'Net Dreams

Jeff Schult and Nicole Chardenet -- Tales from the Bitstream


Now that your favorite gift-giving holiday of choice is past, we wanted to giggle uncontrollably at the silliest prediction for 1996 seen outside the pages of the Weekly World News . In December 1995, 3Com founder and Ethernet developer Bob Metcalfe predicted the imminent demise of the Internet. In fact, his exact words in InfoWorld were, "I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."

Jeff> If he¹d been right, of course, we¹d be joining throngs of people outside Bob¹s home, chanting his name by candlelight and hoping for a glimpse of the Master. Instead, we can while away the evenings downloading old Dole and Clinton campaign shots and morphing them into images of aliens, which is surprisingly easy with the right software.

Nicole> I e-mailed Metcalfe that I thought his entire column was meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek, especially coming from a man with Newt Gingrich hair. Metcalfe wrote me back and replied, "Tongue in cheek? Oh contrare (sic). Keep in mind that I am seriously predicting the Internet's collapse in 1996, but that it will only be temporary, so timing is the thing. Stay tuned."

Jeff> The Doomsday Internet theory is based on the premise that there is simply not enough Internet to go around. To use the most hackneyed cliché of the ¹90s, that there are not enough lanes and onramps on the Infobahn to accommodate a world of twitching mouse fingers.

Nicole> Telephone companies and big corporations such as MCI, Sprint and UUNet used it as an opportunity to whine how they didn’t have enough money to give us a faster, gentler Internet.

Jeff> In other words, we don’t pay them enough to build it. This is nonsense, because it is being built already. The problem for the big companies is actually one of competition, to which they pay lip service but secretly hate. They each want to own the Internet, or a part of it they can charge for by the minute, anyway.

And no one is going to pay for Internet access by the minute, or even by the hour. So corporations are going to have to get ever-so-clever about shaking people down to support the online world they envision.

Nicole> Of course, what this could mean to us users is higher prices and per-use metered billing as opposed to the cheap, flat-fee unlimited access deal that even AOLers now have. And we don’t see spoiled American mouse potatoes putting up with a metered, per-use Internet service charge for more than a nanosecond. We expect these people will express their disfavor by canceling their Internet accounts and falling asleep in front of Seinfeld until the Internet providers come around.

Jeff> Of course, now you can get Internet on your television. I’m waiting for the Dr. Seuss Guide to the Internet: "You can get it in a bar, you can get it in your car …"

The most likely scenario for 1997 is that if you want better Internet access than you have now, you’re going to pay more for it. High-speed cable connections – still more than a year off for most neighborhoods – will cost more than $30 a month and the bugs aren’t out of the technology. Faster, 56k modems due out in the first quarter will probably cost more to connect with than consumers are currently paying for 33.6k speed.

Premium services will start to succeed – but not for information services, other than the Wall Street Journal. Why? There is more than enough free news and will be for years. Advertising revenues will have to support the rest.

So what premium services will succeed? Games, and more games. Interactive Quake, Duke Nukem, Civilization, Mech Warrior. Buy Sega, now.

Music, and more music. Concerts with CD-quality sound, live on the Internet.

Streamed video – not movies, yet, mind you, but music videos and shorts, and the start of home-grown Net TV.

And, of course, sex. Patrons of porn have an insatiable lust for bandwidth. Before you shake your head, remember that it was the pervert crowd that largely financed the early days of the VCR.

For those folks who are perfectly happy with the Internet as it is, you can probably keep an inexpensive, virtually unlimited account for your email, chat and news.

But they will build the rest of it. And they’re sure we will come.

Jeff and Nicole, who think Internet backbone providers should beg for money like old-time BBS sysops used to do, can be reached at jeffbot at this domain .


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