OPINION: When to toss out old ideas

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It's amazing what you learn when you decide to clean your desk.

I came into the office on a recent blustery Saturday to do just that. And by the time I got to the bottom of the imposing three-foot tower of papers, it became clear to me that while September 1996 is not that long ago in days and weeks, it's light years away in Internet lingo.

I discovered that it's no longer cool to be an "offline" service. Somewhere in the past few months, everything became "push." Which made me wonder why "online" has never made the transition to "pull."

There was enough paperwork about free, ad-supported Internet access to build a small house; the information about free, ad-supported e-mail could cover maybe one wall of the house.


There's still more said, written and thought about America Online than any other company in the interactive marketing universe. But while the stuff from September hyped new Greenhouse content partners, the things that crossed my desk in January plugged access numbers and switches and capacity. It's hardly the forte of a hip entertainment company.

Before I could file all this paper, I had to make room in my filing cabinet. That meant another excursion into the past.

There I found folders set up for Hewlett-Packard and General Instrument back in 1993. They contained a few bits of paper about the impending arrival of digital set-top boxes.

There was also a huge folder for ICTV, which in '93 pledged to me that it would deliver a working interactive TV system before Time Warner could.

It's strange. What was important and relevant yesterday is frequently laughable and forgotten today.


Amid the mayhem and fuss about the here and now, it's easy to forget the path that got us to that point. America Online's "sudden" service problems were spawned years ago by a growth-at-all-costs strategy and fueled by two simple but effective marketing concepts: cheap and cool.

The recent hullabaloo over banner ad sizes was a tempest in a teapot for some, but it represents one of the first real efforts to legitimize and rationalize a business that has grown like kudzu in a matter of months.

Making sense of the Net is about taking stock of all the ideas that are flying around out there and asking if it's appropriate to use them now, throw them away or save them for another time.

If a company like ICTV failed to deliver its promise, it's important not to write off the concept just because the company couldn't succeed. Same goes for push technology: Just because it's sexy now doesn't mean it's right for your company.

Technology may change marketing methods and provide new tools, but it should never make you second-guess your business priorities.


In keeping with that vision, Interactive Media & Marketing is evolving, too. Starting today, we launch a new feature, networthy, designed to showcase the cool and useful ways marketers are using the Net. It's no longer about technology for technology's sake, but rather fulfilling a marketing need.

Check out Page 42 for the first installment, about a unique way to deliver an ad message--when a user is leaving a site.

We've also added "Find it on AdAge.com" to the ends of some articles in the section; the feature is designed to help readers research a topic that we've covered in the past.

Our mission is to help you understand concepts in interactive marketing and learn how to apply them to your company. It's not just the news of the day, but how it fits in with what you've learned so far.

If there are other ways we can meet that need, let me know at daw@crain.com. The e-mail doorway is always open.

Copyright January 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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