About PM4Web

The PM4Web blog was born as an outlet to return knowledge back to the web development community. My goal is to share my experiences as a project manager from over the years in a manner which helps you succeed with your own projects.

01 May, 2008

How the Web Was Won

Perspectives on how business has shaped the Internet.

Before you stands a frontier of possibilities, a land which at first seems desolate. Predictably, a tumble-weed rolls by, but in the distance you spy something looming on the horizon. Upon closer inspection it dawns upon you that what you’re gazing at is in fact ‘Big Business’. What had appeared to be ‘virgin soil’ at first glance, is in fact a well established arena – is it too late? Is there no room on the web for new comers?

There was a time when the web was a novelty, but these days, no one’s impressed if you say “I got the Internet at home”. As many people know, the Internet and World Wide Web were originally conceptualised and developed for military and educational applications. The war-mongers thought to themselves “great guns! A communication system that wont go down when the nukes hit!” whilst the university boffins exclaimed “neat, now I can share my research paper on the mating habits of cockroaches with professor Irvine at Oxford!”.

If information sharing spawned the web, how is it that business is now such a dominant aspect of cyberspace? Obviously, at some point, an entrepreneurial-type thought to themselves “hang-on, what if we used this ‘Internet’ thing to sell stuff?” Now, this may have seemed like a fantastic idea on paper, but at the time this idea was conceived, the web was hardly in state to support such rich functionality (not easily at least).

So why is it that online shopping has become so pervasive? If you take a look at juggernauts like Amazon.com and eBay, it would seem like their triumph was almost pre-destined. But lets not forget follies such as Egghead.com and GovWorks (of ‘Startup.com’ movie fame). And you wouldn’t know it by looking, but there was a time when Yahoo.com was in serious trouble too. For every success, countless others must have fallen by the wayside.

The dot.com bust will certainly go down in web annals as a dark time. If you’re not familiar with why it happened, this is an example of the sort of thing which went on; web company A would buy $10m of advertising from web company B, web company B in return would purchase $10m worth of advertising from web company A. This would make it look as though each of the companies was massively profitable – but like all shoddily constructed pyramids, it all came crushing down in the end.

If the road was fraught with so much peril, then what made companies invest so much capital in ecommerce? There are a number of factors which make the web such a pliable tool for selling goods and services online. For one, an online shop is always open, a world of people can buy from you (literally), it doesn’t have rude staff, it’s cheaper then an actual shop-front (and the ‘rent’ is next to nothing), it can potentially deal with thousands of customers at once, and the list goes on.

So how has business shaped the web? Would it be too extreme to say that business is the web - perhaps, but it sounds deep upon first reading. It could be argued that commercial use of the Internet has brought it to where it is today because it facilitated advances in technological infrastructure (eg. up-take of broadband, establishment of high-speed international fibre-optic backbones, etc), but it’s not really necessary to get quite so ‘fancy’. At the end of the day, people noticed that there was a need that had to be filled, they also noticed a tool that could help satisfy that need. At this very moment, chances are you have a need which is being fulfilled by the Web.

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