THE GREAT WEB FAKEOUT
"Whether it's California start-ups or elite East Coast media institutions, an extraordinary series of bankruptcies and layoffs is reverberating through the once burgeoning online world," Chip Bayers writes in the April 1996 issue of Wired magazine. "Across the Internet, publishers of the largest Web sites are drowning in a sea of red ink...Even the true believers working at the hyperhip HotWired Web site, are now chastened."
Titled "The Great Web Wipeout" the story is a spoof, presented as a kind of smug "I-told-you-so" from the future. Wired's art department dated the story "TIME January 27, 1997" and superimposed two white-male hands clutching the pages. According to this prognosis, the Web will inevitably drive people to bankruptcy, leaving corporations stranded on the shoals of some grand delusion. The opposite is true -- there's a bundle, a big bundle to earned on the Web -- and we're poised to enter this next phase.
OBFUSCATION AT HOTWIRED
Irony ostensibly ran thick through the pages of Wired; Bayers is managing editor of "hyperhip" HotWired, and for a brief moment Bayers's piece sent a frisson through Web-marketers and editors at rival publications -- "Have you read the Wired piece on the Web," one editor asked me, "What's going on over there?" What's going on over there is complicated, a twisting series of contradictions that, on the surface, seem to make little sense. Why would Bayers write such a story when HotWired recently received a $7.5 million investment for 15% of the HotWired venture (placing a total value of approximately $50 million on HotWired), employs over 100 people, and charges some of the highest advertising rates of any media -- $150 per CPM according to Jupiter Communications.
Advertisers use a cost-per-thousand (CPM) to compare the relative cost of running an ad. A thirty-second ad on NBC nightly news runs about $5.50 per CPM. A full page in Cosmopolitan is $35 per CPM. If money speaks, then HotWired is an unquestioned success. On one level, Bayers's article serves to mollify investors, placing HotWired ahead of the Web-backlash he accurately predicts. On another, it is totally disingenuous, implying that all this is a surprise. Bayers understood perfectly well the limitations of the Web in the summer of 1994, when I met him in New York, days before his scheduled move from New York to San Francisco, where he would begin work at the still-undefined HotWired.
Back then, in the primordial age of Webmania, there was a rival model to today's "cut 'n paste" HTML shovelware -- it had to do with an unfriendly Web-word, "interactivity." The Web hadn't yet become synonymous with "Internet," as it is today, and Bayers recognized that Wired had to create an electronic environment that didn't just mimic print. Our lunch-time meeting was in a suitable location, across from Madison Park. Madison Park was once home to Madison Square Garden, and a kind of interactivity we'll never see again. There New Yorkers gathered to watch the world's most outlandish, most technologically advanced, entertainment.
In its heyday, during the late 1800s, the Garden