The First Internet War

  • Share
  • Read Later
Every conflict has its signature medium. The Civil War gave birth to war photography. World War II provided radio's finest hour. The Vietnam War became the bright shining moment of network TV news. The Gulf War made CNN a worldwide brand.

The 21st century war on terrorism is the first Internet war. In the initial weeks after 9/11, every form of media — TV, newspapers, magazines, and the web — got an enormous boost. But it was web traffic that increased by the largest percentage.

According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, average weekly traffic to the top ten news web sites has increased by an average of nearly 100%. If you look at my partner's traffic, they were averaging over 100 million page views a day — pretty good evidence that more people were following the war on than on CNN.

This war has so many strands and there are so many things going on at once, it defies more linear mediums like print and television. The web is infinite in its depth and its breadth. You can find whatever strand you're looking for when you need it. You don't have to page through a paper, or channel surf hoping that you'll find that piece on Taliban moderates.

The war on terrorism is the first war you can access from your desk. Whenever a civilian — that is, a non-news person — comes into my office, they always remark on the television next to my desk. But everyone I know in the media business has a TV in his or her office — so it's easy to forget that this is an anomaly for most Americans. They can't watch CNN during the day even if they want to.

What they do have at their desks is a computer. And if you're working during the day and you want to find out about the latest anthrax outbreak, you don't turn on the TV or radio or pick up a newspaper, you go online. If you look at traffic to, for example, it starts really going up at 9 a.m. and peaks 12 p.m. ET — that is, when people first come to work, and when they take a break for lunch.

The web makes each user his or her own editor. You compose your own newspaper or magazine. What do editors do? They select, they organize, they put together a hierarchy of news. You can do that yourself on the web. Why wait to see which AP photos or stories your morning newspaper has selected. You can go to Yahoo news right now and look at the AP feed of stories and photos and decide what you want to read or see.

President Bush has often said that the war on terrorism is a war without borders. The web is the first medium without borders. At the moment, interest in foreign news is higher than it's been in memory, and more and more Americans are surfing the web for foreign news sources. According to a recent story on National Public Radio, the website of the UK's Guardian newspaper now has 500,000 regular American users.

The real challenge for the web, though, is to create an online form of news that is uniquely suited to this new war on terrorism. The medium doesn't make history, history makes the medium — and it remains to be seen how this new war will remake the web.