Published in October 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
On my annual holiday, as I was wandering through the Hennessy distillery in Cognac, I was impressed by how handsome and modern their facilities are and how bang-up-to-date their marketing seems to be. Now here was a brand leader, a successful firm with an eye firmly fixed on the future. After imbibing their generously donated free sample, I wondered if their web site might tell me where I could find more of the same. But no. They do not have one. At first I found this surprising, but then I remembered that, despite the Irish name and antecedents, Hennessy is today very much a French affair. And the French do not think internet, although that is about to change.
the french have several problems with the internet. The most obvious is that it isn’t French. Worse still, it’s mainly American, which has the added disadvantage of meaning that much of its business is conducted in English. Despite all their self-proclaimed love of 21st century technology, the French seem to be stuck in their proprietary, home-grown Minitel cul-de-sac. As a result, they are cut off from the mainstream of telecommunication development worldwide. Minitel was breathtakingly exciting when it was first launched, but the rest of the world has moved on since then and it hasn’t. Moreover, under French law, internet service providers (ISPs) are legally responsible for all items appearing on their servers. L’inspecteur Knacker has already paid unfriendly visits to the Paris offices of the fledgling French ISPs and removed various items. This law is anachronistic and must be changed or else the French will never get a large domestic industry going.
Still, Hennessy has been around as a company since 1765, and the crucial job of principal taster has been in one single family since 1770: seven generations, and an eighth is waiting in the wings. I wonder which of today’s computer or internet businesses will still be around in the year 2227? Will there still be a…