Thursday, June 12, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Why is it that interesting things always come in threes?
Yesterday morning I was writing about style. Later the same day a demo shows me a way to have my own style applied to other people's content.
And then in the evening, a pointer to a shareware product that allows me to take ads off sites so I can view the pages without commercial messages.
WebFree is a Mac-only product. It hooks into the TCP stream at a very low level, looks for HTTP requests, parses the result before passing it back to the requesting app, which almost certainly is a web browser application such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
With any luck -- the effect is -- no more ads!
I first wrote about 'ad scraping' in November 1995 in New Cave Needs Curtain. I was in Boston at the InternetWorld show, having a blast, meeting new amazing people, dancing and (as I used to say back then) humming and wailing.
"Advertising on the web is cool. But there's a fly in the ointment.... People are figuring out how to get the info from Yahoo, InfoSeek, Lycos and WebCrawler without seeing the ads. I find this fascinating."
Many of the website IPO babies of 1996 are struggling to keep their heads above water. C|Net takes more money from Intel, Excite gets a cash infusion from Intuit, InfoSeek is in turmoil.
It seems that the the advertising supported website model hasn't created profitable growing businesses. Maybe it will someday, but not yet.
This raises the question -- is there a way to make a website pay? Everyone wants to know. The answer is clearly yes. Netscape's website makes money because it supports the sale of Netscape's software products. You can see this clearly in Netscape's latest strategic moves, they're focusing on the large corporate systems market. It's certain that their website will follow, providing more free, non-advertising-supported content to disseminate information about the products they sell to audiences they wish to influence and inform.
Excite is thin in software, therefore the barriers to entry are low and there's little differentiation between it an other general-purpose websites. Netscape has plenty of differentiation, as does Intuit and Intel. That's why the flow of capital is going in that direction. Excite can act as a distribution system for Intuit, and C|Net can help Intel use the cash their chip business generates to help it extend its influence in other industries.
Another example, a website for a movie is itself an advertisement, even if it contains clips from the movie, and free information about the actors, or historic or geographic background information. You may visit the website before or after seeing the movie, feeding the word of mouth system with new insights, and you may see the movie again when it comes out in video form.
Sponsorship is another option, one that I'm considering for Scripting News. When you cover an area of strategic importance to companies that are active in the area, they have an incentive to see you have more resources, to grow to better inform developers and users. Companies that have a stake in moving forward rapidly can benefit from sponsorship of an independent source of news and commentary.
In other words Scripting News is an advertisement for scripting, just as the San Jose Mercury-News is an advertisement for San Jose. Any business that depends on the growth and profit of San Jose is interested in seeing the Mercury-News grow and profit.
Like software copy protection in the mid-80s, web advertising may be on the way out. Advertising on websites seems to have small value in the greater flow of economic interest. It pays to look at other possibilities.
Yesterday I met with Dan Shafer, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Laurence Rozier, email@example.com. I've known them for quite a few years; they're both scripting guys. We've even worked together -- Dan wrote the original Frontier docs in 1991 and Laurence taught me the importance of environments to scripting languages.
But there's a brick wall they can't work around -- there's no way for their scripts to store and retrieve persistent data, so they can only dream about content separated from form.
I want Dan and Laurence to win because I have two content flows that are begging to be pushed thru a beautiful user interface, without compromising bandwidth. And somehow I believe that scripting is going to be central to making this work, and as you know, I am perenially interested in scripting.
There's a lesson we're all learning -- pushing bitmaps around the net is intolerably wasteful, but people still want things to look better. Today's personal computers are vast computing and data storage resources that aren't being well used. New flexibility, new formats, that's certainly coming.
That's why I'm interested in Macromedia Flash, Shockwave and (believe it or not) Java-based displayers. Whatever it takes to make it happen. So many choices! I want the web browser to become a fully powerful scripting system with persistent storage.
We'll do some diggin.
In a postscript to the last DaveNet piece, Style and Technology, I said "Heh'h Hahe Huh -- Hoh!".
It was a puzzle! What does it mean? Well, if you read Stalin Go Home!, as Jeff Logullo must have, you knew the game. A simple reverse substitution resulted in the solution.