Survey: Info superhighway getting ahead of the game

August 23, 1994|By John Flinn | John Flinn,San Francisco Examiner

The information superhighway is veering toward Hollywood and Las Vegas, but a new survey says consumers would rather it go to their local civic center.

The survey, released last week by San Francisco-based Macworld magazine, suggests that users don't really want the video-on-demand, interactive video games or home gambling being touted as prime uses of the superhighway.

Instead, they want to be able to vote electronically, search reference books and educate themselves.

"Our findings suggest that commercial applications for the information superhighway are quickly diverging from the public's needs and interests," says Macworld editor-in-chief Adrian Mello.

But one Internet expert, Howard Rheingold, author of the book "The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier," says the survey might have been skewed toward today's -- rather than tomorrow's -- consumers. And he said new communication systems tended to evolve in ways their builders never could have predicted.

The Macworld phone survey of 600 randomly selected adults, including 225 of its subscribers, found that fewer than 1 in 5 were willing to pay $10 a month for video-on-demand. Four percent said they'd pay for interactive gambling.

Video-on-demand ranked 10th out of 26 possible "infobahn" features listed in the survey. "Role-playing interactions," gambling and video dating ranked at the bottom.

Voting in elections rated first, with 50 percent saying they had had a high or extremely high level of interest. Only about 20 percent, though, said they were willing to pay $10 or more a month for it.

Remote learning was third in interest and first in commercial potential, with 34 percent saying it was worth at least $10 a month to them.

Participating in town hall meetings and opinion polls also rated higher than entertainment for most respondents.

What consumers are more likely to get, said Macworld, are 500 channels of "lifestyle-specific niche shows built around name brands, and networks that become, in effect, 24-hour infomercials."

"The information superhighway -- as envisioned by the giant corporations that define it as they build it -- is the opposite of the Internet," says senior associate editor Charles Piller. "For the time being -- and it could be a long time -- forget interaction more complex than pausing a movie, shooting down a space creature in a video game or beaming up your credit card number."

Mr. Rheingold says a survey of today's college students -- the information superhighway users of tomorrow -- might have come up with far different results.

"I suspect role-playing games might have ranked much higher," he says.

He discounts the value of such a survey, saying that neither the builders nor today's users could envision the shape the data highway would eventually take.

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