Tag Archives: Vin Crosbie

Personalize Media 2011 Keynote Speech

[34-minute PowerPoint video of keynote speech opening the fifth annual Personalize MEdia Conference (formerly Individuated Media conferences), Boulder, Colorado. June 20, 2011. How traditional media companies have gone astray by misperceiving consumers’ switch from analog to digital formats to be the greatest trend underway; why the abundance of content instead makes personalization (i.e., individuation) the greatest trend of 21st Century media; and what the media industries need do about it.  All images public domain. If otherwise, please contact vin@digitaldeliverance.com.]

••• ••• ••• •••

Welcome. My name is Crosbie.  Vin, as in Vincent, Crosbie. Welcome to Boulder! And Welcome to Personalize Media 2011! Welcome to the Chautauqua Center.

I’m glad the conference organizers decided to hold this meeting here at Chautuaqua. It’s is a wonderfully symbolic location for this conference. Behind the projection screen, on the wall of this hall, is a photo showing the first Chautauqua meetings ever held here. The year was in 1898. Everyone here was living in tents. Canvas tents. Back then, it wasn’t the high-tech Boulder you see outside the windows today, but a pioneering group, meeting to discuss what would become.

We’re figuratively those pioneers today. Thanks for asking me to keynote the conference. I’m going to start this conference with a very bold statement. A bold statement I’ll then justify. Personalization (individuation) is the major media trend of the 21st Century.

Some executives think these are dark times for media. Well, in case there are any historians in the audience: that’s like saying the Enlightenment was a dark time for the Feudal system.

If your business today dates from the Industrial Era – in other words, if your business is Mass Media—media based upon the practices that arose from the technological limitations of the analog press or analog transmitter—media in which all readers receives the same edition at once or all listeners or viewers see the same broadcast at once – then these are dark times indeed. The era of Mass Media’s feudal primacy is over. Something new and enlightened has replaced it.

Most media executives, schooled in Mass Media, don’t really understand what has happened

I’ll start explaining what’s happened by telling you about my own industry: the daily newspaper industry. The daily newspaper industry is among the oldest and most hallowed of media industries.

I’m here to tell you how lack of personalization, the lack of individuation, is destroying that industry in every one of the world’s post-industrial countries. In every country where people’s access and choice of media is no longer relatively scarce, but abundant.

Here in the U.S., the daily newspaper industry earned revenues of nearly $49 billion in Year 2000…. Ten years later, last year, that same industry earned only $25.2 billion. The U.S. daily newspaper industry has lost almost 50 percent of its revenues during the past ten years.

Some newspaper executives like to blame the 2007 recession for the loss. However, the facts are that less than half of that loss occurred during the recession. Most of that loss happened during the non-recession years, the years before and after the recession. An industry over 200 years old in this country has lost approximately half of its revenues during the past ten years.  Why?

I’ll tell you why: The reason is that newspapers and other media industries got caught in a conceptual trap—a conceptual trap into which most media executives fell as they tried to understand the greatest change in media history.

Most major languages have an adage about the conceptual trap into which most media executives have fallen: L’arbre qui cache la forêt. Los árboles no dejan ver el bosque. Er sieht den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht. ИЗ-ЗА ДЕРЕВЬЕВ ЛЕСА НЕ ВИДНО. Μπορεί να δει το δέντρο και όχι το δάσος. 见树不见林. 木を見て森を見ず. Because I speak English, the version I use is, they don’t see the forest for the trees.

Most media executives today mistakenly believe that the greatest change underway is that people are simply switching media consumption from analog to digital formats. These executive misperceive a trait or characteristic as the change itself.

They see the trees, but not the larger perspective. And their myopia has led of them to formulate the wrong strategies for adapting to the gargantuan changes underway in media.

Because most media executives misperceive the change underway to be that consumers are simply switching from analog to digital, these executives believe that what their companies must do to adapt is simply do in digital what they’ve always done in analog.

The executives believe that all their companies need to to is use the same business models, the same production practices, the same packaging, the same products, and the same content in digital as they’ve always used in analog — albeit with the addition of some hyperlinks, audio, video, and animation, and publicized via Social Media.

