Wednesday, August 03, 2005

10 Years That Changed the World

It's a bit ironic that, these days, Wired remains one of the few magazines that I still receive in dead tree form. I like the mix of story and item content and length. And its sense of style helps keep me from just going online. This month's cover story, 10 Years That Changed the World, is written by Kevin Kelly who helped found Wired and was its first executive editor. It's one of the best single pieces that I've read about the years since Netscape's IPO, in part because Kelly crystallizes certain underpinning concepts and dynamics of the Internet and the Web with considerable clarity.

For example, on the way that the Web turned the creation of content on its head:
Problem was, content was expensive to produce, and 5,000 channels of it would be 5,000 times as costly. No company was rich enough, no industry large enough, to carry off such an enterprise. The great telecom companies, which were supposed to wire up the digital revolution, were paralyzed by the uncertainties of funding the Net...Netscape's public offering took off, and in a blink a world of DIY possibilities was born. Suddenly it became clear that ordinary people could create material anyone with a connection could view. The burgeoning online audience no longer needed ABC for content. Netscape's stock peaked at $75 on its first day of trading, and the world gasped in awe. Was this insanity, or the start of something new?

And he has some marvelous turns of phrase:
But if we have learned anything in the past decade, it is the plausibility of the impossible.

For an industry so accustomed to hype that almost every announcement is and was a bew paradigm and a world-changing event, this is why the mainstream Internet and the Web caught many of us unawares. So much seemed impossible. For lack of a better hook, the Netscape IPO was a "Day the Universe Changed" to use the title of James Burke's old BBC series.
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