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A chicken in every pot

A chicken in every pot

By Joel Moses

The first place most people saw a CD was in a magazine or on television. While writers and reporters touted the new audio technology months in advance of its release, the first CD players on the market cost upwards of $2,000, were almost impossible to find, and were highly unreliable. Finding compact discs was similarly difficult: Record stores, doing a booming business with cassettes and albums, typically devoted only a small section of their stock to the shiny silver discs.

But somewhere along the line, something remarkable happened: The price of CD players dropped substantially. Electronics stores began carrying not just one brand of CD player, but quite literally dozens of brands. Record stores phased out entire inventories of vinyl to make room for compact discs.

How and why did all this happen? Simply put, there’s a point in the development of a consumer product when it ceases to be the plaything of the geek and becomes instead the toaster of the average Joe. It happened to television in the ’50s, and it happened to radio in the ’20s. And recently, over a period of nearly seven years, it has happened to the compact disc.

Now, it seems, the computer is destined to become the next technological advance to become accessible to everyday consumers. In the past two years, millions of computer systems have been sold through thousands of different retail outlets; even the computer industry itself has a hard time estimating sales. Recent bills passed in Congress and speeches made by the president suggest that the government envisions a computer in every home—a little like the “chicken in every pot” mentality of years past.

But has the computer reached this point yet? The answer to this question may be found in a phenomenon that, ironically, relies on the computer for its very existence: the Internet.

Many would argue the turning point for radio was the development of so-called networks. The Red and Blue networks of the ’20s—which later grew into the CBS and NBC that we know today—helped promote radio as a device that the public had to have. By offering popular programming, the radio networks were able to generate enough excitement about the medium to sell radios in large quantities.

When television was introduced a few decades later, the same thing happened. The radio networks, realizing that television was just radio with pictures attached, seized the medium and developed programming for it. The result? Sears Roebuck made billions off sales of television sets.

Today, the same thing is happening with the Internet. Telecommunications giants like NBC, CBS, and ABC are all betting heavily on the growth of the medium. Consequently, they’re all spending huge amounts of money to develop programming that people want to see on the World Wide Web: local news.

To get an idea of how much money is being poured into the World Wide Web, just take a look at Nashville’s own NBC affiliate. WSMV-TV’s Web site ( http://www.wsmv.com/ ) is partially sponsored by NBC and Microsoft, which means that it’s able to offer national news stories from the MSNBC network’s Web site. In addition, WSMV’s site also offers headlines only of interest to the Nashville area.

Other local media outlets are signing on as well. Radio stations WKDF ( http://cutting.edge.net/ ) and WRLT ( http://www.wrlt.com/. ) have both pumped lots of money into their sites, extending such services as live online chatting and an e-mail request line. The approach seems to be working. Giving consumers what they want, of course, is the surest way to sell a product. Figures released last month by the Department of Commerce show a huge increase in the technology sector—over the past two years, the industry has nearly tripled in size. Further estimates clearly show that, at the current growth rate, one in every five homes will have a computer by the year 2000.

Such figures suggest that the computer truly is on its way to becoming a household item. Who knows? In a few years, it may seem more like a thing of the past than a thing of the future.

Bytes

♦ Historic East Nashville now has a place of its own on the World Wide Web. Residents of the Edgefield, East End, Lockeland Springs, Eastwood, Boscobel Heights, and Bailey-Cora Howe neighborhoods can check in on community events via computer. The site, located at http://www.cris.com/~Wissner/, contains information that many residents of the area might find interesting—especially folks new to the neighborhood. Links to resources on gardening, antiques, and home improvement are also available.

♦ Local ISP EdgeNet Media has launched a Web site that promises to be one of the local sites to watch in the coming year. Company officials are pitching the site, called Tennessee.net, as a central gathering point on the Web for people from across the state.

Tennessee.net offers a huge number of indexed sites from four major urban areas in the state, including Nashville. A 24-hour Web live-chat area also provides a forum for people to gather as well. According to EdgeNet’s Tim Choate, Tennessee.net will soon offer news and opinion as well as Web listings.

Plans call for the site to be advertiser-supported. Already, banners from several local advertisers grace the top of the screen, including First American Bank, Journal Communications, and WKDF. You can check in on the site at http://www.tennessee.net/.

Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at joel@moses.com.

Joel Moses can be reached via e-mail at joel@moses.com.

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