The Internet wasteland

Do you remember when the Internet went commercial? The heady days in late 1994 and early 1995 when sites like McDonald's first illustrated the power of the Web? If you don't, you didn't miss much.

The launch of the McDonald's site was an exciting time for the industry. Here was one of the world's most recognised brands launching into the Internet. On the site, Web surfers were free to get corporate information, compete in trivia games, learn about the Ronald McDonald House charity and more. Who cared that it took five minutes to download the home page?

Of course, for many of the big multinational companies that launched their Web presences back then, bandwidth issues were secondary. As long as the presentation looked good in the boardroom, where T1 speeds made a site zoom, it was good to go. These sites are, for the most part, history. Created to be the equivalent of a television commercial or radio spot, with the hope of an entertaining and immersive experience, the sites have by now been transformed, yanked or left to wither in the Internet wasteland.

Of course, while Internet access providers bore the brunt of the dissatisfaction over slow download times, they were not to blame for the time-consuming brochureware experience. Instead, creative decisions made by site designers put access speed and download times at the bottom of the priority list.

Back then, interactive agencies were paid to build cool sites that were entertaining but had yet to serve a real marketing function. Games, animated GIFs and even Macromedia Shockwave files bombarded visitors. Many sites were created to be destination points for banner ad campaigns. You would click on the Colgate ad banner and go to the Colgate site where you could speak with the Colgate tooth fairy.

Today, the role of corporate Internet sites has fundamentally changed. Instead of wrapping company information in bells and whistles, these sites now provide contextual information for a transaction to take place. The Gap's site, for example, offers deals on khakis instead of company information. It's not surprising that traffic is driven by attractive prices and convenience rather than by stale corporate propaganda.

So why did brochureware sites not work? Why did interactive agencies either have to reinvent themselves or go out of business? These companies saw their business erode because of the current state of the Internet. In today's low-bandwidth environment, the Internet is not made for rich, entertainment-driven content. Interactive agencies that built sites designed to act like TV commercials did not find the same success rate on the Web. You can't tease visitors with interactivity and serve drivel. Let the Internet mature and gain bandwidth before plunging into entertainment. After all, how many content sites have you visited that showcase audio, video and interactive games? More importantly, how many have you gone back to?

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