Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What is the score on micro payment

Once a month I prepare a free English language newsletter, the Content Market Monitor (CMM). The newsletter was part of the EU funded project ACTeN (Anticipating Content Technologies Needs), which ran from 2002 till 2004. I continued the newsletter after the project, as we had a nice list of some 1700 subscribers in 92 countries and a running publishing system in Romania. The newsletter contains 20 articles and a variable number of announcements. As I will be abroad in the next days, I will have to finish it before tomorrow morning and mail it to Romania where Ioana will publish the newsletter and mail the lead tests of the articles to the subscribers.

This is Ioana (right) from Romania in front of Amsterdam Central Station, when she visited the Netherlands earlier this year

Putting together the newsletter is a nice exercise during which surprises turn up. This time one of my sources drew attention to an article on micro-payment. It has been written by students of Twente University in the East of the Netherlands. The article did not get any attention in the Dutch e-magazines. The paper contains an overview of first and second generation micro payment systems and compares their key characteristics to determine their success or failure.

The introduction to the article reads:
“In the next years the market for low value products such as online music and videos and the role of micro payment systems for selling such products are expected to grow substantially. The first generation micro payment systems appeared around 1994, with systems such as eCash, MilliCent and CyberCoin.
These systems were unable to gain market share, however, and disappeared slowly in the late 1990s. The second generation micro payment systems appeared around 1999-2000, and are still operational. In this paper we present an overview of first and second generation micro payment systems, and compare their key characteristics to determine their success or failure. This paper explains why the first generation systems failed and concludes that second generation systems have a better chance for success than their predecessors”.

To me, micro payment has fascinated me from the beginning of online. Well you want to pay for a newspaper articles or for a song or a scientific article from Elsevier’s ScienceDirect database (which is still impossible, but they probably save this option when bad times hit the scientific world) and want to do it electronically. Why not? But it is not as easy as that. People will have to trust the methods and banks should be less conservative. But read the article. If you want to receive the newsletter, go the ACTeN site and register yourself for the Content Market Monitor.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

iTV 35 years on

I just opened my mail this morning and my eye caught a small article by Paul Budde. He is one of the new media pioneers who started out in the Netherlands during videotext, but moved to Australia, where he became a telecom consultant. The article is on iTV and it is rather critical of all the forecast in that field. Just have a look.

iTV 35 years on
The concept of iTV dates back to the 1970s, when the first trials took place in Columbus, Ohio, followed by similar trials in Biarritz, Berlin and Nagasaki. After 35 years we still haven't seen any large-scale iTV roll-outs - the business models simply don't stack up.

I believe the problem with many of the ongoing iTV upbeat predictions is that two issues are getting confused. There certainly was, and still is, interest in personal services along the lines of iTV, but they are fulfilled by Internet-based services on PCs - eg home banking, bill payments, etc. The TV is not a personal device, so you would never see applications like these being used on TV sets.

Aside from the personal applications used on the PC, there is a limited set of applications that can be made commercially available via the TV. While many people will say that they want to use such services via the TV, few are prepared to pay money for them - television is seen as a free medium. So these applications need to either be advertisement-driven or made available at a small extra fee over cable TV networks. Free-to-air TV doesn't have such facilities available (TV stations don't have a relationship with their viewers) so the business models are very

Services like news, sport and video-on-demand are iTV applications that do work on TV, as they fit more with the general entertainment experience that viewers expect from television. For this, however, you do need digital TV. Also, the take-up is hampered by a lack of interest on the part of the consumers to pay the premium price charged for such TV sets. And, with inadequate penetration, advertisers are not all that keen to become involved.

The TV industry in the UK is certainly leading this market with the BBC arguable the best iTV broadcaster in the world. Once the TV industry finally has sorted out its digital TV strategies (they are more interested in defending their old analogue patch rather than embracing new digital TV opportunities) and are going to make such
services available they will now encounter stiff competition from broadband TV. This new medium offers unlimited access to video-based content - fully interactive and at affordable (Internet) prices. Content can be transferred via wireless devices from the PC to the TV, for entertainment use or family viewing.

For fear of competition, the free-to-air industry has actively (and successfully) been hampering such services on digital TV. By failing to move into this market the free-to-air broadcasters will now face an uphill battle to become successful players in the iTV market. The PC, not on the TV is now leading iTV. As for the broadcasters' dream of iTV it still is mostly a dream, even 35 years after its initial conception.

(With permission of Paul Budde)

Monday, August 29, 2005

Going back to New Orleans by Google Earth

Today the hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans. This is horrible; a city with some of the few historical relics they have in the US like the French Quarter, Café du monde, the cemeteries (remember the dope scene in the movie Easy Rider at the cemetery) and the cathedral.

This a picture of the cathedral with tower, between the parc and the trees (left) with the road into the French Quarter (towards the top) and to the right under the parc Cafe du Mondo, famous for its coffee (with or without chickory)

I studied in New Orleans from 1966 till 1970. They were the best four years out my life. I loved the city; I had problems with the damp climate. And I was in the middle of a hurricane in 1969. To me that was quite an experience. The day before the hurricane hit we had taken all kind of precautions such as taping the windows, putting water in the bath tub and buying candles. When we were finished we sat down and had a ball. The next day might be devastating so why not enjoy the moment; and so we did.

When the storm just rick shaded along New Orleans, it was terrifying. The speed of the wind and the torrential storms made it all horrible. And then it gets quiet as the eye of the hurricane gets close. But after that the storms pick up again. By next morning the storms had departed and it got quiet. A lady friend of mine, Betty, a teacher at a high school, proposed to drive around the city and we did. I had a movie camera with me and recorded all kind of damage of traffic lights and trees.

