Dot.boom, dot.bomb, dot.reality

During dot.boom the geeks were cool. Takkies, jeans and T-shirts were to replace ties and sensible shoes in the corridors of power. Boardrooms were to be replaced by lounges with bean bags and foosball tables. The pimply kids were ushering in a new economy built around the internet and showing the old world how it was done.

Back in the 90s, every day you read something about a new, crazy start-up, backed by millions. Living in the 90s, writes the Guardian, and having no involvement in a startup, was like living in the 60s and not smoking. The generation was a cultural phenomenon: “The uniform of combat pants and foosball and inflatable aliens were de rigueur”.

During the rush, the entreprenerds were getting listed one after the other, getting big business to burn money on their wild ideas. Some of the ideas were just plain stupid. But this was boom time, the stock market was soaring on emotion and everyone was irrational. One techie dreamed up Hell, selling Petfood online was going to be the next big thing!

Before the crash came, AOL, an internet company, was taking over an old media company, Time Warner. The deal, which created the biggest media company in the world, was final confirmation for geeks all across the world of the power of the new generation. Media across the world trumpeted the deal as the “new economy” triumphing over “the old”.

But when the big bomb fell, suddenly the emperor had no clothes. Everyone saw through the great illusion and it all imploded. The geeks were no longer cool, and no-one was listening to their techno take-over-the-world hyperbole any more.

Even the AOL Time Warner deal was beginning to collapse. The old media gurus began to edge out the new media philosophers in the boardrooms. And they were angry – so angry that the internet part of the company’s name, AOL, was dropped, to become Time Warner again.

The geeks are also dressing a lot smarter these days. Not because they are getting older, but because they are desperate to prove their credibility again. Most are a lot more self-effacing and speak fondly, with a mild embarrassment, of the gold-rush era. Some still wear their striped takkies. But many now wear their smart white shirts and sensible shoes to show the old guys that they are serious about business now.

But that was then. Why dwell on the past? Because here we are, in what I call dot.reality, with the worst seemingly behind us. We appear to be headed for some good times again.

The online ad revenues graph is starting to point upwards. No one is getting hysterical about it because there’s more of a sober feel in the online industry these days. Although, if you look at how the market has gurgled and guffawed over Google’s overvalued stock, you would think otherwise.

So here we sit, cautiously optimistic, mindful of the reality on the ground and with a steady eye on revenues rather than creating unsustainable publishing businesses based on fresh air predictions.

But let’s look at the facts. And I will tell you why online media is going to get a whole lot bigger and better in South Africa.

Things are getting silly overseas. In the UK, online adspend is set to surpass that of radio. In the US, the Economist predicts that the combined advertising revenues of Google and Yahoo! this year will rival the combined prime-time ad revenues of the three big US television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Now that’s all good and well, because we are not the US or the UK. We are smaller, developing economy. Here, the internet is anything but a mass medium, probably only accounting for less than 10% of the country’s population. That’s tiny.

Despite this, the country is set for online expansion not seen perhaps during the early internet times.

Broadband is here. It is growing and connectivity costs are dropping. Telkom, your friendly telecoms monopoly, recently dropped its ADSL prices and more cuts are expected. In the US, broadband has had a profound effect on driving up internet usage, and there is no reason why it wouldn’t have a similar effect here. Add to this the arrival of 3G and you will see why we are set for boom times again, especially with computer hardware at probably its cheapest ever.

Then there is the matter of Telkom’s competiton. The Second National Operator will eventually arrive, which will hopefully (but not necessarily) mean cheaper calls and therefore cheaper internet.

All these factors point to the fact that we are on the cusp of a mini online boom in this country. Roll on the good times I say.

Lowlights Highlights
Dot.bomb causes companies like Metropolis and Woza to disappear Online media companies that survived the crash
Cries that print “will be dead” in ten years time Online advertising and readership rising again
AOL-Time Warner deal falls apart Google listing on stock exchange

Online advertising still less than 1% of total ad pie Online advertising posts record increases
Convergence Bill wins more worry than praise Online publishers use Nielsen//Netratings to measure industry

In Out

wikis & blogs chat & forums
Google Yahoo
Search engines Portals
3G Wi Fi
Banners Rich media flash ads

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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