Nostalgia for the New Century Network
Last week I heard someone refer to "NCN nostalgia." Just before the dot-boom, a bunch of newspaper companies got together and imagined an online future in which newspapers would be key players through something called New Century Network, which would be the definitive news resource on the Internet.
It all fell apart amid corporate bickering, and the inability of big media companies to cooperate was rightly blamed. But there was something else at work: technology was evolving faster than anyone's business vision.
I remember seeing one of the early NCN definitions in the form of a request for proposals to provide infrastructure for the network. The idea was for a federation of closed, paid-access websites, where you could navigate from site to site on a single membership pass. This was in the early days of Infinet, when newspaper companies thought they could have a sustainable business selling dialup Internet access.
By the time the RFP made it through the fax machine (yes, it was faxed) the idea was obsolete. Switch gears: Open portal. Switch gears: search engine. Switch gears: ad network. None of it worked and some players were left angry and bitter.
Enough time has passed that NCN nostalgia is at hand. And it surfaces in Jon Fine's Business Week column for next week. The idea of "Search Engines as Leeches on the Web" is a powerful one. But the way people use technology continues to evolve at a breathtaking pace. The notion that a we-tell-you news cartel would be relevant in a conversational universe may already be obsolete.