It took weeks before all the mess was cleaned up. We went to the coastal house of Betty’s Grandma and started to clean that up. You had to be careful for snake bites as they might have been driven to other areas by the water.

All together it was quite an experience. But what I see on CNN, I would not l like to be there now and certainly not in the Dome with the ceiling coming down.

Just two days ago I installed Google Earth and was of course playing around with the pictures of New Orleans. I could zoom in on the buildings which I have known so well.

This is Notre Dame Seminary at South Carrolton Avenue

The Google pictures are old pictures taken on a nice day. I would like to see the samel picture tomorrow to get an impression of the damage.

Yet I hope that Katrina will not hit the city too badly and will spare it from floods. Floods will hit the poorest areas of New Orleans and the frail monuments.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Combine your internet-, television- and telephoneplugs and electricity plug

Powerline has been a white elephant for years. Every year a story about the ease of using the electricity plug as a as a router/modem for your internet connection was published. Germany tried it around Mainz and in the Ruhr area. And it still works over there as the service Vype. Yet it did not seem to go much beyond the area of the experiment. It did not succeed in overwhelming Berlin or Hamburg. Also in the Netherlands we had an experiment with 180 households in Arnhem. In 2003 the energy company Nuon decided not to continue the experiment as the technology was not stable yet.

So it was rather surprising to hear that the Belgian cable operator Telenet (an explanation in Dutch and French) had selected a Powerline solution for internet and also for interactive digital television service. The company has 1,7 million customers on its own network and services 0,7 million customers of third party networks. Can you imagine what this means for the daily company operation. By choosing the Powerline solution they can add more households than by making the cable network ready for digital television, internet and other digital services.

The Netgear Wall Plugged Ethernet Bridge is plug-and-play network equipment for the electricity network to act as a home network. The Netgear Wall-Plugged Ethernet Bridge is certified by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. With electricity a radiosignal is sent along to the computer, printer, settop box and other consumer electronic equipment. The equipment uses Intellon technology, which let consumer share their internet connections, stream audio and video and link up PCs and consumer electronics through wall plugs. Telenet argues that the number of consumers that can be helped every day is larger than with the traditional coax or glass fibre technology. Besides the wall plug technology reaches 200 Mbps now; this is more than Teleste’s speed of 100Mbps in 2007.

At first glance, this looks like a real step forward for the Powerline technology in Europe. But it might also be of influence to the telecom world. Besides internet the powerline can also carry VOip calls. So you can take your call from the telephone linked to the powerline.

Most energy companies have given up the idea that they will play a role in internet and sold off their internet activities. If the trend of Telenet continues they will try to win back customers for energy, internet, interactive television and internet telephone. Who is talking about monopolies. It probably might be worse than the days of the incumbent telecom companies.

It is worthwhile to see how the powerline instalments in Telenet fare. Perhaps Telenet made the right bet at the right time and is ahead of the Belgian energy companies. I wonder when the Dutch power companies are going to take up Powerline internet; with their company reputation of bad invoices and the worst help desks in the Netherlands, the technology might at last work, but the consumer might not like to buy from the energy companies. It would be so nice to have more competition from the cable operators and telecom companies. As the infrastructure is there, the internet and digital television services exist and the technology is cheaper than that of cable distribution, powerline might be the end of the cable.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Where is Jan Timmer now that DVD needs him?

Toshiba has announced last Wednesday that it will have its own DVD format HD-DVD. This means that Sony and Philips will follow Blu-ray. No format will bring these parties together. In the end it will mean that there will be two losers; this despite the support from NEC and Sanyo for Toshiba and Dell and HP for the Sony/Philips combination.

This fight is not new; we have seen it before in 1997/1998. Sony/Philips were battling yes again Toshiba and trying to win Toshiba over to one format. First Toshiba did not want to talk with the Sony/Philips combination. But when Jaap Timmer did some arm wrestling with the Toshiba captains, the situation changed. At once, plane loads of engineers were flown into Japan and Korea and, in the end, one DVD standard was published. The manufacturers were happy and the people were happy, as they did not have to make the choice.

Mr Jan Timmer

Of course this game goes back to the video recorder tape. More than one format was presented to the market: VHS, Betamax, Video2000. Betamax was technically the best, a reason for the broadcast industry to have used it for years. Video2000 not bad either. VHS was certainly not the best one. But in the end there were more VHS tapes with sex on offer that from Philips. So not the best quality, but the most appealing content to some tastes won the deadlock. So then CD-ROM came around there was not really a problem as Philips set the standards itself, but broke itself all the rules again with CD-I; CD-I eventually did never made in the industry.
What is the reason that Toshiba wants to go alone by itself. That is hard to say. It is certain that Philips and Sony have the most patents on the silver platter. When they fought for one DVD standard they did so believing that the movie- and music industry would benefit from one standard. Sony and to a lesser extents Philips would reap the benefits from the movies as they would cash not only patent but also collect movie rights. Toshiba has also a lobby behind the company, all hoping to clasp their hands with merry when the royalties pour in.

Why would Toshiba choose now for a two way solution? Technically it will not make any difference. One giga more or one giga less will not make, for the whole movie will have to fit the disc. Diffrences in quality are not going to count either as the quality level has been upgraded with the first generation of DVD.

