Bob Metcalfe's WWW4 Column

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 9 Jan 96 13:06:28 -0500

And hey guys, for posterity, it was *my* exclamation that he eat his column
instead of his hat -- due credit to John Perry Barlow at NeXTWORLD. Tom'll
back me up, right? :-}

Rohit "Chewy-Style [Security]" Khare


January 8, 1996

Will Netscape eat its hat over claims it was too busy for Web Conference?

In the shadows a young man waited for the microphone. He stood at the back of
the audience of 2,000 attendees of the Fourth International World Wide Web
Conference last month in Boston. I had just summarized the conference for the
crowd and was itching for questions.

"Dr. Metcalfe," the young man asked respectfully, "exactly what article of
clothing will you eat, if not your hat, when the Internet fails to collapse in

The young man was, of course, referring to my Dec. 4, 1995, column (page 61)
in which I listed 10 factors that would lead in 1996 to a catastrophic
collapse of the Internet.

That column has me buried in mail, thank you. I'm getting so much response I
can't answer it all, for which I apologize.

To deny a repeated accusation, no, I am not shorting Netscape stock. Because
I am a pundit, my stocks are in a blind trust that does not go short. My
employer, International Data Group, is way long (a minority investor).

And no, I don't think it contradictory to predict the Internet's collapse and
then argue that it's the next big thing. This seeming contradiction is
resolved by clarifying that the collapse will be temporary and will lead us
into the Next Generation Internet.

Anyway, will I eat my hat if the Internet fails to collapse in 1996? Well, I
can't just willy-nilly rise to this challenge. How will we actually know when
the Internet has collapsed? Will the collapse last a minute, which certainly
has happened already, or a year? Can I still, at my age, digest a hat?

So, in front of 2,000 witnesses, I swore that if, in my judgment, the
Internet fails to collapse in 1996, I will eat my "collapse column" at the Web
Conference in 1997.

As for the Web Conference in 1995 (WWW4), I complained in my terminal keynote
about all the attention Hypertext Markup Language programming got. I
complained about the unprojectability of the Third WWW User Survey. And I
complained about the only subject hyped even more than the Web, namely Java,
about which the audience agreed that expectations have been set too high. See
Web site for the rest of the story.

Three sessions interested me most. One was about Millicent, a micropayments
system in development at Digital Equipment Corp.'s Systems Research Center in
Palo Alto, Calif. ( . Another
was Tim Berners-Lee's projection for the Web over the next five years.
Berners-Lee, creator of the Web and now director of the World Wide Web
Consortium at MIT ( ), said that Web browsers would soon
disappear. The third most interesting session featured Microsoft and Sun
Microsystems negotiating their big Java deal on stage. I commend both
companies for pursuing Java and hope, along with most InfoWorld readers, that
their deal gets done.

Now, it was very odd that there were no Netscape speakers at WWW4 and no
Netscape booth. In session after session the audience all around me kept
whispering, where's Netscape?

Conference attendees speculated about a falling out between Netscape's Marc
Andreessen, who is now worth $100 million, and Tim Berners-Lee, who is not.
Another theory was that Netscape is pulling out of the World Wide Web
Consortium to go its own proprietary way on Web standards.

As for me, I worried, because Microsoft has said it will bundle with Windows
everything that Netscape planned to sell, that Netscape's Andreessen, Jim
Barkesdale, and Jim Clark had thrown in the towel, sold their stock to America
Online, and gone home.

Before giving my conference wrap-up, I called Netscape and asked point blank
why they were not at WWW4.

Their spokeswoman said the simple truth was that Netscape has only 400 people
and one trade show booth, and they were too busy with the many Web
conferences surrounding WWW4. Nothing more than that. In fact, she said, there
were five technical people from Netscape headquarters at WWW4 and certainly
some Netscape representatives from the Boston area.

To set minds at ease, I reported this simple truth to the 2,000 attendees at
WWW4 and asked the Netscapees in the audience to raise their hands. None did.
Uh oh.