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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Anatomy of a backlash 2
Hype's love affair with the internet, and the backlash which followed, are remarkable chapters of our recent history.
In a little over two years, the worlds of media, PR, and corporate finance staged a breathtaking about-turn in their positions.
The mood changed from fascination with online technology, to disenchantment and eventually outright hostility. Yet all the time, internet usage steadily increased.
Each day this week we pick a key moment in the shifting sands of opinion.
No. 2: Suspicion sets in
The old-school internet community realises the e-commerce bandwagon is promising more than it can deliver.
In its earliest days, the internet had been championed by a small, technically-minded community.
They had an inkling of the net's potential, but even they probably did not know how much hype would come to surround it.
But in spring 2000, a sense seemed to grow among the old school net community - those who had been in the business for maybe four years or more - that there were an awful lot of people piling in who didn't know what they were doing.
This suspicion of the latecomers grew into contempt.
Typical of the way the members of the old school viewed these people was the character Nathan Barley, created by Charlie Brooker for the TV listings spoof TVGoHome.com.
One old hand, now a senior figure in the new media industry, recalls the attitudes.
"Nathan Barley tells you all you need to know about how the old school new media view the new arrivistes - most of whom are now culled," he says.
"The old school net geeks watched the madness of the last two years from the sidelines thinking: 'Who are these people?'"
It was in this atmosphere that a wave of graffiti appeared on various buildings in the heart of dot.com land - Hoxton and Shoreditch in east London. (Click here for more pictures.)
The slogan was part of a viral marketing campaign for a series of "events" by art group c6.org.
Artist Leon said the inspiration had been a growing sense of hostility to the way the internet was being used by big business. The slogan had been meant as an dig at the whole new media community.
After working in the industry, he says, he had come to hate the internet.
"I mean 'e-commerce'! Why would you want 'e-commerce'? That's what you've got shops for. And banks online? The banking world is so strong why would they have to go into the internet?" he says.
One net veteran says: "I first saw it right at the height of the microscootered mullet-multimedia scene in Hoxton a good 12 months ago.
"I think it raised a giggle among the old guard, those of us who'd been around since Mosaic [the early web browser which preceded Netscape]. Sometimes that laugh was a nervous titter as you wondered whether you were succumbing to the hype and hysteria yourself."
This recognition had not been something Leon and his fellow artists had expected.
"The graffiti was done before the dot.com thing crashed, and now it has it holds a completely different meaning.
"Now it's the people within the industry who are saying it - before we thought it was a statement outside the industry, aimed at the people in the Shoreditch crowd.
"It's almost been taken up as a banner by the new media industry because everyone's been sacked or made redundant."
And he, at least, has been encouraged by the backlash against the internet.
"It doesn't really make a difference if a hundred dot.coms crash, the kids are still putting up their MP3s and their warez," he said, referring to files and data they want to share.
"The real utopian dream that this would be a superfast information highway for everyone to exchange information and ideas is still there."
In the year leading up to the graffiti appearing, the number of people with internet access at home nearly doubled, from 3.5m to 6.8m.
The internet will turn full circle again.
I've been working on websites since 1996 - not a long time I know, but since then I've seen a lot of 'pretenders' coming in and dressing up the internet. Many sites have no value (other than advertising) and many companies charge a whack too. Colleges are even offering courses on web design because of all of the hype. I'm pleased to see that companies have gone to the wall if all they were interested in was advertising and revenue.
I remember the day I first stumbled on a net ad and thought "Oh no, now we're for it"... Sure enough the whole net seemed to be covered in ads 6 months later. Some sites were so bad they had a newspaper-column's width of "content" completely surrounded by ads! Did this make me buy anything? Nope. Did anyone responsible for this mess stop to think that net ads have as much (little) effect as any other ad? Nope. Do I care that all these businesses have gone under because they didn't have the first clue what they were doing? Nope.
Tomorrow: Despite doubts about how dot.coms would make money, many millions of pounds are spent as companies fell over each other trying to win the branding war.
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