By: Frank Romano August 25, 2003 -- “In the 1990s, we thought that media was the big application on the Web,” said Michael Kinsley in the New York Times, who founded the online magazine Slate. “But it turned out to be e-commerce.” Back then, the Internet was supposed to incite a media revolution. “The shift to bits would change everything,” wrote Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Laboratory, in his 1995 Being Digital. Publishers of books, newspapers, magazines, plus television networks and movie studios, presumed that these media would be digitized and many would disappear, as “new media” entities arose. The shift from atoms to bits promised faster and cheaper distribution of information and entertainment. Companies over-spent on the “digital convergence” of media and Internet computing. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But nobody knew how to create a new medium. In the late 1990s, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, said, “Everybody in the communications business is paranoid of Microsoft, including me.” Microsoft invested in media properties in 1990s, including its stake in NBC, resulting in both the MSNBC cable network and its website. In 1996, Wired magazine ran a cover story, “Microsoft Morphs Into a Media Company.” But it didn’t. Microsoft still makes more money on software than content. Few predicted the Internet or the Web’s explosive growth. A coverstory in Business Week, “The E-Biz Surprise,” noted that projections of the growth in Internet commerce made in the bubble days of 1999 have been accurate. According to Forrester Research, e-commerce between businesses in the U.S. will reach $2.4 trillion this year, while e-commerce sales to consumers are seen at $95 billion. Face it: two things have succeeded commercially on the Internet: searching (like Yahoo and Google) and shopping (like eBay and That is what the digital revolution has come to—shopping. A shopping site like is a giant database with a door to the Internet. Searching databases and processing transactions are what computers do. There is little affinity between software and media. A National Research Council study, “Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation and Creativity,” notes, “As long as the tools required to produce computer-mediated work are programming tools, the result will be programmer-created design.” “There is a great distance,” the report states, “from the paintbrush or piano to programming in C++.” Art and science are still at odds. 100,000 new households are signing up for high-speed, broadband connections to the Internet that permit the delivery of movie-style video and high quality music each week. Maybe then they will buy content. Or, shop for content. The promises of new media have not arrived. True, the Internet has changed daily life in ways most of us could not have imagined in 1994—we manage our lives and businesses via e-mail and instant messaging, and kids in grade school are experienced Googlers. The Internet may be doomed to be the next big thing forever. Whatever that next big thing is.