Comments on the Web
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 95 00:07:32 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Comments on the Web
Copyright (C) 1995 by Evan S. Crandall, all rights reserved. This text may be
freely redistributed among individuals in any medium so long as it remains
unedited and appears with this notice. Any commercial use or republication
requires the written permission of the author.
A few of you have asked for comments on the Web every now and again. I
warn you that these are just my observations based on a bit of surfing on
small pipes (at work I have access to a shared T1 and have a sense of that
class of performance) and don't represent anything else.
Even more dramatic than the growth of the Web (which has stabilized between
one and two percent per day for the past two months) is the change in the
sites themselves. Many sites have changed dramatically in the past few
months and almost all of them have undergone complete transformations in
the past year.
The engines driving this change (the rate of which seems to be increasing)
are (1) improved tools, (2) improved artwork, (3) inexpensive hard disks
and (4) pride of creation. We have gone from simple gif headers combined
with pure text to a few elegant and beautiful sites. The quality and
amount of content on some of the sites is staggering.
We are now seeing some real art on the Web and the widespread use of 24 bit
jpegs is becoming commonplace (of course viewing such beasts with 8 bit
color displays and/or poor browsers can be frustrating). For the first
time we are also seeing sites with a sense of style. There are webspinners
who have an unmistakable style and these folks can make real money (the
current going price for competent HTML gurus who have done way cool sites
is $35 to $200 an hour).
Very few corporate sites have figured out what to do, but there are signs
of improvement. IBM, Digital and Amdahl are clearly enlightened and have
managed to couple with their customers. IUMA may have created a new
mechanism for marketing music and other folks are discovering what the
phrase "passive advertising" means. At the same time we see some companies
plow their conventional message into a site and we watch them wither away.
Content is still spotty, but in certain areas (anything dealing with
Science) it can be deep. Some sciences (Physics is most notable) are
moving away from preprints and faxes as the principal mechanism of
information dissemination (they moved to preprints about 30 years ago) and
are now focused on Websites. This trend is accelerating and even journals
like JAMA will be represented on websites in their complete form.
Finding information can still be difficult, but is now (IMHO) easier than
using the online services thanks to tools like Lycos. We are seeing
enormous gains in information search and management tools and it is likely
that some of the world class R&D work is being focused on the Internet in
general and the Web in particular.
Any of you who have recently had conversations with brighteyed kids in
college are struck by the place the Internet occupies in their life. It is
now "cool" to develop interesting TCP/IP client software as well as
multimedia tools and this public development "engine" is formidable.
In the past 18 months I've gone through a few dozen Web browers and many
other related clients not to mention many megabytes of viewer/helper
software and four versions of TCP/IP software on my Macintosh. The good
news is that things are improving and the rate of improvement seems to be
accelerating like everything else. We aren't even close to a killer
browser and browser writers have very interesting things under development.
I am not in a position to talk directly on this, but trust me. You will
wonder how you put up with things like Netscape 1.0N a half year from
now... I'm not saying what you may be using -- it may well be another
version of NS. No one is standing still and anyone focusing on the current
market will be instantly obsolete.
The advent of silly devices to the Internet is very important. It is
making the point that status - anything from the position of a
refrigerator door and the temperature of a Coke can to the current
temperature of a few hundred sites in the Pacific Ocean to the inventory of
a company you are doing business with can and have been done.
It is remarkable that a person can do this with a POTS line, an inexpensive
modem, some easy to use software and a very inexpensive account. Until
recently I have been "surfing" at 14.4kbaud - not a speed I would recommend
for anyone, but it managed to carry me to a few thousand sites. In early
December I moved to 28.8kbaud and found a changed world. Several friends
in Califoria are using ISDN at more than 100 kbps for not much more than
I'm paying ($35 a month) and one friend in Cambridge will soon be on at 500
kbps upstream and downstream for about three times what I'm paying. The
world is going to change very soon!
We are seeing people publishing their own material -- having their own
printing press in effect. There is real value in enabling people to
identify and communicate with people who happen to share similar interests.
Sukie has chats with world class female bodybuilders on a regular basis
and has even exchanged video clips to analyze problems in style. I am
working on an amateur telescope project in Australia and have had the
privilege of remotely pointing it and gathering data from my bedroom on the
other side of the planet. The good health of our six ferrets is in large
part due to a 600 person ferret mailing list and the fact that vets are
sharing information over the Internet.
I am optimistic about the future. While there are problems with the
technology and thorny social issues remain, I can only think about the
period following the invention of the printing press and the emergence of
widespread literacy. Somehow we seem to be able to survive these
technological shocks. When I look at my 8 year old niece doing
collaborative artwork with a nine year old boy in Iceland I can only wonder
what will become of the middle aged people who never manage to "get it" and
are left behind.
© 1995 Peter Langston