This past Saturday the National Weather Service, using its considerable resources, determined that two low-pressure areas would soon crash into each other over the Northeast, creating a once-in-fifty-years even: a perfect storm. The classic nor’easter would soon bury Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and every village and hamlet between them in a thick blanket of snow. As the news was broadcast over The Weather Channel and innumerable radio and television stations, many people raced to their neighborhood supermarkets to lay in supplies so they could survive the storm surrounded by their favorite colas, chips, and condiments.
As the appointed time for the storm’s arrival in New York came and went, it became clear that—at the very least—the Weather Service’s timing was off. The storm was late in arriving, held up by meteorological formalities on its journey to perfection. In the meantime schoolchildren had been given the day off, happy to be playing in virtually snow-free parks and playgrounds. One local newspaper carried a front-page picture of the local zoo’s polar bear, entirely snow-free, quizzically wondering what all the fuss was about. One the second day (now 36 hours after the storm’s appointed arrival time), a few flakes fell on New York City but hardly enough to cause much of a fuss. And the locals, ever cynical, promptly began calling it the Comet Kohoutek of Blizzards.
On inquiries by the media, the Weather Service produced a wonderful explanation: The weather forecast had been correct, but the location was off by 150 miles. This ranks as one of the finest examples of “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
It isn’t much of a stretch to draw a parallel between the Weather Service’s correct forecast but incorrect location, and all the predictions that went into the Web’s development. It wasn’t all that long ago that rational people with great resources at their disposal predicted a world where bricks—physical stores--would be wholly replaced by clicks—virtual e-commerce emporiums. Remember when eToys had a larger market value than Toys-R-Us? It also wasn’t all that long ago that purveyors of Web media predicted that Web advertising would soon dwarf other media, and charged CPMs that were wildly higher than any other electronic medium. Finally, it wasn’t that long ago that the growth in ad-supported sites was virtually limitless, attracting an unbelievable amount of investment capital.
As with the Weather Service, these predictions were correct in concept but wrong in location—in this case, timing. It is clear that the Web is taking longer to develop than was anticipated in those overheated early days. Ecommerce will inexorably prove to be the most convenient and efficient means of shopping. Just not yet. And the Web will in fact demonstrate that it is a wonderfully effective and trackable advertising medium, only more slowly than anticipated. And finally, properly targeted and designe