Letter from the Editors

Five years doesn't seem like a very long time, but when it comes to the Internet, we might as well be talking about decades. Five years ago, the Internet was just surfacing in the general consciousness; by 2005, interactivity will be as ubiquitous as electricity is today.

In this issue, we take a look at the interactive future -- or what today's marketers, consumers, economists, technologists and futurists believe it will be.

What we found was that marketers have their work cut out for them as technical advances explode their opportunities for reaching consumers. At the same time, consumer resistance will pose its own challenges to marketers trying to narrow the gap to a one-to-one relationship. Overall, the reality of an interactive future appears to have shifted from the overly optimistic promises of five years ago to an atmosphere of practical planning and implementation.

For example, our exclusive survey on e-commerce found that today's Internet users, from age 13 to 56 and older, generally see the Internet as an invaluable information resource. But, across all categories and ages, concerns over privacy and security are hindering their online buying activity, and that trend will continue unless marketers take action now.

At the same time, key marketing executives from DaimlerChrysler, Kraft Foods, Master-Card International, McDonald's International, Procter & Gamble Co. and Sears, Roebuck & Co. told us in an e-mail roundtable that consumer privacy is a critical concern to them as they use the Internet to further their existing brands.

One area we set out to debunk was the pie-in-the-sky tales of technological wonders. The only problem was, many of those wild predictions aren't so far-fetched, as we discovered when we set out to explore the various technologies that will change our lives, from smart appliances to wireless to interactive TV.

Of special note: In this issue, we introduce the Advertising Age Interactive Hall of Fame to honor the men and women who had the vision and determination to use the Internet and interactive technologies to change the world of marketing, advertising and media. To kick off our Hall of Fame, we have selected 12 people who played a critical role in the early days of interactive marketing, when the Internet was seen as a technological playground for geeks rather than as a key medium for marketing.

Rounding out this issue, we asked several experts for their views on what's happening in the interactive arena right now. Futurist Thornton May offers his perspective on the new pariah of privacy this age has produced; Marian Salzman looks at the phenomenon of contextual commerce; and Richard Segal discusses the role of demand creation in business-to-business.

In producing this issue, we owe special thanks to many people. Martin Musker, art director for B-to-B, Advertising Age's newspaper of the marketing revolution, once again created an outstanding design while overseeing the illustrators who enhanced the look of this issue. Working with him on the layout were Ad Age's Gregg Runburg and William Murphy. Photo/art editor Susan Graening arranged and coordinated the many photos in these pages, a time-consuming (and patience-wearing) task.

As for "The Interactive Past," our timeline of interactive history looking back to 1822, that was the work of free-lance writer Dana Blankenhorn. And Matt Carmichael, content and technology director for Ad Age Online, did some digging of his own to create our Web Gallery of banner ads from the past.

In putting together this special issue, we found ourselves reliving some of our "good, old days" of the early 1990s. It's strange how long ago that seems; in fact, 1993 was the year Ad Age, convinced there was an interactive future, began the weekly Interactive Media & Marketing section. The early '80s, when we were covering the Qube interactive TV project and Knight Rid-der's scheme to deliver an interactive newspaper, seem like a different era.

By contrast, it's even stranger to find ourselves now accepting as ordinary things that seven years ago seemed almost ludicrous -- like ubiquitous cell phones and e-mail and Palm devices and e-commerce. Of course, seven years ago, we weren't ready; while the technology has advanced quickly, we've all been on a roller-coaster ride of a learning curve that allows us to accept wireless phones and computers that plug into phone lines -- and, for the average household, just owning a computer at all.

But that's the interactive future for you: stranger than fiction and interacting with us before we realize it's already here.

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