We need a deeper understanding of the Web

alone at my window seatI spend a great deal of time challenging my assumptions, as most of you know. It’s a part of the pomo in me, I guess, but I find the practice useful in times like these, especially in the world of media. And I do a lot of this at 30,000 feet. Perhaps it’s the view. Perhaps it’s the altitude. Perhaps it’s how insignificant I feel up there among the clouds, for insignificance is a fine form of humility that helps keep me balanced.

To be a television broadcaster, one requires a special license. Those suckers are scarce, so it stands to reason that everything about TV would be determined by those in TV. It is, after all, their little corner of the world.

To be a newspaper, one needs a printing press or a ton of cash. That makes newspapers scarce, so it also stands to reason that everything about the newspaper business would be determined by those in it. You wouldn’t go to Kroger to ask how to run a newspaper, right?

But that’s all different on the Web. The Web and all its intricate applications were created by the tech community. Every piece of software solves a problem that the nerds of the world have discovered, and since the only license you need to create things for the Web is one’s own creativity, the growth and development of the Web and its applications has been at light speed.

It’s into this world that traditional media companies have come to do business, but here’s the fundamental problem: we want everything done our way, and that’s not necessarily the way of the Web.

In the early days, the Web consisted of static sites built by static HTML pages. This was the era of the browser, when people “traveled” from point A to point B to “discover” the world that was out there. AOL made it easy by putting a form of “everything” inside its walled garden, but eventually, most people grew tired of the training wheels.

Search basically supplanted browsing, but traditional media companies never adapted. We stayed put, and so began a serious disconnect with reality. Since we liked static sites (they served our needs well, thank you very much), we saw no reason to move on, and when the Live Web came along with its unbundled content and interactive applications, we were trapped in the past. The extent to which this continues today is remarkable, especially since the Web has now moved past search and into the world of subscribe.

So here are a couple of fundamental mistakes that most media companies make in their assumptions:

One, we don’t actually “browse” websites, and we never have. The browser sits on your desktop and brings documents or portions of documents TO YOU. These documents may reside in code form on distant servers, but your browser doesn’t “go” anywhere; it brings everything to you.

This is such an important web fundamental to understand, because it will help you recognize what’s taking place in the unbundled world of the Live Web. Our browser can now bring a little from here and a little from there, all depending on what we want, and this understanding will be critical as the Web moves to its next iteration, the Semantic Web.

Two, the Web is no respecter of sites — all are just points in the maze. Just because you’re a big, bad media company doesn’t mean that you have any special place online. There’s nothing special about your URL that makes you different than any other URL, in the eyes of the Web.

The algorithms that Google uses to rank sites respect the amount of content that is “under” that URL, but they also deeply respect inbound links, because that is viewed as more important than just size. Yahoo may be an enormous “site,” residing on multiple servers, but its URL is just a URL, and the structure of the Web treats it no differently than any other. This is the central factor in Google’s use of the entire Web as its platform. More URLs are better than just one, so Google encourages the growth and development of sites, and monetizes them for builders and owners through its brilliant Adsense program.

The above is part of why I keep encouraging the NAB and other organizations to bring the tech community into its conferences about the future. We’re blinded by our online business models, but the nerds of the world — those people who actually built the Web — aren’t so encumbered, and it’s about time we started listening to them.


  1. The web is nothing more than another medium. It is where the audience is going for some of their entertainment. Simple.

    Now the question is how do broadcasters and printers stay in the mix? Or do they re-invent themselves. After analog TV shut-off, broadcasters will rely way too much on cable and satellite for distribution. Cable and satellite will eventually use this to force the broadcasters, if they stay the course, out of business. Newspapers are discovering video and some newspapers are becoming more proactive than their broadcaster counterparts.

    Where this goes, who knows. But the ride will be interesting.

  2. It is just great to hear a old media person ‘get it’. Over the last 40 years or so we have seen the barriers for the little person to make it get higher and higher. Big companies can no longer be challenged by small ones — or at least very rarely. The same is true in software; the level of complexity and sophistication consumers expect from software means investing 6 or 7 figure sums before you can get in the door. However, this model just does not seem to be taking hold on the web.

    Each time I expect the web to become dominated by the big guys, a little idea shows up and proves it isn’t yet. I suspect the reason is that people still want the creative output of individuals or small groups. If some-one invested in 1000 musicians they still would not The Pink Floyd or Amy Winehouse. Your point about the way they web does not respect size is everything — well put. No matter how big you are, you will be ignored if your content is not interesting.

    Take care — AJ

  3. Great anakysis, Terry. Gives hope to a small but (hopefully) interesting content generator like myself. Also reminds me how I used to watch you do on-air commentary thingies as ND when I was back at WNCT / WITN. Good times…

  4. agimbmaishvem says

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  5. What is bumburbia?

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