Would the web have survived without advertising?

Thanks to Barry Chapman for this interesting piece of history.  My personal opinion is the web would have survived without advertising – uneconomic models have been frequent in Internet history and haven’t stopped growth. However, they sure helped growth and are a major part of what we are now experiencing.

I recently discovered your pages on the history of the internet with great interest.  In particular, I was intrigued by the information on the commercialization of the internet as I and my team were leaders of this in the early 1990’s.  As Technology Director of Grey Advertising Inc., the US £10 billion Madison Ave. based advertising comglomerate, I proposed and piloted what was known at the time as “The New Media Experiment”.  By a fusion of the server capacity of commercial provider PIPEX (one of our clients) and internaitonal companies such as BAT, Proctor and Gamble and Allied Dunbar, we launched the first commercial purpose web-based advertising and information pages on the web.  Although naive by todays standards these contained the first information made available on consumerl products on the internet. Our web pages also included e-mail addressing for consumer queries and inquiries. Simultaneously with the launch of these first websites I convinced the aforementioned companies to add the now ubiquitous web address to packaging, bill board advertising and television and media advertising. My CEO and colleagues at the time reluctantly agreed to “The New Media Experiment”. Scepticism soon evaporated after coverage articles appeared in the Advertising trade publications.  Within 6 months nearly all our clients were insisting on a web presence as an indication of their state-of-the-art credentials and we were then followed by London based Saatchi & Saatchi and the race was on.

I sincerely believe that without the influx of advertising revenues at that time, the internet would have struggled to achieve what it has today. I cannot claim that this commercial breakthrough would not have happened a year or two later without the inspiration of Vashti Andrews, Howard May and myself and our unique opportunity though links with PIPEX and corporate advertising.  However, those of us who worked in the IT industry at that time remember the massive cost of technology provision and the fragile funding which the internet was receiving from its more traditonal sources such as the US Dept of Defense and MIT and other establishments. I remember once meeting Tim Berners-Lee before “The New Media Experiment” and being told that the internet would be limited to academic applications unless long term funding was found.  I am very happy that the internet was able to survive and would appreciate some mention of “The New Media Experiment” in your history.



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