by Joe Selzler
As the Internet enters its second decade and goes from adolescence into adulthood it is a good idea to stop and reflect for a moment on the real usefulness of this newest of technologies. Has it been a success? Does it have a future? Has it benefited society? Is it worthy of the attention of the business world? There is no doubt that it has been hyped beyond all that has gone before it. When many other technologies would have been abandoned as unviable the Internet has been extended credit beyond its ability to prove that it could turn a profit. For the last three to four years everyone was talking about When the bubble would burst. Yet, even after the Internet stocks took a big tumble on the markets, the Internet was not abandoned. (Internet stocks are those companies whose main market is the Internet, either as suppliers of hardware, software or services to the Internet or those who use the Internet.) Taking into account the initial shock of the fall of these stocks you will discover, by reading most reports and comments on the current state of the Internet as a business model, almost no one is prepared to abandon it. Why is this so?
Before I attempt to answer that question it might be good to discuss a few points about the vision of the Internet and compare them to the realities. I cannot of course cover them all, but here are a few that will help us get a picture of the situation as it is today.
The one area in which the Internet excels above all other forms of business is in the overheads. Initially everyone got excited about putting a business on-line because it costs less to set up shop on the Internet than it does to build a shop on the High street. There was no need to buy an expensive property or building, thus also eliminating the upkeep of it. Expensive equipment and shop fittings, such as cash tills and shelving to stock goods, are not needed. The taxman isnt coming around to collect property taxes or rates. Without a building there is no need to have fire insurance, liability insurance, storm insurance or any other such means of protecting yourself from disaster. In short, anyone with a little ingenuity and drive could start up a successful business on the Internet.
Everyone dreamed of get-rich-quick-schemes that would take them from rags to riches in just a few months, partly because they imagined that they would have thousands of orders from across the globe. (The very ethos of the Internet as a business model is that the proprietor of the Internet shop would have the whole world as his market, while the guy with the bricks and mortar business would only have the few thousand in his neighborhood.) Size didnt matter any more. If you could get a site set up and get it seen by the search engines you could sit back and enjoy the orders coming in just like the big guys. Maybe you could even beat out the big guys and take some of their orders. Many people had a sort of David vs. Goliath vision of the Internet and business. And this virtual David was every bit as good at felling Goliath with a stone as the ruddy lad who stood before the scoffing and insulting giant of the Philistines in Palestine.
The Internet would be a freeing business adventure. In the vision of some you could run your business from the comfort of your own home, or perhaps from the poolside of some fancy resort on the French Riviera. Because you didnt actually have to be present at a shop, but received your orders by e-mail or some other electronic method, the hours you kept for business would be whatever was convenient, even midnight if you were inclined to be a night person. Everyone had the vision of sitting down somewhere, anywhere, with a portable computer and managing their business like a studio technician manages the recording of music, simply pressing the right buttons and right keys at the right time. In a sense, the Internet could make any man or woman, anywhere, a high rolling business person with the life style most people could only dream of, without any of the pain that accompanies most business ventures; and do it while they were still in their twenties.
So much for the vision, but what has been the reality. Are there thousands of Internet entrepreneurs inhabiting the resorts of the world, happily clicking away on their portable computers, raking in millions of dollars through thousands of orders and enjoying the high life without pain? There were hundreds of young, ambitious web geeks who started up companies on the Internet to try to make their fortune. Some of them were even quite successful and were able to float their companies on the stock market for millions. But most of the companies they sold have yet to turn a profit, and instead send millions and millions of investors hard earned capital down what seem to be endless black holes. It seems the idea that a person could start up a company and get rich without actually doing very much work is just a pipe dream.
What about those people who didnt have a dream of getting rich off the Internet, but only wanted to have a modest businesshave they had any more success? You could answer that question yourself just by asking people you meet if they have a website that sells something on the Internet. If they do, ask them if they have made any real money yet. The answer you will most likely get, as I have, is no. They will tell you that they have taken a few orders, maybe even a few from outside their own country, but it hasnt really added much cash to their sales ledger. If you ask anyone who has a shop on the high street if they have a website as well, a large percentage will answer that they have or that they are about to get one. Ask them if they are ready to close their high street shop and go exclusively to selling on the Internet and they will probably just laugh and point you to the nearest mental institution.
I can hear the question forming in your mind at this moment. You are thinking, Hey, Joe, if you are pointing out the glaring failure of the Internet like this, why have you been writing all of these articles about it and why write any more? The answer is simply because I dont think it is a failure, but I believe it is just incomplete and has yet to come into maturity. The Internet is only just a little ahead of its time, but it will shortly come into its place in the business world. Here is why!
Global Warming & Gridlock! Thats right! Global warming and gridlock are going to make the Internet the business model of the future. Hows that?, you ask, The Internet and the environment tied together? Take a few minutes to look out of your window right now. If you are in a busy area you will see dozens of lorries (Freight trucks) pass before you. They are carrying thousands of pounds of goods to grocery stores and clothing stores and toy stores and all sorts of stores the stores where you buy the things you need. Every mile that they motor down the highways of the world they pour out chemicals that pollute the air we breathe and these same chemicals are warming our earth to breaking point. Speaking of shopping: How do we go shopping? We just jump into our gas guzzling, carbon dioxide belching horseless carriages and pop down to the store just a few blocks away!
But it is not just trucks and shoppers who affect the environment. Consider all of the larger companies of this world, ones like IBM. Think of all the office workers that drive their cars, in many cases with themselves as the only passenger, to one of those big offices in the big cities dumping huge amounts of chemicals into the air. (Most of these people do not want to go back to public transport because they lead busy lives and the car journey is the only time they have to themselves.) IBM also has sales representitves who, like myself, spend 5 days a week traveling to customers. If most of the workers of such large companies could work from home, millions of car journeys per day would be cut out. If customers would buy from their suppliers over the Internet millions more car journeys would be eliminated.
This is where I think the future of the Internet is to be found. As we learn how to use the Internet to make our business more efficient and reduce the amount of time we need to travel we will help our environment and our peace of mind. This is also why I believe no one is giving up on the Internet. The Internet has the potential to remove from our roads much of the traffic that now snarls our roads and is destroying our world.
Way back when our world was new, when the Creator told our forefather to subdue the world and to have dominion over it, He meant for us to protect it and to keep it the place of beauty and order that it then was. You and I are such limited creatures that it would have been impossible for us to have envisioned that something so simple as the Internet could have the ability to impact our world. However, our creator, who has the ability to see everything, from the beginning to the end, is the one who gives each of us light and knowledge. To some he has given the ability to develop computers and Internets. To others of us he has given the ability to put that technology to good use. This is why I think we need to go for the Internet with all we have. This is what good it is!
Go to previous article in Taking Business to the Web series.
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