"Everyone should not try to go for the highly stylized, 3-D graphic, really futuristic-looking stuff, because that is not what people really want," says Paul Grand of Los Angeles-based Digital Planet. Grand has designed Internet sites for MCA/Universal and MGM. "It has to be as comfortable as going to your TV set or picking up your phone," he said. "Otherwise it's going to turn people off."
To launch the Universal site, for example, Grand created an on-line version of the premiere of "Junior," the studio's recently released film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. But while the company would have liked demographic information on who "attended," Grand advised against a registration form based on the response he had seen to the HotWired system: "If you make people work too hard, they may not come."
Time magazine is taking a more straightforward approach with its Internet experiment called Pathfinder, limiting the nouveau icon designs and capitalizing as much as possible on what the Time name has traditionally meant to subscribers.
"I may have a Time Inc. corporate mentality about this, but I have to believe that the real job here is to make this more of a mass medium, and I'm not sure the best way to do that is to make it seem as gee whiz and arcane as some of us are doing," said Robert Pondiscio, public affairs director for Time. HotWired is trying to respond to some of the criticism. "Clearly there are some things we can do better," says Anker. "One of the complaints is there's so much there, it's hard to get a sense of what it is. We'll definitely be adding improved user interfaces." In any case, Anker says, HotWired never aimed to appeal to all of the Internet's users.
"The intent behind HotWired was not to do the lowest common denominator, please-everybody kind of service. We think content and media drive technology, and if we tried to do a system where we support black-and-white monitors, fast speeds and slow speeds, we would not have something that would drive this medium forward. We don't want to be for everybody."
HotWired says its target audience is the "digital community, the people driving the Digital Revolution through their creation and deployment of digital technologies." But ironically, the power-user base that HotWired is aimed at may be the least receptive to its current format.
While Wired based its remarkable commercial success on a subscriber base of high-income techie and techie wanna-bes, the Internet demographics may be considerably different.
"Maybe they are trying to appeal to the supposedly 'young, hip' cats that are on-line and 'like disorder,' " says Peter Bray, who runs his own site and a consulting business called Internet Marketing in Portland, Ore. "Well, the people that I know who use the Net are pretty much all male math students. And they prefer order."