So it will have to come from marketing. By adhering to its own standard, Toshiba hopes that the family relationships among film makers and the TV-producer and Toshiba will be intensified. Of course Toshiba is hoping that people will buy the Toshiba player and/or recorder and a movie from one of its own movie companies. But this is dependent on the offer of the moment. So sex movies as an incentive will not help this time around. Some real blockbusters are needed to make the difference. But people will sit and wait as they will not buy two playing and/or recording machines, certainly not in the first year, when the machines are still expensive. So in the end, the people will buy the best offer and the best collection of movies. Once they have bought a machine, they will not buy a second one. So the customer looses having to buy two machines and the electronics companies will loose as they will have to fight each other with marketing campaigns and court cases about false claims.

Jaap Timmer was a loudmouth and a bully sometimes, but he was a prize fighter for Philips and Sony as well as for the consumer when it came to the specifications of standards for the first generation of DVD.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Back to normal for a week

The series on the history of online in the Netherlands is over. It was 25 instalments covering the history of online in the Netherlands. It was a worthwhile exercise.

First of all I had to make choices about the subject. Of course there is a lot to be said, but selection puts a focus on the topic. Besides you throw out several subjects which were interesting but not essential in the development of online in the Netherlands.

Secondly, I had a nice look around in my attic for vintage stuff. And I found some nice artefacts, which I used selectively. There is more in the attic that could be shown, but I have to find a professional photographer. I did not show the Apple IIe nor the P2000, as this is too much computer history to me. But I was glad to find back some photographs and some equipment. I am still very proud of the photograph of CERN with the Next computer used for the first World Wide Web, which was on show at the WSIS exhibition in Geneva in 2003. But I love also the first Data Diskman of Sony with all its faults (450 gram, 40 characters per line, etc.) and the smart Seiko watch.

Thirdly I am glad I wrote it all down. So far I have only seen internet history with a scope of 10 years at the max. But the Online history in the Netherlands went back to the roots in 1968. That is a long time. And I noticed that some people have changed the present for the future such as Giel Ruiten, the project manager for the Viditel project.

But writing this history was fun to do. Radio Online in the Netherlands, a radio programme on computers and internet paid attention to the series. The casting of the interview was not perfect as it was portrayed as 25 Years of Viditel. But who cares. The radio interview yielded mail from old friends. I received a mail addressing me as Grandson ( I am sixty years of age) from my godfather Charles Citroen (he must be older).

Surprising was the request from the publisher of (a site on Dutch history). He would love to have the complete Dutch translation of the series on their site as history of recent technology with the artefacts of cultural heritage. I have to find the time to do this, but I will in the second half of September. Having done the basic research, translating is a piece of cake.

Yet it is remarkable that you can not find much about the history of online. Searching internet you might find pages of 1996 in the Wayback machine. Finding anything back before 1980 is even more difficult. I do have a box with photographs taken in libraries from 1970 onwards, but they do not show anything about online. And it is already a problem to find back photographs of videotext starting pages; you can’t show the tree of information anymore, e.g. of Krantel with the bottom page NO NEWS TODAY.

The series has given me a lot of inspiration. I have been working on a book on the online history in the Netherlands for a long time now. This series has let me focus more sharply. I will have to address online as the area and companies as activities and make an analysis of the companies. It still fascinates me why Viditel was a disaster and Minitel was a success; why videotext disappeared in less than three years in favour of internet. Why the Netherlands did well in multimedia and found a link to internet, while France with Minitel was the last West-European country on gaz.

For the time being writing the history of online in the Netherlands is over. I have to go back to my daily job. By Thursday September 1, 2005 I should be ready to travel to the Middle East. In the meantime stay tuned…..

Thursday, August 25, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 25: The Dutch online consumer after 25 years

This is the last instalment of the series on the History of Online in the Netherlands. As the last instalment it should be special. I had dreamed up several formats: the Virtual Hall/Wall of Fame in Online, a timeline, promises never fulfilled or a discussion on innovation. The Virtual Hall/Wall of Fame in Online was very interesting, but I decided that this was a task for a committee as too many arbitrary choices had to be made. A timeline was not really attractive as it would function more as an addendum than a last instalment. Of course Promises, Promises is a nice subject, but only with a proper analysis. And the discussion on innovation looked very attractive. Trying to unravel some of the unanswered questions like Why did Minitel in France succeed and Viditel in the Netherlands not; Why did videotext melt with the introduction of Internet as snow before the sun. And there are more questions like France was the first country on Minitel but almost the last one on Internet; Why is it that innovation usually ride on the back of a high economic wave. But all these ideas I put favour of taking a picture of the online consumer in the Netherlands in 2005.

It is now 2005. It is 25 years ago that the first public online service was launched. Can you imagine how many people had become acquainted with online in 1980. It is hard to say, but a rough guess would be that 500 people used the online service Viditel in that year and some 100 users of ASCII services (of the 12 million inhabitants). One year later in August 1981 there were 3.000 subscribers to the videotext service. Videotex had its haydays late 1994 and beginning 1995 with 350.000 online users; after 15 years of promotion. In 1995 there were 325.000 internet users online in the Netherlands; with very little promotion. Internet was a destructive technology for videotex. Looking back over the 25 years videotex appeared to be a ripple in the online pond orin 10 years internet became a commonplace.

This graphs shows the growth of videotex between 1980 and 1997 as well as the stormy growth of internet from 1993 onwards in the Netherlands

Also the user profile has changed drastically from 1980 to 2005. The videotext services Viditel and Videotex Nederland did have more business clients than consumers. When in 1994 internet really started up in the Netherlands, it was only used by 1% of the 14 million people in population: young males, well educated and people living in the triangle area of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. In 2004 with 16,4 million inhabitants no less than 9,79 million people of 12 years and older have access at home to internet. The online population is now a representation of society, including women and seniors. The number of women using the internet is equal to men (in 1995 this was 80% men and 20% women). Also the geographical distribution of the internet users does almost represent the geographical distribution of the actual population.

