"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 October 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Mr. Showbiz's Revenge


Remember television? You know,

that squarish box that you used

to sit in front of for hours on

end, slackjawed and comfortably

numbed by the kaleidoscope of

pretty sounds and bright colors

that it beamed through your

hostage senses? Sometimes we

miss it, too, ever since we

began mainlining the net. But

will our collective nostalgia

for the boob tube be our



Fall '95 is shaping up to be the

season that the Web mutated (and

not necessarily for the better).

As we try to make sense of the

manufactured confusion emanating

in the form of press releases,

alphas, betas, vaporware,

intriguing rumors, and hidden

(and not-so-hidden) agendas, we

find it helpful to examine the

actions and strategies of what

might be the most tech-savvy

"content" provider on the scene:

the Starwave Corporation.


[Mr. Showbiz]

You may be familiar with Starwave

as either Paul Allen's latest

money pit or as the purveyor of

such e-mag essentials as Outside

Online and Family Planet. While

a once-over of their current

selection may not leave you

floored, it's only because the

Web as we know it today is, at

best, a whiteboard upon which

Starwave can scrawl a rough sketch

of their vision of the future of

online content.


To wit, take a gander at this

fascinating paragraph from a

recent Microsoft Internet

Explorer press release:


"Internet Explorer's new

multimedia features bring

Starwave's services, including

Mr. Showbiz and ESPNET

SportsZone, much closer to the

media-rich goals of their

designers," said Patrick

Naughton, vice president of

technology at Starwave Corp.

"Our designers are thrilled to

finally be able to create true

multimedia online, and control

typefaces and column background

colors. These pragmatic

additions to the stagnant HTML

format are just what we need."



Obviously, Gates wasn't going to

come right out and proclaim the

(non-MSN-integrated) Web dead,

and we've been waiting for a

while now for Microsoft to find

some third-party to say it for

them, but getting Starwave to go

to bat for Monolith Inc. is

somewhat of a coup.


[Paul and Bill]

It's no surprise to see old

partners Allen and Gates rubbing

each other's backs, but make no

mistake: they each have their

own interests to look after. And

Starwave is by no means deep in

Bill's pocket. Remember,

Starwave has the wherewithal to

implement any of the new

multimedia apps that are bearing

down on the Web.



After all, their WWW task force

is spearheaded by a good half of

Sun's original Java team, hired

away when Java was still Oak,

HotJava was still WebRunner, and

the entire crew was perilously

close to unemployment. Oak was

designed first for PDAs, and

then for ITV, which, though

destined (in the short-term) to

fail miserably, do share with

the net the low-bandwidth-

induced need for small apps

built with reusable objects.


Even with a team of half the Java

inventors, Starwave may leapfrog

Netscape/Java entirely if

Microsoft's alternatives prove

more attractive from a market

share standpoint. What Starwave

recognizes, and many other big

Web players are just beginning

to learn, is that regardless of

whether it kills Netscape or

not, Microsoft's Internet

Explorer will, at worst, soon be

the second most popular Web

browser. Besides supporting

sophisticated multimedia and

page design/layout features, MS

can afford to give its browser



(It's telling that the second

most popular browser today after

Netscape Navigator is Lynx,

invalidating the argument that

there's a consumer-driven demand

for this technology. You did

want to be a test market for

ITV, didn't you?)


Since there's no sign that

Netscape's browser dominance is

going to tumble, Starwave will

most likely choose to enjoy the

best of both worlds - using

their in-house Java talent to

develop top-notch Java-based

content for Netscape/Java, while

exploiting their arm's-length

relationship with Microsoft to

help dominate leading-edge

interactive content development

for MS Internet Explorer.


[Master Online]

And with that kind of power at

their disposal, properties like

TicketMaster and ESPN SportZone

could approach compelling

content after all. Regardless,

sites built on cute Netscapisms

such as Word and Razorfish will

soon go the way of the woolly

mammoth if they don't throw some

of that start-up capital at a

beefed-up staff of engineers,

and border-line interactive

sites like HotWired and

Pathfinder will be cornered into

choosing sides: content in the

form of a glitzy ITV substitute,

or content in the form of



Which, considering the power of

nostalgia for braindead media to

make suckers out of Sucksters,

may not be as easy a decision as

one might think.

courtesy of the Duke of URL