That’s the root of their not seeing the forest for the trees problem. (It’s about as apt a strategy as putting the Olsen Twins in the deep woods.)

Unfortunately, any strategy based upon a misperception will not only fail to yield successful results but will fail to explain why successful results aren’t yielded.

So, it’s not surprising that these media executives are mystified why the digital versions of their traditional newspaper and magazine editions and traditional broadcast programs aren’t earning anywhere near as much revenue online than those traditional products did in print—even in the cases when the digital products have more monthly users.

Moreover, these executives can’t explain why the average user of the digital version uses it much less frequently and less thoroughly than the average user of the analog version does.

Such are the captains of most media companies today: mis-navigating their companies through stormy times; captains of business who, misperceiving the great change in the media environment to be that consumers are simply switching consumption from analog to digital, hold true to the wrong course. They are myopic navigators leading media industries into financial ruin, layoffs, and catastrophe.

While they’re fishing for answers, wondering why their business as usual doesn’t work in digital – or New Media at all – we’re here. We know the answers. That’s why we are attending the fifth annual international Personalize MEdia Conference because we understand what’s really happening. We can see the forest for the trees.

We understand the greatest change in the history of media. We know that it’s not merely a change from analog to digital. We know that the greatest change is really that within only a generation people’s access and choice of news, entertainment, and information has changed from relative scarcity to surplus, even to surfeit or overload.

Look at how things were 40, 30, 20, or even ten years ago in post-industrial countries. News, entertainment, and information used to be relatively scarce. For examples, billions of people worldwide who wanted access to daily changing information had perhaps just one or two or three locally-distributed printed newspapers, plus one, two, or three television channels and a dozen or two radio stations within antenna range.

But all that has changed. Today, we’ve certainly a surplus of news, entertainment, and information. In fact, the main problem nowadays is overload. We’ve got a vast buffet or cornucopia. The problem is picking the exact items we want. And that’s the beauty of it. The exact items we want.

Yes, it’s true that people are switching consumption from analog to digital formats. But that’s not for format’s sake. They’re switching because digital technologies provide them with more choices and access to the news, entertainment, and information that specifically fits their individual mix of needs & interests. It isn’t the format they’re after, but its greater access and enormous choice of specific content.

The fact is that each of us is different. Each of us is an individual. Sure, we might share a few common interests: the weather, for instance. But that’s about it for common general-interests. Each of us, each of you, have dozens, hundreds, of specific interests. Each of us is a unique mix of those interests. And each of us gravitates to whatever content satisfies our own unique mix of individual interests.

Let me put it this way to you: Imagine that during most of your life you had no choice of what you ate. It varied daily, but it was exactly the same meal that everyone else in town ate that day.  What would you do if that situation changed and you instead had your choice of specific items from a gargantuan buffet? Would you continue to eat the communal, general-interest meal each day? No! You’d use the gargantuan buffet and satisfy your individual interests.

Indeed, that’s exactly why billions of people now use search engines daily. Nowadays, billions of people are manually personalizing, customizing, or individuating. They are finding the stories, videos, or other items of content that specifically match their own individual interests. They’re hunting and gathering all that themselves.

As Peter Horrocks, director of World Services for the British Broadcasting Corporation, recently said: “The consequence of this change in users’ consumption has only dimly been understood by the majority of journalists. Most of the major news organizations had the assumption that their news product provided the complete set of news requirements for their users. But in an internet world, users see the total information set available on the web as their ‘news universe’. I might like BBC for video news, the Telegraph or Daily Mail for sports results and The New York Times for international news…”.

People no longer consume generic packages. For example, take a look at these data from Nielsen about U.S. newspaper websites. The first assignment I give my graduate students is to tell me what remarkable about it. Students trained in traditional media, in Mass Media, tell me the answer is the huge number of people who use these websites.

However, the smart students point to the other data. For example, did you know that the average user of the The New York Times’ website visits it only 4.05 times per month; sees less than 27 webpages (which probably means less than 20 stories, because that site stretches most stories over more than one webpage); and spend an aggregate total of less than 20 minutes on the site all month. That‘s a visit only about once per week!