This is the curve from 1998 till 2004 of households having internet (Dutch stat office CBS)

By now it is 52 per cent of the 6,4 million households which have broadband, meaning glass fibre, ADSL or cable. According to (belated) statistics of the EC, the Netherlands is now leader of the broadband pack.

Predicted household penetration by country, where the Netherlands reached 56% of the households by the end of 2005 (source Strategy Analytics)

In less than four years the dial-in facility ith modem will be replaced by always-on broadband (Dutch stat office CBS)

At present there is one computer available for every 8 students at schools. In 1995 it was 1 in 20 students, while only 5% of the teachers used a computer. Now 90% of the teachers use a computer for school activities.

More than 7,4 million people of 12 years and older use internet daily for e-mail, for surfing, downloading and electronic shopping. They surf on the internet to gather information on education and training, news, health, commercial products and services as well as job vacancies. Youngsters download games and music.

Electronic banking has also become popular. 1,9 million people banking with Rabo do it as well as 1,9 million people of ABN-AMRO and 1,6 million people of the Postbank. It is remarkable that the pioneer of electronic banking in the Netherlands, Postbank, is not leading the pact.

This graph shows the turn-over of internet shopping between 1998 and 2004 (in billions of euro)

Shopping on the internet shopping has grown from 1 billion euro in 1998 to 2,84 billion in 2004. It is growing steadily, but with an improving economy it should be more exuberant.

The list of internet-shopping goods and services runs like this:
- Travel, holidays and accommodations 37%
- Literature, books and magazines: 29%
- Video, DVDs and music: 24%
- Clothing and sports equipment: 24%
- Concert tickets: 21%
- Hardware and electronics: 17%
- Software: 12%
- Insurances: 9%
- Groceries: 4% 12%
- Other goods: 29%

Of the 6,5 million tax applications in 2005 no less than 5 million were transmitted digitally.

By the end of March 2005 there were 16,4 million mobile phones in the Netherlands.

Figures about set-top boxes for digital and interactive television are not known. But as there are many campaigns with free offers on the way with cable operators, a guestimate will be 1 million by the end of the year. This would include the 100.000 units of Digitenne, the digital terrestrial television network.

(The stats used in this blog come friom several sources such as the Cyber Atlas, the Dutch stats bureau CBS and press releases.)

This was the last instalment in this series on Online in the Netherlands. From tomorrow on there will again be a daily blog on various subjects. Please let me know whether you liked this series.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 24: Television

It took quite a while before the Dutch public and commercial broadcast world took new media and internet in particular seriously. One of the new media pioneers was Valkieser, which started to produce CD-Is and CD-ROMs, and was able to seamlessly move to the production of internet sites.

Captain Cook, CD-i production by Valkieser; have a look at the promotion movie

Of the public broadcasting companies VPRO understood early on that internet was going to change its business. In the spring of 1994 VPRO broadcasted a series of educational programs about internet on the Sunday night. On January 2, 1996 the facilities company NOB started a new media company NOB Interactive, which produced CD-Is, CD-ROMs and from 1997 onwards Internet.

Broadband developed slowly, so there was not reason for the broadcast world to move fast. One of the first experiments was Snelnet (Fast net) for people who had missed the regular news broadcasts. It is only now that ADSL, cable and glass fibre are spreading that the opportunities for the broadcast companies start to come through. IPTV has now become a serious possibility. Telecom companies like KPN and Versatel bundle television and other services like soccer games and video-on-demand in their ADSL offer, inclusive telephone and internet (triple play). Cable companies have similar offers.

For broadcast companies broadband opens new perspectives. They have now an extra distribution channel for live web radio and web tv. But at the same time they have the opportunity for putting broadcasts online such as news editions, but also drama series to be consulted by the viewer at his/her own convenience. RTL for example is experimenting with dramatic series; the company wants to collect money and protects the instalment from piracy by Digital Rights Management software. NPS and VPRO work together in theme channels like the history theme channel. School tv have produced image banks for various age groups.

Left: history theme channel with VPRO contribution on the worst ice skating event in the Netherlands; right: screen of the image bank for toddlers (both: compliments of

Ahead of all broadcast companies is VPRO with its site, in fact an authoritative online pop magazine. All programmes, news items, festivals and, of course, the huge audio - and video archives have been opened up and are more accessible. In the 3voor12 TV version, radio - and Internet makers have produced a 24-hour TV channel with clips and well-known pop-journalistic programmes for the Internet and digital television. The channel is produced directly from a mini studio and done with a do-it-yourself-mentality.

Screen of 3voor12 music channel

Another trend in the broadcast world is interactive television. With a digital set top box at home programs and plays can be called up. With the four colour keys on the remote control one can move through a program interactively or play a game. Interactive games become in this way an extension to existing programs. As the conversion to digital television has only started recently in the Netherlands, the number of interactive television programs and plays are still limited.

Two screens from interactive television. Left: the Willem Wever game and quiz as an extension to the televison program; right: Dutch interactive version of the BBC program Walking with beasts

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 23: Wireless Internet

With the slogan Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow indicated that internet was all around and could be used at any place, whatever hour and with whatever means. Part of this understanding was the wireless use of internet. This wireless internet did not come about from the beginning of the digital mobile era (1994), also known as GSM. But due to GSM it was possible to send short messages (SMS) and start text services such as news services, stock quotes and astrology. And these messages and services could not only be received on a mobile phone, but also on smart watches; on January 1, 2002 the Minimail service, which took care of transmitting the messages and services to the smart watches ended its services after six years of service.

