By Siobhan Kennedy For the internet to really take off in the consumer market, the IT industry needs to stop pushing the technology message and instead offer people ways of using the web to do what they enjoy most, America Online’s CTO Marc Andreessen said in a keynote speech yesterday. Taking the stand on the […]
By Siobhan Kennedy
For the internet to really take off in the consumer market, the IT industry needs to stop pushing the technology message and instead offer people ways of using the web to do what they enjoy most, America Online’s CTO Marc Andreessen said in a keynote speech yesterday. Taking the stand on the first day of the PC Expo trade show in New York, Andreessen said it was time high- tech companies realized that consumers are not interested in the technology behind the internet. They’re more interested in using it to communicate with their friends, he said.
The famous CTO said AOL carried out research to investigate the uptake and acceptance of the web in the consumer market. When asked which they would prefer – the internet, a TV or a telephone – if stranded on a desert island, two-thirds of those questioned said the internet. Moreover, 26% said they carried their laptops on vacation with them in order to check their emails and the average AOL subscriber now spends 55 minutes online every day. All are examples of how the internet is slowly taking hold in the consumer space, he said, but even still, only a quarter to a third of the home population is online.
He said the growth of the internet is governed by Metcalfe’s Law. The law, coined by Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, states that the value of a network increases exponentially with more people on it, because it becomes more useful, Andreessen said. It’s the law of increasing returns, the more useful and the more interesting it becomes, the more people will want to get on it. For the PC, that interest has been fed by the introduction of so- called killer applications- video games, email and so on – but for the internet, companies need to look at it differently. We need Tornado applications, he said, I don’t mean things like word processing or spreadsheets, I’m talking about email and services like that. They’re at the leading edge of the next internet wave.
Instant messaging (IM) in particular, he said, is seeing extraordinary growth. It took the radio 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million, it took TV 15 years, but it’s only taken IM two and a half, he said, adding that AOL’s IM service now handles 700 million messages a day. Andreessen said IM worked because it turns the internet into a corner bar, like Cheers on the web, you know who’s there and you can talk to your friends and colleagues in real time. He also predicts IM will take off in the business world in the same way that email did.
We’re seeing a significant transformation away from a technology-focused industry to one which concentrates on offering people ways of doing what they want to do. It’s not about trying to push technology at the consumer anymore, Andreessen said, the products we technologists want to use are not the types of products the population wants to use.
In order to build those mass market applications and devices, Andreessen said IT companies need to get into the mindset of consumers, and he offered a list of known consumer characteristics. They don’t care about technology, they buy brands; they’re not systems integrators, they want plug-and-play connectivity and most of all, they’re driven by convenience. A microwave does a worse job than an oven, but it’s quicker so people buy it, he said, adding that the consumers view technology the same way. He said the key was to get people on to the internet by developing IM-style convenience apps, then once they’re online, they’re more likely to use the web to do other things: buy a book, order movie tickets, buy their groceries. But the tornado apps are the key to the whole thing, he concluded.
Andreessen pointed to devices such as 3Com’s Palm Pilot as being a good example of the kind of simplistic technology that consumers are willing to adopt. In an attempt to build on that simplicity, he said AOL had announced an agreement with the company yesterday to enable users to download their AOL email to their Palm VII devices. That’s really compelling to people, he said, and increasingly, it’s the kind of thing we, as technology companies, should all be trying to do.