Welcome to Reviews OnLine: Marc Andreessen Keynote
Marc Andreessen Keynote
at PC Expo 1999
by Stephen R.Jones (June 22, 1999)

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AOL Chief Technology Officer and web pioneer challenged the industry to bring Internet technology to "everyone on the planet."

Keynote: Marc Andreessen
Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Andreessen's lighthearted remarks seemed aimed at a serious topic: How to bring the benefits of technology to people who have better things to do than become technologists.

For starters, he observed that "the problem with the Internet is nobody's there" and that the most frequent question in AOL chat rooms is "are you there?" In other words, visiting the web is like strolling through a rich, interesting, but ultimately uninhabited ghost town.

The solution, as seen on AOL and in ICQ chat rooms is "instant messaging" where you know immediately who's there and can strike up conversations with friends and strangers alike.

To prove the power of "social computing", Andreessen compared participation in chat rooms with that of the much ballyhooed "portal sites." While a typical visitor spends one hour a month with a popular portal site, typical chat room participants spend that much time per week (or more).

So, Andreessen predicts that instant messaging will find its way into the workplace much the same way as "email culture" has. In the process, making the Web a more social place will make it more inviting for the unconverted.

The other way to reduce barriers to entry, Andreessen pointed out, is to put more effort into "ease-of-use." He retold a joke from the New Yorker that had one lady complementing another about her nice brown piece of toast and then asking, "who's your electricity provider?"

The point being made was that consumers don't care about technology. Further, Andreessen said, consumers buy brands they know, they aren't system integrators, are turned off by hard to use things, and are driven most of all by convenience.

As technologists, we have to set aside our technology and understand these aspects of human nature if we want to reach beyond the 2% of humanity that have already integrated information technology into their lives.

Andreessen's final remarks hinted at AOL's plans to extend their services to other devices including television set-top boxes and Palm computers. He concluded that by bringing down cost, focusing on ease-of-use, and increasing reliability "we can bring the benefits of technology to literally everyone on the planet."

Copyright 1999 Stephen R. Jones All rights reserved.

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