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The Last Detour On the Info Superhighway
Is In Your Mind

by Jon Leland

This article originally appeared as a "Producer's Perspective" in Multimedia Producer magazine.

I get nervous when I hear multimedia producers expounding on the viability of today's CD-ROM market and scoffing at the bandwidth of today's Web.

It reminds me of the way that professional video producers scoffed just a few short years ago when they saw those infamous, jerky little postage stamp-sized video windows when QuickTime was first introduced. Now, there's no one in the video business who isn't taking digital video on a "personal computer" seriously; but back then they thought the issue was resolution, rather than the revolution of playing video off a hard drive.

It's easy to lose perspective
when things are changing so fast.
It's even easier to lose perspective
on how fast things are changing.

Now, the short-sighted among us are flocking to the game business because it's got more gross revenue than "the movies." I think "gross" is the right word, because - in addition to all of the well-publicized promotion of violence - by doing so, they are missing the boat on an even more powerful transformation.

I prefer the perspective of an article in the September 24th New York Times Magazine called "How the Propeller Heads Stole the Electronic Future." It quoted Grateful Dead lyricist and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow as saying that all of these high profile mega-media mergers (Disney/Cap Cities, CBS/Westinghouse, Time-Warner/Turner, etc.) represent "the rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic." The conclusion, of course, is that "The iceberg is the Internet."

It's easy to lose perspective when things are changing so fast. It's even easier to lose perspective on how fast things are changing. I was fortunate enough to hear George Gilder, founder of the Forbes magazine, Forbes ASAP technology supplement at a VIP seminar called the Millennium Conference here in San Francisco when he described what he called global revolutionary changes being brought about by the transformative technologies of "Sand" (silicon) and "Glass" (fiber optics). (He spoke also of "Air," wireless communications, but that went beyond the scope of this column.) Bottom line, "Sand" is represented by Moore's Law, the fact that the power of a silicon chip has been consistently doubling every 18 months and will continue to do so. Gilder said that by the Millennium, we would have a billion transistor chip which would put the power of 700 HP workstations in every PC. So, don't limit your thinking.

Furthermore, he said "Glass" will blast open the "electronic bottleneck" with the virtually unlimited communication power and potential of fiber optic "wings of light." He said we were looking at "LAN's End" and a true exponential leap from the desktop to the global network. And I think he's right. But too many multimedia business people still want to know, "Where's the payoff?" Is the Web the "Multimedia Mecca?" Well, I guess that depends on your vision of paradise.

We're seeing that we CAN
make a difference.
The audience IS listening.

One thing is for sure. CD-ROM's biggest problem is that it lacks a robust distribution channel. With the Internet, the medium IS the distribution channel; but to think of it only in those terms would be as short-sighted as thinking of QuickTime as jerky, little movies. The World Wide Web is not just a new technology, nor is it just some new kind of networking software, nor is it even just a new form of distribution for jerky little QuickTime movies. It's all of these things and much more. I'm convinced that when we look back from the Millennium, we will all agree that the World Wide Web is a new medium, just like television was a new medium a mere 50 years ago. And like television, it will have a profound social impact. Not because it's new technology, but because of how people will use it. Those of you who have participated in the community of the Internet already know that it is not just bits and bytes. More importantly, it is the sum of the people who participate in it. There is a there there, and that is us.

Producers like me are setting up there own shop on the Web, not only because the distribution is virtually free; but because we're building our own soapboxes, and we're seeing that we CAN make a difference. The audience IS listening. This new network has more promise than any electronic avenue that's ever come before.

But delivering on that promise is going to take more than a good business plan. It will take heart. Something that's been missing from a lot of the CD-ROM development that I've seen lately. After all, when communication artists get lost in the money-driven media madness, they become like Hollywood in all it's thin-skinned, tinsle- toned emptiness. The Web is our opportunity to design a new kind of electronic environment with completely new rules, a phenomenally low cost of entry and a real community waiting for the next generation of compelling content. Only this time, we get to own it. So, "Where's the pay-off?" I say it's in producing something better which in turn can help people be more connected to their own "Mecca's." That's payoff enough for me. Or, as my old friend Scoop Nisker is fond of saying, "If you don't like the news. Go out and make some of your own."

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