Unpersonalized, uncustomized, unindividuated content is used far less frequently and far less thoroughly online. People use New Media radically differently than they used traditional media.

And that radical difference is personalization, customization, individuation.

Another example, at the National Association of Broadcasters conference this April, Edison Research and Arbitron released a survey of American adults who use online radio. Fifty-three percent of those people knew of Pandora radio, which broadcasts personalized music. A quarter of all online radio listeners had used Pandora. One sixth had used it that month. One in ten people had listened to Pandora that week.

There are more than 6,000 radio stations webcasting in the United States, but one sixth of all online radio listeners listen to Pandora. I dare you to show me a traditional broadcaster or traditional print media site that one in ten of all people online use monthly. The most spectacular success in online broadcasting is personalized, customized, individuated. Pandora also is one of the most successful apps on smartphones and tablets.  And personalized, customized, individuated broadcasts such as Pandora and Last.fm are now having a radical effect on the radio industry.

This year, Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,000 radio stations in the United States, more than any other company, announced that it will launched personalized, customized, individuated versions of its stations online.

Movies watched at home provide another example. Netflix is now the world’s largest distributor of videos. Is that because it has no stores? Is it because Netflix lets you rent a video for as much time as you want? No! It’s because of choice and personalization. Netflix gives each of its customer choice and access to tens of thousands of movies, enough to satisfy anybody’s unique mix of individual interests and tastes. Netflix wouldn’t be the world’s leader if it offered only the number of videos titles you could fit into a storefront.

Neither would Amazon be the leading bookseller.

In traditional media, Mass Media — in other words, Industrial Era media – every users sees exactly the same things at the same time as every other users. So, Is Facebook a Mass Medium? With more than 560 million users, it certainly has mass scale. Yet every user of Facebook sees something different than every other user of Facebook. What they see depends upon the user’s own individual mix of friends and interests. It’s not Mass Media, it is Individuated Media.

And that’s the point of my keynote today. We are right. People want Individuated media. Not Mass Media. Mass Media, and the practices and business models associated with it, were based upon scarcity, not surplus or abundance. Nothing wrong with that during its era. But that era ended at the end of the past century. What we’re clearly seeing nowadays, in the 21st Century, is the rise of Individuated Media (what we’re at this conference calling Personalized Media)

We know that the ramifications of billions of people having virtually instant access to all the world’s information are gargantuan, far greater than Gutenberg’s invention of moveable printing type or Marconi ’s and Tesla’s invention of broadcasting, and will affect not only the media industries, but every other realm of commerce, culture, politics, society, and civilization. But the fact that billions of people want a personalized, customized, individualized selection of content has gargantuan ramifications for the media industries.

First, hunting & gathering are primitive ways to acquire things–be those things food and shelter or news, entertainment, and information. There are huge business opportunities for media companies here. Facebook knows that, which is why it allows its users to automate feeds of news, entertainment, and information into users’ Facebook experiences.

The media industries need to adopt production practices and technologies that deliver to each individual the personalized, customized, individuated news, entertainment, and other information (including advertising and other product & service information) that that the person wants.

All sectors of all media industries need to work together, something unprecedented. People don’t consume just newspapers or just magazines or just broadcasts or just pure-play Internet content. They consume the mix, and won’t deal with different business models per media industry. Walls between traditional media must fall.

Nor will people consume just their own nation’s media. The world’s media industries need to globalize. There are no borders online except language.

All this will require huge changes in the practices and business models of media. Likewise, huge changes in the production and delivery technologies. Yet all of the technologies necessary exist today. These technologies and their successors are necessary for media companies to survive during the 21st Century. We are the pioneers of these discoveries.

During the next two days, we’ll examine personalized books, personalized magazines, personalized newspapers, personalized advertising, personalized greeting cards, personalized home printing, and other related subjects.

We’ll look at the technologies, the products, and the business models.

Like the early automobiles, early aircraft, and early computers, some of these might be embryonic or have gaps in their production or business models. But they are the future.

We are the future. The future of media is here with you now.

