There At the Start, and Divining the Web's Future

Vint Cerf

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Last fall, Google hired Vint Cerf as its "idea guy." But the "father of the Internet" is quick to credit Google with its own good ideas. "If anything, we have many more ideas than can be reasonably pursued at once, so the hard part is figuring out which ideas will make best use of our accumulated expertise," says Mr. Cerf, 62. Still, Google scored big when hiring Mr. Cerf as VP-chief Internet evangelist. Co-designer of Internet communication protocol TCP/IP, he's chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and visiting scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What has been the single best use of the Internet thus far?

That's a tough question. E-mail-excluding spam-the Web, VoIP and instant messaging are all examples of highly useful applications that have evolved over time. Ninety-nine percent of all the applications of the Internet have yet to be invented. In terms of general utility, I would have to say that the Web is probably at the top of the heap, but peer-to-peer applications may top that in terms of capacity utilization.

Do you think there is a place for advertising on the Internet?

Absolutely-see Google's business model as a very persuasive example. We have only begun to understand how the interactive Internet can change, improve and make more effective advertising in all its forms.

Do you think Internet advertising has taken shape in an appropriate way, or should it have been developed differently?

I didn't much like the pop-ups because they were so annoying. I don't like spam either. So those developments I could have done without. On the other hand, the search systems with their advertising seem much less intrusive and more useful, and one is in control of exposure to that ad content-you don't have to click. Comparison shopping seems much easier with online tools, and that's a good development.

Has the Internet thus far been fully leveraged as a media, communications and advertising vehicle?

Not yet. As we move into various forms of IP-based TV and radio, we will find very different models for presenting information of commercial interest. For example, one can download audio and video and play it back later. You could easily introduce advertising that is time-specific or place-specific or demographics-driven and not necessarily identical for all viewers/listeners. One can imagine playing back a downloaded musical piece or video, pausing it, and mousing around on the screen, clicking on icons or even images of interest-where can I get a car, coat, boat or watch like that?

In what other ways must marketers leverage the Internet?

It is important for marketers to remember that the Internet is an interactive medium in which users have a considerable degree of control. Thinking of ways to make advertisements actually useful for users strikes me as an important objective. The Internet also relieves advertisers of time and space limitations. Interested users can spend as much time as they like clicking for further information. Also, advertisers can take advantage of the online nature of the medium to immediately link up users to customer services through the Net, [such as] IM, VoIP, e-mail. Impulse interest is well worth capitalizing on in this environment.

What does the future hold for the Internet as a media, communications and advertising vehicle?

We will see some radical new ways to make advertising work. Position location information will make questions relative to location quite valuable-where is the nearest hospital? ATM? Gas station? The Internet also allows the general public to express itself by way of blogs and forums.

There is much more opportunity for feedback from the general public through the Internet to content producers. As a medium, the Internet is seemingly infinitely malleable. It can carry and deliver anything that can be digitized and packetized. Outlets for such information span TV and radio, PDAs, Internet-enabled watches, Internet-enabled picture frames and a variety of office and home appliances. We will also see use in transportation-cars, trains, planes.

Why is Net neutrality so critical, and what threat does a two-tier strategy pose to the Internet?

Neutral access to the full capability of the Internet has driven applications from the edge of the Internet. Companies did not need to seek permission or pay a premium to reach customers. It is fundamentally important to maintain this posture. New companies with new ideas should not have to pay premiums to experiment with them. More important, users should not be constrained in the way they use their network connections. Moving into a posture in which users can reach only those parties with whom the access provider has some kind of business arrangement flies in the face of the global nature of the Internet.
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