I’m a web developer, not just a guy that builds web sites for relatives and hobbiests. I design and implement complete commerce solutions, interactive media centers, and even a few online brochures. I make a pretty good living at it too.
I’ve been working with internet-related technology since 1993 (that’s before the world wide web actually existed in any formal way for you young-ins). I’ve been coding html since 1994… back before html tables even existed. I continue to stay on top of the latest trends and technology. I also work for a well known software company that has a number of very popular commerce and financial web sites. I am part of the machine.
When I started investigating the web, it was nothing more than an extension of the bulletin board systems (BBS) that I had used throughout my high school life to find software and talk to other geeks. It was a mysterious entity that very few people knew about. Back then, it was nothing more than a few gopher (kind of like limited telnet interfaces running from menus rather than complete command-lines), ftp, and usenet (newsgroup) servers. There was no reason for non-computer-types to use it (i.e. no pictures) and it was great. It was an uncensored, unregulated, open space for people to express themselves and exchange ideas. There were no advertisements or intrusive pop-up windows. Just raw, pure information streaming onto the screen at a blistering 9600 bps.
Within a few months the web began to evolve. Hyperlinks and html were the “hot new thing.” I discovered lynx, followed shortly by Mosaic. The colored text and click-able interface entranced me. There was no turning back. Ads were still a rarity, as was much valuable content. Occasionally an opportunity to buy something online presented itself, but e-commerce was still in it’s infancy (at best). Mere months later, gifs and even jpegs were commonplace. Online porn started to appear en masse. The internet was still untamed. It was the wild west of the information age, just coming into it’s own. People flocked to the web in search of quick wealth. Small businesses were suddenly on equal ground as the big boys. I started to work with html professionally and even worked with/co-owned a few start-ups… I wasn’t even 21 yet.
Then, the online goldrush hit. Companies erupted from the digital horizon. Big names poured massive amounts of green into their online presence. People that had never turned a computer on in their life rushed to consumer electronics stores eager to buy anything that could get “online.” The electronic frontier started to tilt towards corporate control. Small businesses could no longer compete on a level field with the big boys. They began to over-regulate and under-perform while remaining over-valued.
Even web development became corporate. I admit that I sold-out early, but I was fortunate enough to join a big company (with big funding) that maintained a young start-up’s attitude. The area’s most hip development houses were gobbled up by large communication companies or ad agencies. Some entrepreneurs retired young, others dressed up their resumes and went job hunting. People altogether stopped visiting Joe-Nobody’s online bookstore and flocked to Amazon. URLs floated at the bottom of every television commercial. Microsoft even admitted that this whole internet thing might be more than a fad.
Without warning, the iNvasion began. Apple Computer introduced the iMac personal computer. It was friendly, easy to use, and came in pretty colors. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon. People bought candy-colored cd players, file cabinets, even fat-free grills! Everything suddenly became iEnabled, from radios to fishing poles. The internet candle had been burning with the power of a solar flare, it couldn’t last forever… and it didn’t.
Suddenly, Wallstreet recognized that companies, even those with pretty web sites, aren’t worth anything unless they make money. What a concept. The value of such “promising” newcomers as pets.com, Disney’s go.com, and even seasoned veterans like toysrus.com and AOL began to show weakness. During a business trip to Silicon Valley, I observed dozens of vacant offices that very well might have housed such almost-made-a-profit companies like e-pickles.com or iDoormat.net.
The corporate world made a mistake. They barged in too early, pissing gasoline onto a raging inferno. With a mindset of “if the little guy can do it, we can do it bigger and better”, they flooded the digital domain with lawyers, committees, and uninformed stockholders. The machine stripped the innocence and curiosity of the web and force fed bite-sized chunks of information to the masses. They over-analyzed every detail, micro-managed every feature, and over-produced every project. The collective online public willingly rolled up their sleeves and overdosed on corporate bullshit.
Companies are bailing on the digital new world. Business analysts are directing their over-paid, suit-wearing, project managers to escape while they can, like rats leaving a sinking ship. Corporations are scaling back their online business strategies and re-evaluating their technology budgets. Good.
After the dust has settled there will be a vast wasteland, abandoned by corporate America. It will be up to us, the connected community, to restore the internet to it’s former lustre. The corporate world will watch us, preparing for the next “big thing.” We will continue to share real information with each other. Idea will be free and technology will flourish once again. We will not be hindered by non-disclosure agreements or departmental approval.
Sure, some companies will remain, but the ones that will truly succeed are the ones that know their place and are capable of co-existing with the rest of us. They will understand that they don’t have to buy up competition to succeed, they just have to compete. They don’t have to advertise during the superbowl, they just have to deliver what they promise. They don’t have to micro-manage, they just have to work hard. Like the rest of us.
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