PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Getting back to the plot

There are at last some reliable signs that the internet is getting back some of the plot it has lost in the past two years when the "big brands" swept in and turned the whole thing into a virtual billboard system. The theory was that big brands on the high street would inevitably be the big brands on the Internet. Well, Amazon Books and various successful CD vendors on the net have tended to suggest that early net retailers with efficient systems are going to take some undoing, big brands or not.

The "restructuring" of the pioneering WebMedia firm that had become a very traditional ad agency appendage marked the end of the beginning for me, and a sign that more businesses were treating the internet as structural to their business strategies, and not the type of transient ephemera that the advertising and marketing business traditionally seems to bring its wakes.

Talk of the Internet being "just another channel" was rife in the early days as business people with heavy investments in traditional trading schemes sought comfort in the possibility that the internet would slide neatly into their compartmentalised view of the world of marketing, and not unsurprisingly, they set about pursuing this particular interpretation.

You will probably recall some of the early visionary notions that the Internet was the ultimate business leveller - which is a view I have always subscribed to - and wondered just what happened. Well, it seems that the awakening of the Big Brands caused many of the early services operations - from bandwidth suppliers to specialist services providers - to go chasing after the Big Names in defiance of their own principles, and in pursuit of traditional business rationales. Now the world and his dog has a web site (or two), and many have discovered that it's simpler than they thought, the shine has gone right off the Internet business for many who believed that they could charge 25k for a billboard site with a few animated gifs.

One of the first things that has emerged in support of the return to a series of smaller and better distributed operations are the growing number of stories about large providers "breaking". Mail goes missing for days on end, connectivity remains broken for increasingly longer times as engineers struggle to handle the consequences of large schemes that have all manner of consequential failure problems.

Why does the internet require large providers..? This is crude extrapolation of life before the net when the desire for corporate consolidation drove every business into ever larger units where some perceived economy of scale could be applied. This notion was not much more advanced than some nineteenth century concept of mills and pits where the workers were packed into single locations because of the need for large steam engines to power the systems.

The best model I have seen for the internet is a network of smaller service providers - call then "boutique services" if you like, that are organised regionally, in units no larger than counties. The net itself simply adores this way of distributing resources and separating the critical failure points so as to minimise the effects of any outages.

Don't expect this move from the dinosaurs becoming increasingly stuck in their tar pits, towards a larger number of smaller and more nimble creatures, to happen just yet though. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for a good few million years and may well have been wiped out by the intervention of a meteor that raised a dust cloud that froze them ou, while the smaller and more nible creatures were able to adapt and survive.

Maybe the meteor that is coming this way is the fractional cash transaction scheme and the general ease with which people can do business over the net without needing to spend 50+k on even simple business IT systems.