THE DAY NETSCAPE COMMUNICATIONS WENT PUBLIC, the Web officially
changed from a student-driven, informational enterprise to a true mass
medium for the use and enjoyment of many groups. In this essay, I want
to show how the Web has broken into three very distinct markets, and
what those markets mean for future site designers and surfers alike.
When you use the Web, you take the role of many kinds of customers.
Let's say you visit an art gallery. You learn about Matisse, Derain, and the
Fauve artists. Your interest is piqued. You want to learn more about the
Fauves and their influence on Modern Art. You go through some
directories and learn about other galleries with Fauve exhibitions or
collections. You learn that one of the curators has written a book on
Fauves, and it's on-line. The book takes you to several interesting
papers written by some art history students in Chicago. From there, you
study the biographies of the Fauve artists and see time lines of who
lived where when.
You decide you'd like to go to France to paint, so you search for travel
agencies, and you find one with a site that looks like they know what
they are doing. You look at a flight schedule and choose a day and
destination. You go to another agency that has a program specifically
designed to get you the best fare for that route, and you book your
flight by filling out a form. Then you browse art-supply storefronts
until you see one that entices you to come in and look at paint sets.
You call their 800-number and order a nice one for traveling.
You have just woven your way through three realms, wearing three
different hats. You wanted to see some nice pictures. You went in
search of information. Then you found people to do business with
and conducted a few transactions.
During a normal day, we are used to playing many roles: buyer, seller;
shopper, server; guest, host; programmer, user; and so on. When you
build a web site, different parts of it accommodate different customers.
Browsers are not the same as determined buyers. Students are not the
same as sophisticated users.
I hope to show that the Web is not just a circus. In fact, it is a
three-ring circus, with both consumers and sites establishing themselves
in all three rings. For the purposes of surfing, these three rings
aren't so important. For the purposes of setting standards and building
sites, these three rings are very important.