The Inevitability of Web Advertising

You may use this content, but please cite (c) 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein.

I will never forget seeing a beautiful, color image of a flower on a computer monitor for the first time in 1994. It was stunning, and it came from the Internet. Those with long teeth will readily remember that the Internet was the "public broadcasting [circa 1968]" of computer networks; i.e., it was militantly noncommercial.

When the World-Wide Web, came along, it, too, began with noncommercial content for the most part, and the Internet pubas decried any efforts to bring commercial content to this quintessentially non-commercial, research-oriented phenomenon.

I see technology as a tool that is neither inherently good or evil. It is how we choose to use technology where value labels may be debated. So it didn't matter what I personally thought about the new Web and the possibility that it would be commercialized. Instead, I thought of the history of new media in the United States. Radio, for example, began as a commercial free medium, and there were many detractors from the notion of radio carrying advertising. Yet the history of new media in the United States is content subsidized by advertising. We've been comfortable with this arrangement for generations: "free" content in return for the possibility that we might see commercial messages and respond to some of them.

Therefore, I said with confidence to my students in 1994 that the commercialization of the Web was inevitable in the United States. Was I a genius, was I able to see the future, or what would explain this confidence? The simple answer is knowledge of history. Someone would have to pay the piper for web content, and we had a model that had existed for 200 years of American history: advertising.


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