GCSE Media Studies: The Internet

Post length: 1,335 words, almost 6 minutes.

This essay was written for my GCSE Media Studies couse in April 2001, and covers the much debated question of the direction of the internet (or, more correctly, world wide web).  It’s released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.

Rather than fulfilling its expectations as a place for education and communication, the Internet has become one big advertising channel.

The media hailed the birth of the Internet as a revolution in the way information and education was distributed and shared. A feeling that the Internet was nothing more than a big advertising, moneymaking, opportunity for big business soon superseded this initial reaction.

It can not be denied that the nature of the ‘World Wide Web’ makes it ideal for multinational companies to use as a marketing tool cheaply and cost-effectively, and it has done so to a great extent, but the international, and indeed the world wide, coverage of the internet makes it a more and more vital way of sharing knowledge and international communications, thus fulfilling the initial hopes of the media and indeed the public.

There cannot be any disputing that e-mail has completely changed the way it is possible to communicate over long distances – an e-mail sent in the UK can reach someone in Australia in a matter on minutes. Prior to this technology the only communication was by air mail and the telephone, the first takes a long time to reach such distant places around the globe, and the second cannot hold the same content, nor be as functional as the letter even though it is also an instant means of contact. E-mail makes the best of both worlds with the content of a letter arriving at its destination almost immediately. However, even long distance communications via the web can be used for advertising – the use of bulk mailing lists and mail shots throughout the world at the touch of one button can be an attractive prospect for business that want to make money from advertising over the net. This does not outweigh the uses and bonuses of being able to share information throughout the world though, the opportunity of being able to share new knowledge and discoveries with the rest of the interested world instantaneously is still evident and used.

But e-mail is not the only means of communication which has become commonplace with the birth of the Internet. Instant messaging systems such as IRC (internet relay communication) chat rooms and whole chat sites and servers (like dalnet.com), as well as ISP specific systems such as AOL’s AIM service means that the online community can converse, using text, in real time over the net. This type of facility, as well as being used for its original purpose of friendly chat between friends from the ‘real’ world and new friends in ‘cyber space’, it has been adapted and used for net conferencing and meetings. It has been used by universities in different countries (notable in the UK with London City university and the Washington State university in the US) to allow their students to share ideas and discuss matters as on the telephone, but at a significantly lower cost. Because of this type of communication the Internet is more than meets the eye – more than just a giant commercial outlet, or advertising channel. There are so many different applications for the technology behind the Internet that what is seen as the ‘Net’, is only a front to a wider medium.

Although much emphasis is put on the big failures in e-commerce, such as the collapse of the on-line fashion chain ‘boo.com’, the Internet is much more than a giant shopping precinct. It has a wealth of information available to all users free of charge and to anyone who cares to look for it. There are many not-for-profit organisations and educational organisations that have a noticeable Internet presence and supply educational resources to, and from, all over the world.

Dedicated educational sites are not the only places that have used the Internet as a free way for users to gain access to the information they provide and the services they offer. For example, as the internet has become more readily available in homes around the world, more and more international news sites have begun to be created to satisfy the need for instant global news, extensions to existing news services in the media – in areas such as television – such as the CNN.com site which reports the stories covered in the programs in more detail, and the Guardian Unlimited website (guardian.co.uk), an online extension to the newspaper service. Most of this new pool information is provided to the end user free of charge, however the use of the Internet is not free, and sites of this size and daily traffic do not come cheap. The costs involved need to met somehow on the sites that provide the free, educational, productive information. These costs are met, by the commercial sector, through the use of banner impressions – advertising.

The Internet can be compared to a large city – it has many buildings that house many organisations. When a person visits the city they head for the city centre – the most populated area, and the area with most to see. Advertisers see this area of a city, to be the most affective area to promote their product or service, the reason being is that this is the area that most people visit and more people are likely to see the advert. However, the area that is the busiest is due to this, the area in need of most up keep and the most money spending on it. The web is the same – the busier a site is, the more people want to advertise there, but also the more upkeep it needs, and ultimately, the more money needs spending on it. Like in a city the funding has to come from somewhere, and where better than from the advertising. So the money to support an area, or site, comes from the mass of advertisers wanting to advertise there.

This is why, to the average consumer, the net might seem to be nothing but a large advertising channel, and on the surface, to some extent, it is; but only on the surface. The balance between the ‘useful’ content and the advertising, which gives the revenue to continue to provide the funds to allow for it to exist, is a fine one.

So the internet provides a base for stand alone advertising and e-shops to build up a market, it also provides an extension to the advertising campaigns in other medium, such as print based publications and television, but it also is home to huge archives of information which can be accessed throughout the world. Without the ‘useful’ content the advertising would not be affective as the consumer would not feel a need to use the web, and without the advertising the money to support of the ‘useful’ content would not be there so it would not be possible for it to be available in this form.

It is this inter-dependency which makes the web a unique medium – encompassing the need to communicate on a global scale, with the requirements of business to advertise to the widest possible audience. The internet as it is seen by the user, a network of websites, is only a front to the technology used behind it – a wider scale of communications via electronic mail, direct computer connections, intranets, business and educational networks, databases accessible throughout the world, web meetings, banking and finance systems, control systems, and the list goes on.

To this end, the consumer side of the internet is an advertising-dominated medium with small amounts of obscure information dotted around, however, look further into the medium and you will see a huge diverse encyclopaedia of information on everything known to human kind waiting to be uncovered, and for all the willing world to see.

Posted on Sunday 21st June, 2009 at 11:09 pm in School Work.
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