Thank You!

Singaporean TV News Coverage

The Singapore Press Holdings Foundation each year hosts a media lecture in the Drama Centre of the National Library. This year’s theme was Media in Transition: Social & Economic Impact. I gave the lecture. Here is TV news coverage of that speech, delivered on July 14, 2010. To see the entire lecture.

Why Should Newspapers Offer Online Video News?

If you work in New Media, the answer should be obvious. Nevertheless, there are still many newspapers that don’t understand why. Some merely offer online video as a novelty featured under the title ‘Multimedia.’

Video news should be an integral part of any newspapers online news efforts now that online is the main way that most people in developed countries utilize newspapers. People see and hear, as well as read. Paper limited many news organizations to only text and still photos. However, online liberates all news organizations to be able to satisfy people’s desire to see, hear, and read the news.

Newspapers in less developed countries have an opportunity to jump ahead of most developed countries’ newspapers. This is because newspapers in less developed countries may be relatively new and so don’t have an ingrained legacy of decades or centuries of print practices. They’re immediately able to grasp utilize the best New Media practices, which means making online video an integral practice.

I’m interested in newspapers in less developed countries. For the .past few years I’ve been doing pro bono consulting to the Media Development Loan Fund in Prague. It finances development of objective news organizations in countries that now or in the recent past have suffered under repressive regimes. In November, MDLF flew me to Podgorica, the capital of the Republic of Montenegro, to deliver the opening speech at its Broadcast Design workshop for journalist from newspapers and radio and television stations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa, Russia, and the Ukraine.

Why did this Broadcast Design workshop include journalists from radio and television stations? Because still too few of those news organizations are broadcssting online.

Montenegro’s Televizija Vijesti, the six month-old spinoff of the 11 year-old daily newspaper Vijesti, recorded a few minutes of that speech and a later interview.. You can also view this plus selections of other speakers’ speeches.

Why Mass Media Content is Dumbing Down

In the second part of my essay, Transforming American Newspapers, I mentioned several corollary effects that occur when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases. However, I inadvertently omitted two other corollary effects.

The primary business model of most Mass Media vehicles (newspapers, magazines, broadcast programs, etc.) is to attract sufficient numbers of consumers so that the vehicle will attract advertisers who will pay to place their advertisements either adjacent or interstitial to the content that attracts the consumers. The more consumers the vehicle attracts, the higher the rates the advertiser are willing to pay and the more money the vehicle earns.

Yet when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases, the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases because the total number of consumers are spread across many more vehicles (the so-called ‘fragmentation’ of audiences). That tends to reduce the median revenues of those vehicles. Mass Media vehicles try to compensate for this by (1) ‘dumbing’ the quality of their content, attempting to attract a larger audience by appealing to a lower common denominator and restore larger numbers of consumers.

That corollary effect is why so many television networks have ‘dumbed down’ (a wonderful technical term) their programs. The plethora of ‘reality’ programs are examples. Other examples are how formerly ‘quality ‘ programs or ‘quality’ networks are now purveying content of questionable quality. For instance, the Biography television program on the Arts & Entertainment Network used to broadcast biographies of Einstein, Picasso, and Michelangelo, but now broadcasts biographies of Madonna, Jim Carey, and Britney Spears. Or, for instances, how the Learning Channel used to broadcast programs about mathematics, science, and the humanities but now broadcasts programs about purchasing real estate, upgrading wardrobes, and home furnishings.

The another corollary effect that I inadvertently omitted is similar. When the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases and the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases, (2) Mass Media vehicles become more timid, fearing further loss of consumers. No surprise.

Both of these effects are caused by the radical increase in the supply of media vehicles consumers now have. Both doom us to increasingly crass content on television and, more often than not, more timid content in all Mass Media nowadays.

Transforming American Newspapers (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Violating the Principle of Supply & Demand

If the major reason for the American daily newspaper industry’s demise were its stories contained too many dangling participles, then the industry could more easily comprehend its situation than instead hearing that the reason was it had violated the Principle of Supply & Demand.