A smart Seiko watch

SMS services became part of the multimedia pallet of publishers such as the publisher PCM, which started a SMS service on June 26, 2001 and ended this service by October 12, 2001.

The 11/9 SMS message from (collection Jak Boumans)

Another development towards wireless internet was the introduction of i-mode. This service had been developed in Japan and was there a great success. The Dutch telco KPN bought the license and started on April 18, 2002 in the Netherlands. The company had very high hopes of the service and hoped 1 mln subscribers by the end of 2003.

I-mode logo and a screen of a health service

The mobile telephone became multi-functional equipment, when a camera was built in. The photographs were transmitted by MMS protocol to other mobile phones and to internet. Using MMS MediaRepublic produced in 2002/2003 a soap in instalments, called Jong Zuid. Jong Zuid More bandwith became available with GPRS and UMTS, offering new opportunities.

Jong Zuid was a MMS soap with a mirror site on internet (compliments

The assignment of UMTS in 2000 a pandemonium with telecom companies trumping each other off. UMTS is interesting for people on the road for linking into the company host to pick up mail or calculate quotes. But more frequency means also more experiments.

Sketch of wearable GPS for city tour through downtown Rotterdam (compliments of

In Rotterdam a multimedia journey through reality, named Codex Kodanski, was organised as a an exciting four-dimensional interactive radio play through downtown Rotterdam. Walking about with headphones and guided by the Global Positioning System, the participant hears the voice of the protagonist, the compulsive and paranoid Kodanski. Facts, fiction, city history and statistical data combine and mix into an exciting tale about and through the city. The visitors of the Schielandhuis are able to track the participants in real time and follow them on their unpredictable journey through the city on a big screen.

A pupil showing the UMTS phone, before going off to the medieval monuments in Amsterdam like the Schreierstoren (copyright De Waag)

In Amsterdam Waag developed a 'mobile learning game'. It's a citygame using mobile phones and GPS-technology for pupils in the age of 11-12. In the Frequency 1550 mobile game, students are transported to the medieval Amsterdam of 1550 via a medium that's familiar to this agegroup: the mobile phone. The pilot took place in 2005 from 7 to 9 February and was supported by KPN Mobile's UMTS network. Freency1550 is a research pilot examining whether it's possible to provide a technology supported educational location-based experience.

2GOTV television on mobile telephone (compliments of

In the meantime the mobile phone is like a Christmas tree. It has the classical telephone function for people on the move. It can link to internet. It has a camera on board. In the meantime it is also an outlet for television. Vodafone for example offers in the Netherlands 20 TV channels like CNN, Eurosport, MTV and news broadcasts by RTL, NOS and Talpa. MediaRepublic and Vodafone set up 2GOTV a channel which transmits broadcasts tuned to mobile phone displays. That means quick and perfect images. The programs are compact and the subjects are easily accessible. The line-up of themes is Business, Gossip, Cars and Fashion.

But GPRS and UMTS are not the only channels for wireless telecom distribution. Rather surprising the local Wi-Fi since 2003 and the more urban WiMax presently are popping up all over the place. It gives ease of work at home in the living room and in the garden. But WiFi/WiMax are also going urban. In Leiden a group of enthousiasts have developed a regional Wi-Fi network.

Monday, August 22, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 22: Broadband

On Friday April 2, 1982 PTT Telecom organised a symposium on glass fibre. (Collection Jak Boumans)

The first signals of broadband in the Netherlands came about in 1982. PTT Telecom organised the first glass fibre conference in the Netherlands. Also the project South-Limburg indicated a conversion from smallband to broadband. But it took till 1989, when the first step to increase speed over coax cables was made: ISDN was introduced. When Internet was introduced, there was a clamour for faster lines. And sometimes project ideas sprang up. Like in April 1994, when Cap Gemini proposed a ‘broadband’ in the eastside of Utrecht. Companies and households would be linked to a fast network. But the project fell through as Cap Gemini wanted to “leapfrog in to cyberspace”; the only lasting result now is a not-for-profit foundation EPN founded in order to gain a "firm and balanced foothold for the electronic highway in Dutch society", not only for the benefit of the business community but also for that of the general public.

In 1997 KPN experimented with fast internet in the Amsterdam neighbourhood Sloterdijk. By 1999 KPN started its ADSL experiments on XS4ALL, which was eventually introduced by 2001. It was only then that a competition started up between the incumbent telco and new companies such as Circon and BBned. By 2005 more than 50 percent of the Dutch households had broadband (ADSL, cable or glass fibre).

The library in Almere installed the first Moving Image Encyclopedia in October 2002 (copyright DFCeu)

The cable companies were late in picking up internet and broadband. While everyone recognised that there was an infrastructure for households for the distribution of internet it started to work on broadband, the cable companies had trouble gearing up. Near The Hague the regional cable company upgraded its speed from 2Mbps to 15 Mbps in 2002; other cable companies did not follow. Presently Essent is researching a speed upgrade to 100Mbps by 2007 with the Finnish company Teleste.

