An Internet Reality Check
September 1, 2003
We’ve come a long way since the mid-1990’s when the Internet seemed to offer virtually unlimited potential. Internet companies sprouted up overnight to offer a new way for professionals to access all sorts of goods and services.
Nowadays, few large Internet companies remain. Hundreds have folded, and nearly all non-Internet businesses have completely revamped their online strategy. Meanwhile, the Internet has continued to grow, and professionals are still left wondering if there is a way to leverage all of this interconnectivity in a successful, meaningful fashion.
Few clinicians today are using Internet technology in any significant manner in their practice. Outside of their own professional research, email and networking needs, most professionals use the Internet just like their clients. They use a search engine to look up information of interest, enjoy the company of their colleagues in online professional groups, and may even advertise their own practice in an online directory or on their own website. But most professionals still aren’t using the Internet for clinical interventions (such as e-therapy or online counseling), clinical notes, record-keeping or billing.
Simplistic business plans relied on traffic, advertising
What happened to all those Internet companies that sprouted up just a few years ago? Most of the Internet companies of the era (commonly referred to as dot.coms) relied on short-sighted business plans that emphasized building traffic to their sites. This in turn would build revenue through increased advertising on the company’s site. In addition, many companies might offer some type of premium services for an additional fee. Time and time again these business models failed to produce significant revenue until the dot.com collapse in 2001. The collapse of so many Internet businesses in that year clearly showed that the business model itself was faulty. You could not sustain a legitimate, growing business based upon increasing website traffic and advertising revenue alone.
Why did the dot.coms need so much money and where did it all go? The best business minds and investors at the time suggested that in order to increase traffic to a website, you needed lots of fresh new content and a technology infrastructure that could handle thousands of users at the same time. Fresh new content meant paying lots of writers, editors, graphics designers, and wbsite developers to get it online in an enjoyable, readable format. A robust technology infrastructure means investing in computer hardware and people to configure and maintain it. All of those expenditures usually meant a lot of money. A lot more money than it takes to publish a newspaper such as this, or a personal homepage on the Web.
So interesting sites with potential like ShrinksOnline.com, eTherapy.com, Lifescape.com, and Here2Listen.com, among many others, came and went in short time. Professionals visited them, but usually weren’t willing to sign up for the services they offered in large enough numbers to make the business sustainable. Advertisers tired of putting money into online advertising campaigns where it was difficult to measure their demographic and psychographic reach. Investors eventually ran out of patience and refused to fund the ventures any longer. Businesses that weren’t breaking even simply couldn’t afford to continue and folded or were acquired by larger, non-Internet companies for their intellectual property or technology infrastructures.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
The way people use the Internet hasn’t changed significantly over the years, while more and more individuals continue to go online each year. In recent years, instant messaging, chat, and online gaming have taken on a more prominent role, especially among younger generations, but searching the Internet for news and information has remained largely the same. So instead of using Yahoo! to search the Web, people today are using Google. Instead of reading news articles from their Netscape homepage, they’re using CNN.com or The Drudge Report (or even Google News). Instead of publishing a small Web site of a dozen static Web pages, individuals are publishing their daily musings and commentary in Weblogs (or blogs).
Today, clinicians have found that they can best use the Internet as a clinical resource tool rather than as an answer to all of their record-keeping or billing needs. Professionals have found that by using the Internet to answer specific questions about new treatment options, engaging in professional discussions with their colleagues, taking continuing education courses online, and using email to cut down on phone tag played with both insurance companies and clients, they can more effectively manage their increasingly limited professional time. While the dot.com landscape has drastically changed over the past few years, clinicians’ basic needs haven’t. Perhaps the future will give professionals more choices online, but for now, we’ll have to make do with the simpler, sensible Internet. Which seems to work for most just fine.
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is an Internet psychologist, consultant, researcher and author of The Insider’s Guide to Mental Health Resources Online (Guilford, 2002). His Web site is at http://psychcentral.com/
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