Businessweek Archives

Starbucks Wi-Fi: From first to last

My son, a college student, says that he’s recently been studying at a Starbucks. Why? Because they “don’t have Wi-Fi.” This means he doesn’t get distracted by the Internet, as he does in all the other coffee shops in Madison, WI, that have free Wi-Fi.

The irony is that Starbucks was once famous for its Wi-Fi. Early this decade, Starbucks with a Wi-Fi pioneer. (Here’s Heather’s 2003 cover on Wi-Fi.) Now, because Starbucks dares to charge for Internet access, they might as well not have it—at least in my son’s eyes.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, it’s interesting to read that 2003 story and see what we saw—and what we underestimated. We stressed the guerrilla power of Wi-Fi, new networks emerging from the grassroots. But the real change, I think, was the ubiquity and the growing appeal of the laptop. I think this was especially important for the media. People suddenly could access everything from the New York Times to blogs in a lounge chair, in a coffee shop.

As long as people were glued to PCs to experience electronic media, the world of atoms stood a chance. Electrons were tethered. Paper was mobile. With Wi-Fi (and the growth of cellular delivery) those of us in traditional media no longer dominate that mobile realm, and don’t we know it.

The Good Business Issue
blog comments powered by Disqus