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Why Not Web2?

By Troy Brophy   March 24, 1997

Fifteen years ago last August, Music Television hit the air (or cable) with its 24-hour a day barrage of music videos. The Buggles christened the network with their shoestring budget offering "Video Killed the Radio Star," causing many to ponder the potential power of this new medium. The early days were packed with small-time bands hoping to make it big in the industry. The cheesy videos that followed entertained as well as opened the minds of many. After being labeled as "too insular" by critics, the network opened up and created avenues for more geographically and socially localized musical styles to go mainstream. Across the nation, young adults were exposed to types of music through MTV that they might otherwise never have heard. Is it possible that rap music would have become popular among so many white suburban and small-town youths without the help of powerful images and the mighty "VJ"s?

Over the years, the network changed. The big bands caught on to the power of the music video and began pumping huge budgets into 3-minute clips. Style snubbed substance. New bands hoping to make it big through MTV were relegated to late-night showcases unless their videos had that "certain something" to make them "Buzz Clips."

Finally, someone saw the potential to cash in big-time on the ultra-hip mystique that surrounded the network. Non-video shows like "Remote Control" found their way onto the air. Advertisers were much easier to woo when a rock-solid slot during a 30-minute show was available. Now if you switch on MTV, you're likely to see anything but a music video.

Maybe you see where I'm going with this; IU is an Internet magazine, after all. True, the Internet was not created as a money-making venture. But you'd hardly know that now.

As recently as 1995, the number of commercially motivated Websites was still small enough to make them a conversation topic in many chat rooms and IRC channels (no JAVA chats in those days). I remember being dazzled and delighted by Joe Boxer's site, and amazed that Coke had its own domain name ( Guinness had a Web ad for its beer, hosted on what seemed to be a private users site, and Ameritech (a phone service provider for much of the Eastern United States) sported a tilde before its corporate name.

The Web was a tangle of personal offerings and free everything. Nearly all sites were personal sites, lovingly created and tended by Webmasters in their spare time. A small community existed, watching as "newbies" began to flood the public areas, demanding assistance from everyone with a kewl handle. I was ecstatic: My job security depended on the Internet's increased importance in the world. My biggest fear was that the skeptics were right about its being "just a fad."

Now I go home and watch TV, no longer exclaiming my joy at each URL posted at the bottom of the screen, and wonder whatever happened to some of the great sites from just a year ago. Sites that lambasted companies and their products. Sites like the LegoWars Home Page, which offered rules to a crazy game based on all those Space LEGOs from the early '80s. These sites have been threatened off the Web by corporations waving lawsuits and legal papers. Those same corporations then park their bloated, bandwidth- sucking JAVA applets on the graves of the truly inspired sites that exist now only in our memories...and, we hope, on backup floppies somewhere.

It's great that money is being pumped into the Net and its infrastructure by these companies. In order not to strangle itself, the Net needs to keep growing to support the huge number of new users appearing online everyday. But what happens when the corporations start holding the purse-strings over everyone's head? We've seen it happen on network television. An advertiser threatens to drop its ads because it doesn't like the content of a show and, poof, no more show. If you don't see that happening online, take a look at Infinity Void.

Silicon Toad, the site's webmaster, has been doing a lot of moving around lately. Infinity Void is featured in this month's WebGuide as our top pick of hacking sites. But in the few weeks since that review was written, Silicon Toad has been forced off the server that had been hosting him. His previous host demanded that he include ad banners on his site, and when he refused, he found that he no longer had access to his own files. A concession was made, Silicon hit the highway and the corporate site allowed a forwarding URL to remain in the place of his old site.

When the Web becomes nothing more than cable TV, with its 50 networks and 3 public access channels, a place for infomercials and cookie-cutter entertainment for the "masses," where will the people who have been escaping by going online for the last ten years turn? Maybe we should follow MTV's lead. Fifteen years to the day that MTV hit the satellites, M2, the new all music video counterpart to MTV, debuted. Apparently enough people complained about the change in programming, but the network couldn't give up its solid advertising income. A solution was presented. Those lucky few who have access to M2 reap the rewards.

Maybe there will someday be a Web2: personal computers in basements and spare bedrooms all over the world, linked by second (or third) phone lines. In the spirit of the early Internet, a new network protocol could be devised and software circulated. We could then, once again, enjoy content so jam-packed with the sort of personal passion that made the Web the intellectual escape hatch we'd come to love, and there would simply be no room for ad banners.

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