Three Lessons Learned from Early Online Content Providers

 The biggest obstacle to online content providers in the pre-internet days was neither which business model to choose (Subscription?  Ad or Sponsor based?) nor which platform to publish in (AOL, Compuserve, or Prodigy?)

The greatest obstacle was that people didn’t know what to do online.

We forget that people killed a lot of trees.   Printouts of online content (and photocopies for colleagues) were de rigueur.  There were no bookmarks or forwarding of links.

Lesson learned:  People will initially treat new products the way they used the old ones.

We forget that people ran up enormous connectivity bills, sometimes exceeding their rent payments.  The greatest amount of time people spent online was not reading online content, it was interacting with others and playing games.

Lesson learned:   Follow the money.  If people are spending ten times the hours (and money) to do something other than interact with your product, you’d better find out what it is.

We forget that then people didn’t know what to click.  Buttons had to say “click here”.  Woe to those whose computers did not yet have a mouse.

Lesson learned:  Make the most lucrative real estate be irresistible and obvious.

To quote my  boss, Myer Berlow, from one of our 1999 staff meetings:

“ True interactive media is rare, and it’s never well-done.”

Successful content providers overcame the technology and business model hurdles by taking a chance and moving forward by trial and error until they got it right.  Forging ahead to Web 3.0 (or even 2.0 for that matter)  means taking a chance and imitating something that seems to be working even if you don’t 100% ‘get it’.   After all, being somewhat successful even though you don’t know why is a lot better for your business than hanging back until you’ve got it all figured out.

The internet waits for no one.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content conference

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