Ok. The Web is the hottest thing around. But, what difference does it make to our organization?
It's hard to say. Opinions differ. Some organizations are already profiting from the Web. Others are positioning themselves for future commercial opportunities. Still others want to market their goods and services over the Web, but just don't understand the mechanics. There are even successful professional corporations (health care providers, attorneys, architects, etc.) who are not convinced that their corporate future is linked to the Web at all.
But everyone is talking about Web access, and hundreds of thousands of individuals and corporations are establishing a Web presence each year. That generates a lot of interest. Perhaps we should ask whether we're accomplishing much.
From a statistical point of view, it doesn't look good. The Web has become a vast repository of vanity homepages and mediocre multi-media.
With new technologies, reflection comes with maturity. The entertainment industry is rife with examples of misusing the latest technologies by re-hashing tired and stale media from previous entertainment genres. Like movies, telephony and radio, and countless other new technologies to boot, the Web has blossomed into a wasteland of relatively useless information which has been derived from earlier digital genres. More often than not, graphics, audio files, animations, and real-time audio and video transmissions are on homepages not because they serve a particular purpose, but because we know how to produce them and we already have them in our archives. All cybernauts are guilty of this to some extent. But there's a difference between an occasional lapse into self-indulgence on the one hand and trying to build a media empire around it on the other.
Let me illustrate with a few of my favorite examples.
Figure 1. Here's a view of someone's office updated every 10 minutes. He's not in.
Figure 2. Here's a green iguana. He moves
very slowly both on and off the Internet.
Figure 3. The granddaddy of bandwidth bandits -
the Trojan Room Coffee Pot at Cambridge University. You can save
the airfare if the pot is empty.
Once the novelty wears off, the first question of any technology is always "Where's the beef?"
Nothing wrong with homepages, mind you, as long as they appear in moderation and possess a semblance of good taste.
But now there are millions of them. In fact, there are over 21 million of them indexed by the Digital Alta Vista search engine (http://www.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/query/) alone!
While the vanity homepages are not doing much harm to businesses at the moment, they're also not helping much either. In terms of the organizational mission statement, homepage construction and maintenance usually falls under cyber-busywork.
How, then, are we to take advantage of new Web and Internet technology without falling victim to it? The answer isn't obvious - even to the largest and most successful computing corporations (see my column in the last issue of PC AI). But there are some general guidelines to follow.
Ask yourself what the long-term goal is for your organization. Break this down into specific questions relating to your organizational needs. For example:
Of course the great social cost is the diffusion of the content- rich amidst the content-free. And the great technological challenge will be to provide the appropriate filters so that we can automate the process of separating the two and thereby find the former while avoiding the latter. Without this filtering technology, the Web won't be any more sustainable than water power.
This challenge will be have to be born by successive generations of future search engines like Alta Vista mentioned above. This is where Web technology will ultimately prove itself - where the rubber meets the road on the information superhighway as it were. But, I'm getting ahead of myself, for that's the subject of my next column.
One of the earliest search engines on the Internet, Lycos, is at http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/. While not as complete a mapping of Internet resources as Alta Vista, it is a time-proven utility which has been passed down through many successive generations of neophyte cybernauts over the past three years.
A relatively new search engine, NlightN at http://www.nlightn.com/ offers a new twist on resource location. It separates the documents into Web pages and entries in various databases of information (Library of Congress, various commercial databases, etc.). This is a start toward the filtration which was explained in the accompanying article.