KPN opened a broadband portal with a variety of movies in 2003; in 2005 the portal was closed

It took a long time for glass fibre to come around since the conference of 1982. The first consumer broadband by glass fibre projects were set up by the Dutch division of Bredband Bolaget in Amsterdam in 2001. The company aimed at wiring the dwellings of housing companies, preferably apartment buildings. From that point onwards the discussion about the last mile, between the home and the coax or glass fibre cable, starts to spread. Telco KPN published its ideas in the Glass fibre Delta. The cable companies reacted negatively on it. But many a municipality (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) wanted to take the lead in constructing a glass fibre network. But what the big cities were unable to realise so far, was done in a small village near Eindhoven, where 7500 households were linked to a glass fibre network in 2004.

Logo of the project Kenniswijk in Eindhoven

This amount is half the number of households in the region of Eindhoven, which are linked up to the glass fibre network in the framework of Kenniswijk. This project, which was selected in 2001 by the governments department of Telcommunication and Mail (DGTP), was to create an environment for a large scale experiment. The objective was to reach in 2005 a situation by which the developments of the Kenniswijk area would be two years ahead of the rest of the Netherlands. In this way a consumer market of the future would be created. Right at the start Kenniswijk had a problem as Bredband Bolaget went bankrupt. By December 31, 2005 the project will be terminated. The results are that 15.000 households have a subscription to the glass fibre network, 50 broadband services have been initiated and 100 broadband services are under development. Disappointment is there about the low number of 15.000 subscribers in a region of 47.000 households. The realised services and services under development still have to prove their commercial viability; already 11 services have been temporarily or permanently stopped.

Fabchannel, the music channel of the pop temple Paradiso, is a real broadband project (compliments of

Sunday, August 21, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 21: Newconomy

Maurice de Hond is a market researcher by profession and famous for his political polls; het turned an Internet guru, wrote about Internet and was director ICT and Internet at the publishing company Wegener, before he started Newconomy

In 1999 Maurice de Hond wrote in the annual report of Newconomy the famous last words: “Having completed the millennium, we stand at the beginning of a new economy. The laws of classical economy no longer hold ground. What is worldwide indicated as New Economy, has made its entry irrevocably.” This statement was the beginning of the rise but also the fall.

The new economy had manifested itself amongst others with a slew of free ISP services. The incumbent telco KPN had launched Het Net; Freeler launched free net plus e-mail with the help of the Postbank, while more exotic services like Raketnet, Knok-knok and Wish (Worldwide Internet Services Holland) popped up like mushrooms and had success. Wish went online on January 25, 1999 and had a base of 150.000 users in less than five months. The businessmodel of the service was based on a one time administration fee of 10 euro, income from advertisements, webhosting services and development of web sites for companies. In 2000 Wish was acquired by Newconomy for 18 million Dutch guilders (8 million euro). Wish users were valued at 153,61 euro each.

Logo of Newconomy

Newconomy had grown out of the economic network ICOM (Internet Competence Network NV) and changed its name into Newconomy. It supported and stimulated ICT- and Internet companies in their growth with venture capital, management support and an active network formula. The company was active in e-commerce, content, B2B services and new technologies. Besides investing in companies it also ran the training institute Newacademy.

In 1999 the company had gathered 11,1 million euro of which 8,2 million had been invested in 17 companies. Based on the valuation of these companies Newconomy had a positive balance of 1,3 million euro in that year. Following the example of many start-up Internet companies Newconomy wanted an IPO. One month after the disastrous stock exchange notation of Worldonline on April 20, 2000 Newconomy picked up 74,9 million euro. With that money Newconomy invested in 14 new companies. But due to another accounting method, a netto loss of 69,4 million euro was registered. It did not take long before a crises boiled up. Maurice de Hond was sent home, two member of the board left and an interim manager was installed. This led to the unavoidable clean-up. Shares in the Dutch search engine Ilse were sold to VNU. The participation portfolio was cleaned –out for no less than 19,2 million euro. And 7 participations participaties (ALS, BitMagic, BuyOnline, Pango, Macropolis, Pharmaplaza en went bankrupt. After this clean-up Maurice de Hond came back seconded by a new board. But on August 16, 2001 a very disappointed De Hond took again leave, but this time it was definite.

An original webpage of Newconomy identifying the management; the messagege reads: AD INTERIM AD INTERIM etc. (compliments of Planet Multimedia)

Again interim managers were ushered in and in 2202 W.J. van Dijssel and a group of private investors took over Newconomy. One of there first actions was to change the name in Real Time Company. Newconomy had gone full circle from the old economy to the new one and back to real time.

The problems of Worldonline and Newconomy should be seen in the context of time. The TMT sector (Technology, Media, Telecom) was the conduit of the new economy. Investing in other sectors was old-fashioned, while TMT funds went up and up, until the end of 2000, when the internet hype was over. Of the 31 companies under the aegis of Newconomy only a few survived on their own strength: TIE Holding, DigiNotar and Infostrada.

(Part of the website of Newconomy has been archived, while Beursgorilla has a overview of events)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 20: Worldonline
Just as McDonalds needs a competitor Burger King, so Planet Internet needed a competitor: Worldonline (WOL). In 1995 Nina Brink wrote a business plan for the new internet service. With her relations in the financial and computer worlds she started to take action. Towards the end of 1995 she hastely set up a meeting to please Jim Clark, founder of the browser company Netscape, who was visiting the Netherlands to inspect his new yacht, and get the exclusive rights to the Netscape browser; the then minister of Transport and Communications, Mrs Jorritsma, opened the meeting. Early on she was able to interest the publisher Audax and broadcaster TROS as partners. In the Netherlands WOL started to look for a telecom network and found the Dutch railway company NS willing to offer its network in lieu for shares; the NS network had been the conduit for NLnet so far. In 1996 WOL selected Internet Explorer from Microsoft as browser as Planet Internet had chosen for Netscape.

