The Real Internet

Today in Douglas Rushkoff’s weblog, there’s a post about AOL & Time Warner, and how so many “experts” still don’t get it. “It” being what AOL and the Internet actually mean to one another.

I’m going to pull a long quote from his piece here, because it’s so well stated I think it’s hard to chop it up:

What they don’t get, and what real Internet enthusiasts have been saying since AOL took off in the early 90’s, is that a company like AOL never had a future. AOL was a training ground. An introduction to the Internet for people who didn’t know how to deal with ftp protocols. None of us thought it could last, because once the technological barriers to entry for the Internet had been lowered, no one would need AOL’s simplistic interface or it’s child-safe, digital content wading pools. People would want to get on the *real* Internet, using real browsers and email programs.
AOL’s demise may represent the power of old media – movies and magazines are a much more sustaining and profitable form of content than anything to be found online. But it also represents the power of new media: the Internet is a living culture, not a shopping mall, and any effort to make it safer, easier, or more predictably mainstream is not only shortsighted, but unnecessary.

Any of us who’ve been on the net since before AOL was connected to it probably understand this point. I think it’s an important one. However, the vast majority of people using, or planning to use, the Internet still think it’s the Web, and may never get more savvy about the other old crusty technologies Rushkoff mentions (like ftp and usenet).
But I do think that what AOL does is ultimately self-consuming, because it gets people thinking in net-connected ways. It changes their brains. And then they’re more likely to use something like Napster (still grieving over that one), AIM (ironically, the most powerful thing AOL has, and it’s free — for how long I don’t know) or other non-Web shared information spaces to communicate and share. AOL is a sugar-coated paradigm shift. And a whole generation has gotten used to thinking in terms of hyperconnectedness, global reach, instantaneous contact with others.
I can’t wait to see what they will create out of it. It will probably resemble FTP & IRC about as much as Adobe Photoshop resembles machine language.

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  • http://seanervin.com/ skebrown

    Actually, AOL has shown us the way to send users into the next level of cyber space. By using their easy to navigate channels window (the window users see when first signing on), AOL has developed a no nonsense approach in getting non savvy users into the www. This may be a good example to follow in pushing the next level onto the non-savvy’s by developing more useable systems. Let me try and make my point here. If each of AOL’s channel buttons send you into an area of their www sites, why could this approach not work for usenet and ftp sites as well? Having an easy to navigate area to start is all the user really wants. That’s why AOL makes it easy and why they have so many subscribers. Imagine having that same sort of channel window for different areas of the web i.e., ftp and usenet?

    I agree with Duglas on his fine points about the *real* Internet but it’s hard to get Grandma & Grandpa on if the *hubilator* is so darn complicated.

    I also agree with Drew’s point about connected space. Sharing is cool and sugar coated or not — it’s a good thing (hey, I’m Martha!)

    Thanx for the space,
    ske

  • http://symetri.org/gray El Gray

    AOL could have been a major ISP with a nice index page/interface of some sort and not a huge, ever-growing, pulsating evil brain that rules from the center of the underworld and forces people into crappy little pre-fab ‘rooms’ and ‘channels’ that have been bought and sold by major sponsors…

    …but they didn’t. They went with the ‘evil brain’ option.

    Now we have people who are unaware of the world outside of AOL and think that ‘keywords’ are actually worth a damn.

    *shakes fist*