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If it works, it will stay
I am sick and tired of people telling me that in 2001 the Internet bubble burst. The Internet is alive and kicking, thank you. What has burst is the bubble over dotcoms, the pure-play Internet companies. The Internet will survive just like the railways, telephony, cinema and photography did. But dotcoms may not, just like the steam engines, cradle phones, black-and-white films and Polaroid. Moral: don't confuse the medium with the message.
So what worked on the Internet in 2001? And what did not? The latter is easy to tell. Whatever is not mentioned here didn't work - at least for me…
Having been a print journalist, I must confess: The Net beat newspapers hollow in its coverage. Breaking news is now a Net and TV monopoly. Take some of the year's major news events: the counting of the clincher Florida votes for deciding on the US president, the Gujarat earthquake, the arrest and release of Shiv Sena's Bal Thackeray, the arrest of Ketan Parekh, the royal carnage in Nepal, the Tehelka defence scam, DMK leader Karunanidhi's arrest, the Alliance Air hijacking that never was, the terror attacks in the US and the retaliation in Afghanistan, the TRP scam in India and the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament. In each of these events, the print media was a distant third.
The battle over breaking news is now between the Internet and TV. And in many cases, the Internet is scoring simply because it needs much less resources than live TV - Gujarat earthquake, Thackeray arrest, the Alliance Air scare, the US bombing of Afghanistan.
In events that were highly visual - the collapse of the WTC towers, Karunanidhi kicking and screaming, terrorists firing inside the Parliament complex - TV was a clear winner.
But in the coverage of news, especially disaster events, the Net has a trump card over TV: message boards, email and chat. In the early years of the Internet, Usenet or newsgroups were one of its salient features where likeminded geeks posted messages about a common topic. The message boards and disaster resources like telephone numbers and do's and don'ts that now spring up after a major news event is one of the finest application of technology for public purpose. This feature of the Net is going to stay forever.
Information that you can use
Let me share a personal experience of how the Net helped me. A month after the September attack, I decided to go the US pursuing my interest in the broadband service industry. Using the Net, I diligently did my research, found out the names and details of the main players in the industry, the rates at which they were offering their services and other crucial business information. I wrote to them, introduced my own services and fixed up appointments.
I then found out the details needed for applying for a Visa from the US Consulate's Mumbai office Web site. I checked out the best fares from Traveljini, Orbitz and Hotwire. I booked my hotel rooms through Hotel Discount.
In the US when I had to meet prospective clients in San Jose, Oakland or Connecticut, I found the easiest way to find directions to their offices by using Mapquest or Yahoo! Maps. I found out the fares and schedules of the bus or the light rail through the Valley Transportation Authority's site.
Meanwhile, I had to keep in track with what was happening in my office at Mumbai. Online messengers like Rediff Bol and MSN Messenger ensured that I was in constant touch with my colleagues.
On a personal front the messengers also helped me chat almost every day with my wife.
All this researching, getting travel information, making online booking and appointments, communicating with family and colleagues works very well with the Internet. My travel agent, international faxes and phone calls, trips to the embassies for basic information, visits to the United States Information Service centers and public libraries, they have all become redundant. And what's more I didn't have to spend a penny getting all this information apart from using my existing Internet connection.
In 2001 the Internet has slowly become a part of daily life. I check out my bank balance, transfer money and request cheque books and demand drafts online. For the first time in my life, I have bought shares (though for a meager amount) and, you've guessed it, I did it online. I monitor my little kitty through a portfolio tracker and smile smugly when I realise that my investments have grown 15 per cent in the last four months.
Music for some
But strangely in 2001 I did not buy a single book or music cassette online, even though there are some very good bargains out there.
Instead I listened to the music I wanted online, courtesy Rediff Radio (which has unfortunately shut down), Indiafm, Spinner and Virgin. I believe there are many like me who did this and maybe that's one of the reasons why most sites selling music are not doing too well in India. I have also become a user of Morpheus, a file sharing software that is now the world's most popular destination for music in the post-Napster era.
I also installed a Web camera on my machine. But I returned it to the dealer because it makes better sense to use it when it is accompanied by audio. Currently India does not allow voice over Internet telephony and changing software that escapes the firewall of VSNL is a pain. Come April 2, 2002, the government promises to allow VOIP. I'll get my webcam then.
Plug in for Flash
Like many I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the mushrooming of Flash applications. I grimace when pages take ages to load because some smart aleck thinks skyscraper banners work. But it makes my day when I sometimes get my hand on those brilliant flash cartoons.
Eh, whatever happened to…
Auctions: I participated in one and realised it was a ripoff. I mean what's the point of waiting till the end to put your price in only to realise that someone has beat you to it? And frankly I'm suspicious: does Vinod21 really exist or was it just the auction administrator putting up a name to ensure that that handycam did not go for a song?
Contests: How many passwords and usernames will it take before I win one goddamn online contest? Obviously, giving the right answers or solving picture puzzles is not enough.
The unkindest cut for all those dotcomers whose bubble burst - job Web sites like Monsters, Hotjobs, and Naukri are all doing roaring business.
Mahesh Nair is a journalist. He thinks he is an entrepreneur. Happens ;-)