Last week's stunning announcement that America Online Inc. will acquire Time Warner Inc. may change the way companies develop their Web pages, by speeding up the development of high-speed Internet access and possibly rekindling "browser wars", Web developers and analysts said.
If the all-stock deal is successful, the companies, valued at $350 billion, see themselves positioned to offer broadband access and to speed development of the Internet and interactive content, according to a joint statement. And that could spark changes in the way companies design and build Web sites aimed at consumers.
"When it comes to designing Web site content, the increasing use of broadband devices to access the Internet [means companies] will have to produce more rich media like we see on television," said Dan MacKeigan, a senior Internet analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.
Tom Lix, president and CEO of NewMarket Network, a Boston-based Web development firm that has done work for National Public Radio and other organizations, agreed. "Web developers [will] have to develop more and better features for higher and higher speeds," Lix said. "If companies are smart, they are already moving in that direction. If not, now they have to move in that direction."
Some retailers have been eager to add better graphics, streaming video, 3D interactivity and other data-intensive options that would give shoppers a better sense of products for sale.
However, such features could add lengthy page-download delays for consumers on dial-up modems, and the expense of developing features has to be justified by a critical mass of users with high-speed access.
JCrew.com has already been thinking about providing Web site content for broadband, according to Scott Gilbertson, president of e-commerce at the retailer.
"We have several capabilities on hand that we could roll out with broadband, which would enhance our customers' user experience and optimize sales productivity," said Gilbertson. "However, we do not want to dilute the experience of the majority of customers without access. We have the flexibility to offer one site for broadband and one for PC modems."
The buyout will have tremendous implications for marketers and merchants currently developing traditional Web sites - if and when it leads to more widely available broadband access, said David Fry, director of Fry Multimedia Inc., a company that designs Web sites for firms such as Eddie Bauer.
But Glen Lipka, a founding partner of Kokopelli New Media LLC in New York, said he doesn't think Web site developers have to rush to change the way they do things.
"It will take years for broadband to propagate," Lipka predicted.