The understanding of economics, particularly media economics, has never been its strong suit, except if the topic is how many tons of newsprint to buy, how many points a major stock market dropped, or how cut expenses to match revenues. Most newspaper publishers, editors, or journalists tends to equate economics as solely the science of government financial policy, household spending, Wall Street speculation, and petroleum pricing. They don’t understand or have forgotten that a major branch of it is the behavioral science of Microeconomics – the study of how individuals make decisions to allocate their time and activities.

The main paradigm of microeconomics is known as rational choice theory or rational action theory, which states that individuals choose the best action according to their preferences and what constraints of supply, demand, time, and access face them. In it now lays the demise of American daily newspapers as we know them.

How did the American daily newspaper industry violate the Principle of Supply & Demand by failing to adapt the industry’s core product to a radical change in consumers’ supply of news and information during the past 35 years? To understand how, both start and end at the roots of the newspaper industry.

Start in the European city of Strasbourg during 1605 when the world’s first newspaper began publication. It used a technology developed there 164 years earlier by the metalworker Johannes Gutenberg, who had invented a device for producing innumerable copies of the same text. (Please keep that concept in mind, because it’s now moldering the newspaper industry). The Supply & Demand equation for accessing daily changing information was then quite the opposite it is today: Consumers had little or no supply of daily news until the daily newspaper. So to produce newspapers, this adaption of Gutenberg’s book printing technology spread quickly worldwide.

Some modern critics of newspapers say the industry is leaden and ‘doesn’t think outside the box.’ They probably don’t realize the historical irony that underlay their criticisms. The core of Gutenberg’s technology was a box containing lead type whose impressions could print innumerable copies of the same thing. In that core is the inherent limitation that it produces the same edition for everyone. Although in the 19th Century steam and later electrical power speeded Gutenberg’s technology and the introduction of offset lithography during the middle of the 20th Century eliminated its use of lead, the analog technology used to produce today’s daily newspapers is still Gutenberg’s. Indeed, today’s analog printing technology still has the same limitation that it had in Gutenberg’s days – it produces the same edition for everyone.

That technological limitation delineated the newspaper industry’s editorial and advertising practices during the past four centuries. Because each edition had a finite number of pages and was printed by analog technology had to produce the same for everyone at once, newspaper editors had to select stories according to two criteria:

Continue reading Transforming American Newspapers (Part 2)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I’m back! I’d taken a year off for reflection.

After concluding that no daily newspaper executive in North America knows where their industry is headed, I went back to school approximately this time last year. I’d hoped that news media academics might have the answers. What I found was that, with the exception of some folks at the Media Management and Transformation Centre at Jönköping International Business School in Sweden, the academics don’t. In fact, most media academics are even further behind than the industry executives. (Except, of course, for academics who might be reading this.)

Meanwhile, the university to whose media school I was consulting, asked me to teach in its graduate school. I discovered that I like teaching, even thought I had to create the syllabus and course materials myself. During the Spring, I taught two classes: New Media Business (for news, advertising, and public relations practioners) and a Content Lab in experimental online media. During the Summer, I taught a post-graduate executive education course about Social Media for public relations practitioners. Starting Wednesday, I’ll again be teaching New Media Business to graduate students, plus some upperclassmen this time. (I’ve also agreed to teach a shorter version of this course at a foreign university during Summer 2009.) Nevertheless, my teaching schedule is now only one day per week (down from three in the Spring). So, I now again will have time to write and blog, in addition to consult and teach.

Yesterday, I posted the first part of an essay I actually wrote last year at this time (I did update its data). I’d withheld publishing it then because I wanted to what the academia knew. I now know that I could have published it last year.


Iif you are in the news business and have heard about Moore’s Law — the principle that approximately every two years the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles and the cost of that computer power halves — then it’s time you also knew its antithesis, what I call Zell’s Law:

Approximately every two years the staffing and budget levels halve and the difficulties of publishing daily a newspaper double.


My congratulations to three online news veterans who’ve new positions, Rob Curley, Chris Jennewein, and Jonathan Dube. Curley has been named president and executive editor and Jennewein named senior vice president and publisher of Greenspun Media Group’s interactive division in Las Vegas (where the Las Vegas Sun is Greenspun’s flagship publication).

