Remember how world was going to change? Smart sensors in your refrigerator would notice that your milk freshness date had expired and it would add a half gallon to your electronic shopping list. As items gathered, you would click list over to WebVan, which would bring groceries to your door. WebVan, of course, is gone, and my refrigerator certainly doesn't have any sensors.
The WebVan demise produces two responses. The I-told-you-so group gets one more example to support its belief in utter weakness of Internet. This group never believed for a second any of sweeping claims of new, new economy and transformative power of a fully connected world.
The head-in-the-sand group gets to explain, yet again, that WebVan's problem was weak management at top. The executives betrayed a great idea with their stunning incompetence. This group believes Internet has already conquered world and that distraction of WebVan's collapse clouds clear success of Web.
I'm still struggling with a third point of view, which goes something like this: We don't know yet where and how Internet will affect our lives, but eventually, there will be profound changes. Television has certainly had a profound effect on all of us, and Internet is like a few hundred potential TVs. Only right now, we don't know which of these will take root and grow.
There are two clear winners already. Both of them have affected business more than consumers. One is email, and other is business-to-business ecommerce. Email has connected family and friends in a new manner, which helps in a world where children typically live in different states than their parents. But email is not equal to telephone in its ability to let family and friends really communicate.
For business, however, email has completely eliminated typewriter. Business correspondence, proposals, blueprints, legal briefs, all of these standard business communications now travel over Internet delivering considerable savings to both sender and recipient. Count me among those who are convinced that email is truly Web's great killer application.