Drums in the forest

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
26 September, 2016
Editorial: 34
Fecha de publicación original: 27 agosto, 1996

Date of publication: 28/8/1996. Editorial 034.

Getting up early doesn’t make the dawn come sooner

San Francisco.-

Last week in the USA large front page headlines in nearly all the media welcomed the arrival of version 3.0. It was the first item on the CNN news which fired the opening shot in what many have already started to call (not another one, please!) the “Internet war”: Netscape against Microsoft, Navigator against Explorer, or the skirmish of the 3.0s. The tumultuous welcome which the two most used browsers on the WWW have received and the fact that this was treated, quite normally, as the most important news item, shows without doubt that the Internet has been fully accredited by society. The dispute as to whether the net was just a hobby or passing trend is over. Now, the Man, as the digital underground have sarcastically nicknamed Bill Gates, has jumped into the arena in his shiny bull fighter’s suit ready to fight all the bulls in the field, and if their horns are trimmed down and they have a broken leg, so much the better. Speaking of bulls, whilst all this was going on I was watching the bull fight from the fence, literally. An imposing fence of sequoias in Northern California, the Redwood Forest to be more precise.

To tell you the truth, the sequoias make so much noise while they are growing that I could hardly hear the Gates, Anderson and Company hullabaloo from where I was. Just a faint whisper filtered through from the San Francisco Bay and even affected the inhabitants (human) of the Redwood Forest. American Online, which is also busy launching the new version of its own browser, has just created “Digital City-San Francisco” (this also hit the the first pages of the local newspapers), including the mayor, a Mr. Bill Gorman, who we will definitely hear more from in the future. “Digital-SF” will open their doors only to subscribers of AOL at first, and will be on the Web this autumn.

AOL, which is spending millions of dollars on marketing this venture, claims that the time has come to make the “third leap forward” (notice the Maoist terminology): First, national; then international and now, finally,local (notice the Maoist ideology). AOL has approximately as many subscribers just in the San Francisco bay area as there are Internet users in Spain: more than 30,000. Gorman claims this is the critical mass necessary to create a digital community and that, spoken in the true spirit of a red guard, this will now be par for the course for the Internet: the creation of virtual communities for all the continent(s).

An interesting aspect of this commotion is that Netscape, Microsoft and AOL are selling their products using free access to “time-honoured information services” as bait, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The East Bay Express (The San José Mercury has just abandoned the AOL ship and ended up on the beaches of the Web). In other words newspapers, the most insignificant sector of what cyberspace has to offer. Communities are not formed by the media, it is the communities that create the media. Maria Wilhelm, president of The Well, one of the first Internet virtual communities (I recommend a visit there to all internauts) and who was born in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, has this to say on AOL’s venture: “You cannot open the door and declare we are now a community, come and join us. Human communities are not created by decree, instead they develop and mature as a result of the enthusiasm generated by members’ activities and the institutes which they create, all this passed through the great sieve of time in order to consolidate their interrelationships.” This cannot be achieved by means of dollars or street hawkers with special offers. There is a sense of freedom amongst members of a digital community which a company cannot guarantee by offering a simple code of good intentions. And deep down this is the only thing that Netscape, Explorer and AOL are offering us, behind their gleaming shark’s teeth. No matter how hard they try, the browser market and the creation of digital communities will take separate roads because their basic proposals are radically different. The dollar and freedom are not synonymous, as Wilhem herself said this week when asked what she thought of the “new Internet war”.

Translation: Bridget King.