|Searls Site: Home|
November 26, 1998
Netscape had several fathers, but the sperm that mattered most came from Kleiner Perkins. As it clearly still does.
Thank God. Or John Doerr. Or both.
For Kleiner's money and everybody else's the deal to sell Netscape for $4 billion in stock to AOL was a simple necessity. So was the deal to put Sun in charge Netscape's enterprise business. Netscape's stock had finally found its ceiling, while AOL's and Sun's had not. So it was time to move the goods off Netscape's elevator and onto AOL's, and to offload some extra weight onto Sun's (since they're in the hardware business, think of theirs as the freight elevator). Then punch the buttons that point to the sky and hold on for the next ride.
USA Today nails it best in its piece "Power play drives AOL-Netscape deal." What we have here, they say, is the "desire by one of Netscape's original investors venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers to find a buyer for Netscape and a home for its products before the company implodes."
It was brilliant work: reallocating Netscape's most valuable resources to companies that could make the most of them, at exactly the right time. Outside a kieretsu like Kleiner's, it could never have been done.
Now what about Mom?
Netscape's mother was Mosaic, or the original Mosaic team, which carries on as mozilla.org, under the spiritual leadership of Jamie Zawinski.*
Jamie writes the lead piece on the Mozilla.org site this morning, under the headline "Fear and Loathing on the Merger Trail." His bottom line (literally):
"mozilla.org is not Netscape. And it is not now, nor will it ever be, AOL."
This is good. Very good.
Now it's time for the Mozilla folks to do what hasn't been done in the browser business since it became a business: make a new version of what Mosaic was in the first place an instrument for finding (and buying) stuff on the Web.
Not an operating system. Not an email, collaboration, authoring or chat application, or a way to "integrate" all that stuff. Not a channel for advertisers. Not a "portal" for "capturing eyeballs" or aggregating trivia that gets in the way of what most of us really want, which is to find, see, read, learn and buy.
In other words, turn it into an instrument of demand, not of supply.
The Internet is a deep-impact meteor, and the tsunami it produces is a wave of demand like nothing the supply side has ever seen (and only the likes of Dell and Amazon fully appreciate). The browser should be a shopping cart that helps demand navigate supply; not a shipping system that helps supply "capture" demand.
The flywheels of supply are enormous, of course. They grew huge when the industrial revolution came along, and, as Alvin Toffler put it so well in The Third Wave (far ahead of its time in 1980), "drove an enormous wedge between production and consumption." That wedge put such a distance between production and consumption that customers were reduced to "consumers," which Jerry Michalski calls "gullets": creatures who live only to gulp products and crap cash.
That distance also led us to understand business largely in terms of shipping: of making and moving goods through channels that run like conveyor belts (or "value chains") from production to consumption. As a result, even what we used to call "writing" is now "content" that we "address" for "delivery" to "eyeballs." Meanwhile, the conceptual metaphor for consumption is still what it always was: shopping.
The Third Wave is a return to both the virtues and the mechanics of the first. Markets become conversations where demand talks directly with supply and also gets to find whatever information it needs to drive the bargains it wants. That's why it's best to bet on demand. Watch that Wave.
The AOL/Netscape deal is not a bet on demand. It's an aggregation of supply. For all of their success with consumers, AOL is positioned entirely on the supply side of the producer-consumer relationship. So is Netscape. Both companies are high on the prospects of "aggregating content," "capturing eyeballs," "branding" and other marketing BS for which there is no demand only enormous tolerance, trained by 50 years of television-induced narcosis.
Not the case with Microsoft.
Whatever their nefarities, Microsoft has always practiced Marketing 101: listen to customers, find what they want, and give it to them. Even if the result is monstrosities with the digital curb weight of tractor trailers, bloated by code for 50 kinds of talking paper clips. (I've heard it suggested by more than one Microsoft insider that the reason company products are so fat with dumb stuff is that the majority of tech support calls come from dumb users.)
The only customers Netscape ever cared about were the big ticket buyers of its enterprise products. Not its browser customers. I paid for that damn browser the whole time they charged for it, and I never got a useful or even an interested response from the company's tech support lines. More than once I was told that the product "just didn't matter" to the company. Which made it strange for me to hear Netscape complain that Microsoft did as good a job attracting customers as Netscape did at repelling them.
Now Steve Case and Jim Barksdale are all over the news shows, talking about "brands" and "audiences" and "consumer experiences." And the press just chants along, hardly challenging claims like "a 60% share of the Internet audience" for the new company. This is pure hydrogen. Gas doesn't get any thinner than this.
But let's be fair: Steve and Jim have to say this stuff. It's their job, and it's also what the whole industry has been chanting for the past year or so, ever since the it was struck by an epidemic of portal fever.
There's an easy cure.
Just turn around. Stop looking at all the ways production tries to "address" consuption through the Internet, and start looking in the other direction: toward the new wave of demand, toward buyers with browsers. These are not eyeballs at the end of a tube, and there's a limit to how long we can get away with thinking that's all they are. What we're seeing now is just the beginning of the greatest surge of demand in the history of business. The people who comprise it want facts and products. Not more insults.
I'm glad to see which way the Mozilla folks are surfing. Now mark these words: you can bet Microsoft is surfing in the same direction.
26 November, 1998
Back to the top Back to Reality 2.0 On to the next article