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<nettime> normon solomon: denial and ravaging of cyberspace
nettime's_roving_reporter on Fri, 31 Aug 2001 13:47:43 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> normon solomon: denial and ravaging of cyberspace

     [via <tbyfield {AT} panix.com>. this seems like your basic general-
     leftist-type screed--complete with a deep (and unacknowledged)
     ambivalence about the relationship between independent or non-
     commercial 'content' OT1H, and megamedia, OT0H. the idea that
     that marginality and quality might just be two sides of a sin-
     gle coin, as it were, goes unexamined. of course that kind of
     observation is susceptible to charges of self-marginalization;
     but any negation of it is subject to other charges. cheers, t]

   Published on Friday, August 24, 2001 by FAIR's Media Beat
   Denial and the Ravaging of Cyberspace
   by Norman Solomon
   The vast Internet is many things to many people. Accustomed to their
   own routes through cyberspace, individuals may assume that what they
   see is fairly typical. But in society as a whole, what are the Web's
   dominant traffic patterns?
   While some view it as an expansive bastion of decentralized
   communication and democratic discourse, the Internet now functions
   quite differently overall. In total, the World Wide Web is scarcely
   more civic-minded than your local bank.
   Consider the flat-out judgment rendered by America's leading organ of
   capitalism a few weeks ago. The Wall Street Journal tilts toward the
   delusional on its ideology-laden editorial pages, but its news
   reporting is -- out of investor necessity -- right on the money. And
   the paper was on target with a July 23 piece by reporter Thomas E.
   Weber, who scrutinized the evolving role of the Web.
   Back in the summer of 1993, "cyberspace had remained practically free
   of advertisements, but marketers were beginning to eye the medium."
   Eight years later, Weber wrote, "it's difficult to remember that
   quaint, commercial-free Internet. Marketers didn't just eye the medium
   -- they conquered it." He added: "The Internet has been transformed
   largely into a place of commerce."
   But the Internet remains, for many, an object of illusion.
   As if looking backward through the wrong end of a telescope, some
   observers are dazzled by the virtues of their personal treks online.
   But whatever cyber-stars are in the eyes of certain individuals, the
   business calculations of hard-nosed number crunchers are focused
   elsewhere. And the documented trends are enough to make the most
   avaricious media tycoon grin.
   Websites operated by just four corporations account for 50.4 percent
   of the time that U.S. users of the Web are now spending online, the
   authoritative Jupiter Media Metrix research firm reported in early
   summer. At the top of the heap were AOL Time Warner's sites, with 32
   percent of all minutes spent online in the nation, followed by
   Microsoft (7.5 percent) and Yahoo (7.2 percent).
   Jupiter senior analyst Aram Sinnreich said the figures "show an
   irrefutable trend toward online media consolidation and indicate that
   the playing field is anything but even." He cited the data as
   refutation of the still-popular notion that "severe market dominance
   is impossible on the Internet."
   The most heavily trafficked sites are overwhelmingly devoted to
   commercial activities in one form or another, such as online shopping,
   financial services, investment, corporate-screened entertainment,
   travel deals and market research. Meanwhile, even on many nonprofit
   sites, banner ads are bigger than ever. And intrusive pop-up
   advertisements are spreading.
   To make matters appreciably worse, the owners of some key search
   engines are avidly prostituting their services. (The most powerful
   search-scam offenders include AltaVista, AOL, Microsoft and Lycos. For
   details, visit www.commercialalert.org.) These days, if you use one of
   the Internet's main search engines to find whatever, the chances are
   good that the top results came from dollars rather than relevance or
   "Search engine optimization is the number one strategy for generating
   qualified traffic to your site," said a recent sales pitch offering
   prominence in search-engine listings. "Eighty-five percent of all
   traffic is generated via search queries and over 90 percent of that
   traffic is driven to the top 30 results. If you're not in the top 30,
   you're not in a position to compete!"
   But faith in the democratic character of the Internet is resilient; a
   myth that will not die. And the more that huge outfits ravage
   cyberspace, the more useful the mythology becomes, laying a thick fog
   over the realities of mega-media domination.
   The spectacular dot-com plunge has caused many corporate managers to
   sharpen their cost-cutting knives, endangering just about any media
   content that doesn't seem to directly correlate with boosting revenue.
   Before the Los Angeles Times cancelled his long-running and insightful
   column "Digital Nation" in mid-July, scholar Gary Chapman gained many
   readers as he tracked digital trends. Four months ago, he was citing
   informed predictions that Web browsers will become outdated within
   five years, giving way to "widespread use of interactive TV networks
   managed by large media companies."
   The dot-com flameouts have sped up the Net's commercialization -- as
   quests for cash-flow, market share and multimedia synergy become more
   "The idea that anyone with an e-commerce Web site could sell anything
   under the sun seems completely dead now," Chapman noted last spring.
   "The alternative seems to be a move toward closed networks, not unlike
   America Online, in which the user experience is guided, shaped and far
   more controlled -- something advertisers and online retailers are
   demanding. In other words, there is a growing sense in the high-tech
   industry that consumer networks of the future will begin to look more
   like television -- indeed, some believe interactive digital TV is the
   true wave of the future."
   For a time, the Internet seemed to elude the profit-driven matrix
   squeezing media and public life. Some illusions die hard. But
   hopefully we can move forward with new resolve to fight against
   corporate power -- and for truly democratic media.
   Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. His
   books include "The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets
   the Last Laugh."

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