Curley’s move to Las Vegas has been no secret, but news that Jennewein was joining him was made public this week. Curley had been vice president of product development at WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, director of new media and development at the Naples (Fla.) Daily News, chief of Interactive operations at the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World and the Topeka (Kans.) Capital-Journal. Jenneweinwas vice president of Internet operations at The San Diego Union-Tribune and has had a long career in online news operations at Cox Newspapers and Knight Ridder, including as part of the team that put the world’s first newspaper onto the Web. I was amazed when earlier this year San Diego Union-Tribune Editor Karin Winner, not exactly a visionary, jettisoned Jennewein (and his interactive editor Ron James). I’m glad to see that he’s wound up somewhere better.

Jon Dube has been named Vice President of ABCNEWS.com, where he worked before joining the CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as director of digital media and before joining MSNBC.com as a technology editor, senior producer, and managing producer. Dube is also president of the international Online News Association.

Congratulations to all three!


Editor & Publisher magazine reported yesterday that Nielsen figures indicate that the amount of time that the average user spend on nearly half of the Top 30 U.S. newspaper Web sites declined during July. What I find inexplicable about that isn’t the declines but that the E&P doesn’t mention that this is at least the fifth straight month those overall declines have occurred. None of E&P’s stories during each of the past many months has reported the trend (for example); each monthly story has been about the declines during just the previous month. Doesn’t E&P notice the trend? Are these stories’ omissions of the trend intentional or is their oversight just lousy journalism?

Transforming American Newspapers (Part 1)

Ignorance isn’t bliss to the dying. Witness the pathos of American daily newspaper companies. Most have finally begun to realize that the deterioration of their businesses isn’t cyclical but grave. Yet few, if any, understand why. Almost all grasp for the reasons.

Some attribute their grave condition to advertisers suddenly switching huge portions of spending from print to online – an excuse that ignores more than 30 years of declines in those newspapers’ printed editions’ circulations and readerships. Some others attribute their deterioration to not having transplanted their content into online quickly enough -an excuse that ignores not only the dozen years they’ve spent transplanting it but how their online editions are now read even less frequently and less thoroughly than their printed editions.

Most of the print newspaper experts who diagnose these companies’ condition still prescribe stale nostrums such as more consumer focus groups, subscription price incentives, more stylish typography, or shorter stories. Meanwhile, most of the experts who diagnose these companies’ Web sites prescribe balms and accessories such as giving blogs to reporters, adding video, or having the readers themselves report the stories. American daily newspaper companies have long been too financially impatient to submit themselves to anything but ostensibly quick cures and they’ve even longer been too conceptually myopic to perceive the real reasons for their declines.

I’ll declare the real reasons. There are but two and neither has anything to do with multimedia, ‘convergence’, blogs, ‘Web 2.0’, ‘citizen journalism,’ or any ancillary topics you may have heard presented at New Media conferences this millennium.

Nor is either of the real reasons advertisers’ abandonment of printed newspapers. Their abandonment is a symptom, not the reason for the decline. Contrary to myopia of many newspaper executives, advertisers aren’t newspapers’ primary customers. Although advertising revenues may be sunshine for newspaper executives, the roots of their business are readers. A newspaper with readers will attract advertisers but a newspaper without readers will not. Readers ultimately support and sustain the newspaper business.

To understand the real reasons why the American daily newspaper industry is dying, first understand why more and more Americans are no longer reading daily papers and how their abandonment of newspapers has been wrought by changes in their own media economics. Also comprehend why the epicenter of the newspaper industry’s problems in post-Industrial countries is America and exactly how grave the situation is there.

Continue reading Transforming American Newspapers (Part 1)

5,000 Days in the New Medium

I began working full-time in the new medium on December 7, 1993, when I took a job at Delphi Internet Services Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That was 5,000 days ago.

