Web dream lives on, but not without a little luck
The Web's great glory always has been the promise that it equalises the playing field for communication to the masses.
The dream was that the lowliest of individuals could reach the same audience as professionally as any large, multinational corporation or organisation with bundles of cash. Even I believed the dream, and dreamed it.
Now, though, I am no longer a believer.
With the rapid pace of technological development, along with the big dollars being poured into the Net by large corporations to establish Web presences, this reality is changing.
In theory I can still reach the same audience, but in reality I don't and I won't. I certainly can't afford the sophisticated hardware and software needed to publish highly interactive Web sites with reams of database content.
Publishing a Web site can be inexpensive. Doing it right and in a big way can be mighty expensive and, without the name recognition of giants such as IBM or General Electric, may be doomed to far less exposure than one would hope.
A classic case in point is Amazon.com. Amazon claims to be the largest bookstore in the world. This on-line-only enterprise boasts a catalogue of millions of books, all of which can be ordered through the company's Web site.
Amazon is a prime example of a decently designed application of the Web - done well and, in theory at least, an excellent example of what should be a profitable and successful Web enterprise.
However, Amazon.com is not profitable yet - it is losing money and faces competition which stands a good chance of forcing it out of business on the basis of name alone.
Barnes and Nobles, the largest bookstore chain in the United States, plans to offer sales via a Web site with an equally impressive on-line catalogue.
Regardless of how well-implemented the Web site is and the quality of on-line sales service, most analysts I have read argue that the newcomer will push Amazon.com right out of the market simply because when people think of books they think of Barnes & Nobles and will go to their Web site before they find Amazon.com in a search for bookstores on the Net.
So, does this mean that the era of small businesses succeeding on-line against corporate giants is over and we should and forget the dream? Not quite. Like all tools of communication and business, succeeding with the Web requires diligence, sacrifice, risk and a dose of luck. The difference is that with traditional business ventures the start-up costs are prohibitive. On the Web these are within reach of more people.
This means more people have the opportunity to flex their entrepreneurial muscles and, as would be expected, more people will fail. Many more will succeed as well, and even while we see the corporate giants claiming their stake in the on-line world, those with the entrepreneurial spirit to develop unique enterprises in the cyber-age should go for it.
We just need to be realistic. The Web is not the answer to our dreams to compete head-on with the big guns. It just gives a better chance to try entering the market at all.
That is one of the great promises of the Web. It can't make you a CNN overnight, but you can start a small news service with little difficulty and then with brains, good timing and luck - well, if you become the next CNN remember where you got the idea.