools and services. And on that level, there's still a lot to be done.

As for the earth-shattering, headline-grabbing developments that break new ground for technology, there is lots of stuff yet to come -- just ask those guys who work on G3 telephone services, interactive television, and a few other things still percolating in the labs.

Andreas Pfeiffer is an industry analyst and editor in chief of the Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies. Has the Internet peaked?

"OK," I hear you say, "he's gone off his rocker. Totally barmy. Barking mad. How can anybody in his right mind ...?"

Let's get this one straight right away: I am not saying the Internet will stop growing. I know the predictions; I've read the statistics. I think many of them are on target. The Web will continue to provide amazing opportunities and considerable growth.

So why, then, am I starting this rumpus in the first place? Because a notion hit me the other day, one that has nothing to do with the stock market slump of the dot-coms, either -- well, at least not directly.

It was just one of those little tidbits of information: lastminute.com, a company that offers special, last-minute deals on a great variety of goods and services, has decided to close its UK Web site for the Christmas season and will use a printed catalog to promote its deals instead. Ironic, isn't it?

Of course, that's just one isolated case of a dot-com taking a realistic look at the bottom line, but it ties in with other information that shows that the Web is not the universally hyped crowd pleaser it was a year ago.

Teachers report their students are getting bored with the Web. Print publishers are closing down their Web sites. Online content companies are producing print publications to increase their advertising revenues. All this looks a lot like realistic appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of a new medium, following the initial, unrealistic claims and expectations.

By now, we have a pretty good idea of what the Web is all about and what it can offer. We are also increasingly beginning to see its limitations and shortcomings. In one word, we are entering an era of realism.

For the past four or five years, the Web was regarded as a revolution, the best thing since sliced bread, the savior of humanity (well, maybe not quite); but anyway, something so far out that nobody really knew where it was going. And that was a big part of its attraction: Anything could happen.

But by now we know: There is a good chance that the Web will be the way it is today for a very long time (at least on an Internet time scale).

Don't get me started on broadband and how it is going to change everything: Research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests that because of the growing demand for bandwidth as well as the increasing data load transmitted over the Internet, we will live with bandwidth limitations for at least another 10 to 15 years.

If you've tried DSL or cable, you'll realize that it makes the current Web much more bearable than a dial-up connection -- it does NOT, however, suddenly turn your computer into an interactive TV set. It is not the promised revolution -- it just makes for a pleasant Web experience, period. There's certainly not enough here to spark a new revolution -- yet.

But technology is only part of the problem. We all know that it is much harder to change human behavior than it is to change technology. And on a usability level, the Web is evolving less and less. We are refining, of course, and Web sites are getting better -- but there will be no more quantum leaps here, either.

Why? Simple. By now, users have pretty much figured out what they want to use the Web for: information gathering; community services; some shopping (but by far not every kind of shopping); game playing; or a mixture of all of the above. We also have increasingly accepted the fact that for many things we do, the Web is not the best answer.

What we have to realize is that because of the very nature of the Internet, compelling new developments encompass the planet in a very short time. (Remember Napster?) By implication, this also means that whatever hasn't exploded on the market yet will probably take a long time to go significantly beyond its current levels of market adoption, at least in relative terms.

So will the Web go on developing? Sure -- and how! -- as an ever-growing worldwide population uses it. There will be plenty of interesting, worthwhile, even groundbreaking developments on the Web.

It's just that -- little by little -- the Web is becoming a mature market, and as such, it has different laws and logic than an emerging technology.

And, let's face it, we live in a consumer society. What if the market out there just was becoming a little bit bored with all that overhyped Internet excitement?

Let's look at it from the positive side: Now that we know what the Web is all about, we can start real development. As the era of mad experimentation nears the end of the line, it creates new opportunities for mature tools and services. And on that level, there's still a lot to be done.

As for the earth-shattering, headline-grabbing developments that break new ground for technology, there is lots of stuff yet to come -- just ask those guys who work on G3 telephone services, interactive television, and a few other things still percolating in the labs.

Andreas Pfeiffer is an industry analyst and editor in chief of the Pfeiffer Report on Emerging Trends and Technologies.

Topics: Tech Industry

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