On that day, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought tiny Delphi. He wanted to start a major online service, much as he had recently purchased television stations and started the Fox television network, and he needed a core of expertise about online to do this. On that December 7th, he used a tactic that old media company traditionally use whenever they don’t understand something into which they want to venture: they purchase expertise outright and hope the knowledge and skills of that expertise will be absorbed by osmosis throughout their company. A corporate tactic that I call We Will Become What We Eat.

On that day, Delphi had approximately 37,000 subscribers. Yet this was in the early days of online, when CompuServe had 2 million subscribers; Prodigy 700,000; America Online 125,000; GEnie 100,000; Interchange less than ten thousand; and no more than a total of 6 million people worldwide had online access. Why didn’t Murdoch purchase a larger online service than Delphi? The size of what he purchased didn’t matter to him; after all, he’d formed the Fox Network from tiny UHF television stations. Furthermore, Delphi was his only choice because it was the only online service that wasn’t already owned by a large corporation. H. & R. Block owned CompuServe, IBM and Sears owned Prodigy, General Electric owned GEnie, Ziff Communications and later AT&T owned Interchange, and Quantum Computer Services had renamed itself American Online and become a publicly-traded company in its own right.

Moreover, Delphi had a latent asset that we can only now appreciate in retrospect. On that day in 1993, only one other company worldwide was supplying Internet access to consumers: even smaller Worldnet, a few blocks away in Cambridge. These two tiny companies were the only consumer Internet Service Providers in the world. Knowing what we know today about the popularity of Internet access, do you think that News Corp.’s failure to utilize its ownership of what was then the world’s largest ISP (one of only two ISPs in the world) is perhaps the greatest lost opportunity by a company in new-media? I certainly do.

But the world was different on that windy and partly overcast day on Porter Square, down from in Harvard Square in Cambridge. The world has changed a lot in 5,000 days. Yet there hasn’t been a single day since on which I’ve regretted leaving old media. I can now confidently state that the new medium is replacing the old. Five thousand days after December 7, 1993, please allow me to say what I’ve seen and restate why I am in this business.

I’ve not seen the up and down phases of the Internet bust and boom that the popular and trade press are fond of seeing since 1993. What I’ve seen is a straight line continually rising. The ups and downs, booms and busts, and other gyrations were investors’ and traditional media companies’ helical movements rotating around that upward line. When in 2000 investors lost their shirts in the Internet bust and quite a few traditional media company executives were saying, ‘I told you this online thing was just a fad,’ consumers’ use of that ‘online thing’ was rising as steadily as it had during the Internet boom, no matter if investors had lost shirts and wingtips.

Nonetheless, it’s fun arbitrarily categorize things. I could categorize the skyrocket of online as having had four stages during the past 5,000 days.

  • The first was the geek or computer aficianado stage, when you needed a bit of technological skill to use online. Too many people who work in new-media nowadays believe that online began with the Web; the 6 million consumers who were already using online belie that belief. Nevertheless, traditional media companies back then believed that online was a fringe version of home teletext or at best a text service that their audiotext staffs should examine for commercial opportunities. This stage began in the early 1980s and ended In 1994.That was the year in which Editor & Publisher magazine’s annual audiotext conference became its annual online conference.
  • The second stage began on October 13, 1994, (5,058 days ago) with the release of Mosaic Netscape 0.9, Web browser software that could display graphics and photos. Though the World Wide Web had existed and been opened to the public since 1991, browser software had been capable of displaying only plain-text. (Delphi clients used Lynx browser software to access it). The release of Mosaic Netscape caused the popularity of the Web to skyrocket. This software destroyed online services that didn’t permit it or full access to the Web (services such as CompuServe and Prodigy, plus Murdoch’s Delphi due to executive missteps). Traditional media companies and their investors were caught unaware(a condition many still suffer). I remember asking a major newspaper’s online director during the summer of 1994 what she planned to do about the Web. “Why should we worry about the Web when our surveys show that most people in our market use Prodigy?” she replied. But millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, and then more than a billion consumers began gravitating onto the Web, and today even the flanks of garbage trucks feature URLs. It took a few years for major media companies and their investors to awaken and begin chasing those consumers. Few of those companies really understood why the consumers gravitated online.
  • Continue reading 5,000 Days in the New Medium