Logo of Worldonline

By May 1997 Worldonline claimed 50.000 private subscribers and 1500 business clients. And the company did not limit itself to the Netherlands. In a short time it started to roll out a network of services in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Spain and Denmark. It started also acquisitions in order to speed up the total amount of users. Beginning 1998 WOL acquired The Internet Plaza with 30.000 subscribers and grew to 140.000 subscribers. The ambitions increased and WOL wanted to have 1 million subscribers by 1999 and 8 million subscribers by 2002. “Worldonline is well positioned to take advantage of the fast internet developments in Europe: from a simple means of communication to a solid information-, entertainment- and commercial medium”, said Nina Brink CEO Worldonline International towards the end of 1998. But for the ambition to conquer the European market, money had to be collected by an IPO. A great campaign was prepared. The Swiss Sandoz foundation and the Dutch Reggeborgh were invited as a major shareholders. And the subscribers, even those subscribing to the free service, would get priority in the distribution of shares.

On Friday March 17, 2000 WOL was noted on the Stock exchange and listed for 43 euro. Worldonline picked up 1,8 billion euro. On the first day the quote went above 50 euro, but the next day the quote dropped and kept dropping. When the press reported that Nina Brink had sold shares before the IPO for 6 euro, many private investors felt fooled. It was the beginning of the end for Worldonline. On April 13, 2000 Nina Brink was dismissed as CEO and Worldonline was sold for a fraction (5,5 billion euro in shares) of the estimated value (18 billion euro) to the Italian ISP Tiscali. The Headquarters of WOL in Rotterdam were closed soon after the acquisition. The former financial manager of WOL, Mr Ruud Huisman, presently is the CEO of Tiscali.

The Worldonline case drew a lot of social comment. Copyright 2000: Bert Driessen

The failed IPO of Worldonline was not only a mishap due to the action of Nina Brink, but also a disaster due to the over-optimism about the new economy.

(Worldonline has been documented extensively in the Dutch language in NRC newspaper and Zeeburg Nieuws.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 19: Planet Internet

The existing ISPs NLnet, XS4ALL, Knoware and Euronet were like slip roads to a highway. As a driver you could reach the highway, but you did not know where to go. A completely new approach came from KPN, be it that it was thought up by a student. Michiel Frackers, a student who just finished his study communication science, developed a plan for a consumer service or an online service together with some co-students. Basic to the consumer service was the combination of content, access and marketing. The new service, Planet Internet, offered the consumer not only the slip road to the highway, but also roadmaps; daily a number of news items and links were presented. That work was done by the so-called cybrarians, a term used by Michel Bauwens, an information manager of BP Antwerp, in 1993.

Planet Internet was set up by Quote, a publishing company, De Telegraaf, a newspaper company and telco KPN. KPN took care of nationwide dial-in network. And this was no luxery. When DDS was successful in 1994 it was crippled by a lack of telephone lines, while users had to pay long-distance tariffs outside Amsterdam. In order to solve this problem a regional dial-in network was proposed, but Planet Internet wanted an even more close-knit network. The influence of Quote and De Telegraaf was noticeable with the introduction of a starter pack, free for the first month.

A starter pack of Planet Internet in 1995 (Source: Op zoek naar de heilige graal by Michie Frackers)

The service was launched on Tuesday June 20, 1995. A subscription was 26,95 Dutch guilders (11 euro), inclusive of six hours use of the network; every extra hour would cost 4,95 Dutch guiders (3 euro). By October 1995, when finally national coverage was reached, Planet Internet totalled 14.000 subscribers and was the largest ISP. Planet was in fact the catalyst of Internet in the Netherlands.

The logo of the Daily Planet

The service was praised for its content and the new ways of journalism. Francisco van Jole was one of the first Internet journalists. He wrote the first Daily Planet on June 19, 1995 and produced 8.65 editions and left in 1998. And Peter Olsthoorn took and still takes care of Planet Multimedia.

Screenshot of Planet Multimedia

On January 1, 1997 Planet Internet merged with KPN Videotex Nederland and its Internet division World Access. The merger Planet Internet/World Access had been forced by KPN; Quote and De Telegraaf withdrew as shareholders. The merger was overseen by Riens Meijer. Incompetent managers succeeded one after the other. The consolidation period had started and the founding fathers, among them Michiel Frackers, understood the signs on the time and left. By 1999 with a subscribers total of 3000.000, the name was shortened to Planet Internet; in 2002 the service had 665.000 paying subscribers.

Planet Internet became ambitious as it wanted to set up services abroad and services for third parties. But these ventures were not successful. Planet Internet services in Great Britain, Germany and Belgium were sold within three years from the start. Services like Planet Money between ABN-AMRO and KPN and Planet Travel did not function longer than a year. But Planet Internet stayed at the top of the Dutch ISP list up to today.

On the left the cover of an essay on succes and failure factors under the title Op zoek naar de heilige graal (1993) written by the student Michiel Frackers (together with Frans Straver). On the right the cover of the book by Michiel Frackers under the same title (2001). It is says on the cover text: the true story about genious nerds, slick sales men and smart investors. Worthwhile reading. (collection Jak Boumans)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Installment 18: Digital City Amsterdam

By 1993 technical access to Internet was available in the Netherlands. Three ISPs (NLnet, XS4ALL and Knoware) delivered the technical access mostly to companies, but did not offer any other services. They invested no effort in marketing and promotion as most clients found their way to the companies/foundations. This changed drastically in 1994 when the De Digitale Stad (DDS) came online on January 15, 2005. This foundation was an initiative of De Balie, XS4ALL and was set up in order to form a discussion platform for six weeks for the upcoming elections. It was a success from the start, partly because a visitor got a free e-mail address and free access to other textual information; visitors had to fiddle a lot with their PC settings in order get contact with the host. DDS could be reached from Internet, via a dial-in connection and through public terminals in the Stopera and De Balie.

