ZDNet UK: The rock and roll years

Ten years after ZDNet UK's launch, we've learned how much we have left to learn. Some things remain important, though, no matter what the medium

July 1996 saw the first posting on ZDNet UK. Other newborns that year included the Palm Pilot, Internet Explorer, eBay and the 200MHz Pentium. It was the year before mp3 and Bluetooth, the year after Amazon and MSN. It was also two years after Ziff Interchange, a long forgotten project that was intended for ZDNet's home online. That was old school — custom software dialling up servers closed off from the rest of the Net, paid access to content with complex content creation and billing software. It took many tens of millions of dollars and two years to develop — and by the time it was good to go, the Web was better. We never used it.

That was an early taste of the stakes required to play this game. In the past 10 years, we've experienced many of the thrills and uncertainties we've written about. The company's business model was primarily IT print magazines: an area we thought likely to be one of the first to succumb to the online onslaught. Our stablemates — the print magazines themselves — were less convinced. Yet we depended on them for content, and they on us for online presence. If we wrote with some feeling about the problems of turf wars and resource contention for new e-commerce projects, you now know why.

After 10 years online, there's ever more to learn. What we know now is that the online revolution has barely started. ZDNet UK — like many commercial online sites — still carries the DNA of the offline industry from which it grew. That was a one-way business: we wrote, you read. No longer: communities and user-generated content matter more each day, and not just to the media. No company can ignore the voice of its customers, nor dictate to them what they want.

We remain convinced that the forces which drove the Internet's success these past 10 years are those which have created the most interesting and innovative advances in IT as a whole — open systems, open standards, open access, open competition. All four are under attack by those who have failed to compete but seek to control; which is why the biggest and best successes have been by companies too small or too new to be tempted by that option.

The next 10 years will be even more exciting, providing those engines for growth aren't throttled back. There are battles to be fought with patents, intellectual property, government regulation and commercial pressures — very few of them about the reasons the combatants claim. We'd rather see products and services designed for and judged by the users, not lawyers, lobbyists and the jealous guardians of last year's ideas, even if it means throwing everything away and starting from scratch.

It worked for us.