The Toy Internet

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
6 February, 2018
Editorial: 173
Fecha de publicación original: 22 junio, 1999

Buy at a fair but sell at home

Even if only a few Spaniards accept the flood of “free” access to the Internet offers there are at the moment, Spanish cyberspace will experience a healthy rise in its population figures. The big telecom operators are practically falling over themselves to saturate media space with their respective services for free access to the Net. Over the weeks to come, thousands of new internauts –and some veterans– will have the chance to take up these “digital plans” and surf the Internet. In many cases these offers include e-mail addresses and space for creating web pages. If just a small percentage of the percentage that get into the Net this way take advantage of these opportunities, their presence will definitely be felt. For some, the attraction lies in the potential increase in digital content. For others, particularly the PTT themselves, cyberspace will fill up with potential clients, new, innocent, confused, ingenuous, who don’t know how the Net works. Ideal material for being channelled into believing in “faithful portals”. This would be enough to make some laugh if it wasn’t for the fact that there is so much being invested in just such illusory objectives.

New users are receiving programmes and parameters for accessing the Net. Over the weeks to come, for example, more than a million CD-ROM will be distributed amongst the registered users of one PTT. These people will find that they are offered a navigator which it is recommended they use “as is”. In other words, with the first page predetermined by the giver so that it is, logically enough, their own. Naturally. That way traffic through that page is assured, for some time anyway. Until users discover –and sooner or later they will– that there is a menu for preferences where they can predetermine the page they want to start navigating from, their own, for example, if they have one. On the other hand, e-mail addresses on offer with “free Internet” are, in many cases, those offered free by other services, such as Hotmail, Webmail or similar companies. Users also won’t take long to discover that they can use their own mail without having to go through the blessed first page of their operator.

As PTT know that trying to “fix” users usually doesn’t last long, the offer often includes promises of exclusive content and quality, which are not necessarily the same thing; one thing is exclusive content (own) and the other quality content (that belonging to others). In the first case, all the big PTTs have embarked on a buying up policy of –or in association with– important portals, with large newsrooms attached to them producing “own content”. The result, for the moment anyway, is a considerable increase in redundant information services. Which is not enough to maintain that sought after “loyalty”.

So, at some moment or another, the predictable exodus will begin. This is where the bait of content from other sources comes into play. And, where is this content placed? There are various options. But my favourite is the one where they are included in the bookmarks, and I’m not joking. Some of the operators involved in these “free Internet” offers have approached numerous content companies to offer them the chance of making up part of the bookmarks of the navigators they are distributing In exchange for 250.000 pesetas (1.502 euros) that is, because they are going to form part, no more no less, of the exclusive team of the new portal in question. It would be interesting to find out just how many companies have taken up this interesting kind of “business deal”: paying to be in a bookmark. Not even Marc Andreessen, the inventor of Netscape, could have dreamed up something like this.

During the 80s in Spain the so-called “cultura del pelotazo” or “cash-in quick culture”, a kind of crusade to do well in business (or marrying for money) thereby making a fortune at the drop of a hat, became all the rage. Many, from politicians, to bankers, industrialists and financiers, took up the fashion leaving the social landscape burnt out, some prison cells filled with illustrious public figures and more than one political programme irremediably damaged. As the century draws to a close, it is interesting that echoes of that culture are resonating again on the Net. The fervent desire to get rich quick with a good idea is causing a lot of money and human resources to be wasted and what is worse in the long term, considerable mistakes to be made in a sector that everyone supposes is the driving force behind the economy of the Information Society.

The immediate victims of this policy apparently, are the Internet service providers (ISP), who are suddenly finding that their business should have been free and they hadn’t realised it. In reality though, as the small print on all these offers of free access to the Net clearly indicates, what is really on offer is just a toy Internet. The “technical” definition is: simple access with easy navigation. Given the fact that there is no flat rate and the narrow bandwith of the present infrastructure, that sounds a bit like: don’t complain if it doesn’t work, it was free. And let me hasten to add that I’m not complaining. I think it is very important –just as InfoVia was in its day– that thousands of people have the chance to get into cyberspace this way. And the quicker they get there through these portals, the better. That way they won’t feel that they are wanted just as clients and they can go on to discover all the opportunities that the Net has to offer them as persons.

Translation: Bridget King.