'Mayor' Marleen Stikker cuts the cake in celebration of the first year anniversary

DDS was heavily promoted in the media as well as with citizens and in institutes like old folks homes by the ‘mayor’ of the city Marleen Stikker. Once DDS was on its way, it got support to continue from the municipality of Amsterdam, grants from the ministry of Economic Affairs and the ministry of Internal Affairs and sponsorship deals. But after a year free access to Internet DDS had to close this facility. In one year DDS attracted 10.000 subscribers and by 1997 DDS had 50.000 subscribers.

The development of the interface from a first not executed design (top), the first textual screen (middle) and the first graphical screen (under)

The first version of DDS was a textual interface. But this changed, when on October 15, 1994 the world wide web interface was introduced. This was a bold graphic interface, which brought out the virtual city element such as squares and buildings s well as homes. By 1997 around 6500 subscribers had an own home, of whom 1500 inhabitants had their own frontdoor. Besides visitors, DDS also had inhabitants, who could build their own house for free with 5Mb; they also received an e-mail address for sending mails in and outside the virtual city. Inhabitants could also accept another fantasy identity, but this could always be checked. They could also see where other people were in the city and talk to them, while in cafes they could chat with each other.

The Sports Square (left) and De Baarsjes neighbourhood with houses in the middle (right)

By the end of the millennium DDS did have trouble to cover debts and the board decided to change the foundation into a limited company. DDS became part of the commercial ISPs. This transition solicited a lot of emotions from inhabitants and led to a schism, the only genuine digital city (DeDS). An archive was created. In 2004 a meeting commemorating 10 years of the foundation of DDS was held.

A map of the Netherlands with digital regions, digital cities and villages

DDS was the first digital city in the Netherlands. But soon digital regions, cities and villages popped up like mushrooms and usually died as fast as they came up. In 1986 Wegener and later on VNU Newspapers launched City Online, a project designed by Maurice de Hond. The format looked similar to that of Digital City Amsterdam, complete with houses for inhabitants. It was an expensive project, which was dependent on the goodwill of the editor-in-chief of the printed newspaper in the city or region. City Online never took off and by January 1, 1988 the project was over. Presently we see a variation of the digital city in the form of a local blog, for example in the city of Zwolle.

(The DDS has been documented extensively in articles, essays and even a doctoral thesis; also graphic illustrations have been collected. This instalment is based on Gebruik en gebruikers van De Digitale Stad van Amsterdam by Dennis Beckers; some of the illustrations used are available in his essay, other illustrations are available in the archive of DDS)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 17: Internet arrives in the Netherlands

The academic world in the Netherlands was involved in the ARPANet quite early. In 1982 the Dutch academic world got linked to the European Unix Network (EUNet), the European academic network. To this end NLnet was founded with Dr Ted Lindgreen as it first director. NLnet was set up by the Dutch CWI, the institute for mathematics, the University of Amsterdam and the Dutch Unix Users Group (NLUUG).

In the beginning of the eighties it was struggling in order to set up a computer to computer connection by telephone

In April 25, 1986 the country domain .nl was recognised and Mr Piet Beertema of the CWI became the administrator, who gave out the e-mail addresses. The administration of domain names was taken over by a foundation, the Stichting Internet Domeinregistratie Nederland (SIDN), in 1997. The speed of the .nl domain registration went very fast: 100.000 domains in 1999, 500,000 domain in 2000 and 1 million by 2003.

Although domain names were given out, this did not mean that there was a physical link to the NSFNet. The much wanted Internet Connected Status was recognised in an e-mail of two lines, sent by Steve Wolff, the boss of NSFNet, on November 17, 1988. This mail marked for the Netherlands the start of the Internet network.

In the same year the newly founded foundation SURF (Samenwerkende Universitaire Rekencentrum Faciliteiten) started to operate the academic network SURFNet. By 1992 SURFNet operators were convinced that they should start to work on a TCP/IP network, but they still had to fight shareholders like PTT Telecom who were still betting on the EC supported OSI 7 layers standard.

A map of the Netherlands, indicating access points and services in 1994 (collection Jak Boumans)

In 1989 NLnet started to offer companies local dial-in facilities for Internet for 100 Dutch guilders (45 euro), but it also offered subscriptions to hobby computer users. This was the start of Internet in the Netherlands. Unhappy with the local dial-in facilities of PTT Telecom NLnet started to look for a network and found this in the network of the NS, the national railway company.

Homepage of XS4ALL

But it took till 1993 before Internet started to really penetrate. From May 1, 1993 NLnet got competition from the foundation XS4ALL. This service was run by people around the magazine Hack-Tic such as the editor Rop Gongrijp. Customers came in droves and PTT Telecom could not believe the amount of telephone lines that XS4ALL needed.

The Euronet poster (collection Jak Boumans)

NLnet and XS4ALL did not do any marketing of their service. But this changed when EURONET*INTERNET came onto the market in 1994. This new company did not wait for customers to apply for a dial-up connections, but they started to market and advertised their service. One morning, the Amsterdam people woke up and saw a poster of a monkey with its tail in the e-mail AT sign; the indelible sign of the Internet era had been imprinted.