>From the "there's a new wave of the Internet beginning to break"
03/01/2001 - Updated 11:24 PM ET
Web develops amazing new tangles
By Kevin Maney, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — The Internet might seem a little worn out. Investors are
abandoning it. Analysts worry that nothing exciting is coming. To many
users, what was radical just a couple of years ago is now ho-hum. But on the
horizon, there's a new wave of the Internet beginning to break. It's been
building even while the industry trudges through these rough times. For
typical users, the Internet experience will change drastically over the next
year or two. The hope is that the developments will reignite the industry.
Up to now, the Net has been almost completely about viewing content or
buying products over the Web, using a browser on a personal computer. In the
next wave, the browser will no longer be a solo act. It will become part of
an ensemble of software and hardware that uses the connections of the
Internet to do much more than has yet been possible. "It's a movement to a
more holistic and complex environment," says Kim Polese, chairman of
Marimba, which makes software that helps run computer networks. "People
think the Internet and the Web are the same thing. They're not."
A couple of years out:
The Internet will be less about going to big sites like Yahoo and Amazon.com
and more about using specialized pieces of software that connect to the Net.
Two current examples: Napster and the Miller Lite Beer Pager.
Web sites will work harder. Travel sites will coordinate the arrangements
you make online with the calendar on your handheld computer and
automatically trigger the e-mail software on your PC to notify colleagues
and family of the upcoming trip. Other sites such as Salesforce.com will
offer small businesses and individuals powerful services that today are only
available to big corporations.
Information on the Web, already increasingly accessible by cellphones and
handhelds, will be everywhere. Web sites will turn the tables and find you,
calling your home phone or paging you. You'll be able to use your cellphone
to access your own PC remotely or to listen to music stored on a friend's
PC. The Net's connections will go every which way, not just from PCs to
servers and back.
The next wave of the Net is going to cost more. All those things you've been
getting for free won't be that way much longer.
Here's a more detailed look at how the Internet experience is changing.
Most users connect to the Internet to get on the Web and get their e-mail.
But saying the Web is the Internet is like saying that broadcast TV is the
same as over-the-air radio waves. Obviously, that's not true. Radio waves
can carry many kinds of signals, from FM radio to cellphone conversations to
the cries of babies over wireless monitors in homes. Broadcast TV is just
one big, compelling piece of the radio pie.
Much more than Web pages
The Net carries Web pages, but it can also carry much more — in fact, almost
anything that can be made digital. So far, the browser has been used as a
gateway for almost any kind of Internet use. For instance, you play music
from Internet radio stations by using a browser to find the station, then
clicking on a link to pull the signal into your computer.
But Internet radio is a good example of how the browser-and-PC model is
becoming less necessary. Kerbango makes a stand-alone Internet radio. 3Com
bought Kerbango for $80 million last year and plans to make a major push.
The device, which costs $300 and looks like an art deco radio, finds Net
radio stations using its own software, then plays the music on its speakers.
The Kerbango radio does nothing else. But it's certainly an Internet device.
"Browsing isn't bad, and it won't go away. But the browser will become part
of a larger context," says Craig Mundie, executive vice president of
On PCs, non-browser software will become more a part of using the Net.
Existing examples of this kind of software are the RealPlayer, which pulls
in and shows Internet video, and Napster, which uses the Internet to find
and download music. Once either of those is loaded on your PC, they work
independently of the browser. They use the Net to do one task very well.
More such software is coming, some big and some incidental. On the big scale
is Groove, the new software from Ray Ozzie, inventor of Lotus Notes. Groove
lets groups of users — all of whom have to have Groove — work together or
share digital stuff over the Internet. It's like supercharged ICQ: Once
everyone's on, the group can chat, draw, work on a document, talk by voice
or view the same photos. The browser, in fact, gets subsumed by Groove. One
function allows a Groove user to lead a browsing session. The other users
will see the same thing on their browsers. Analysts believe Groove could be
as important a development as Lotus Notes was in the early 1990s — and Notes
now has 68 million users.
On the incidental scale are little marketing gadgets created for brands such
as Miller Lite and Absolut vodka. Miller's Beer Pager lets you shoot a
message to a group of friends, presumably to get everyone to meet for beer.
They're no more than Internet toys, but they're spreading quickly.
Look for more stand-alone Net gadgets over the next year. Some will be
peer-to-peer search engines that look for information on other PCs instead
of only on big servers. Others might be focused on such areas as fantasy
sports leagues. As is always the case with new Net inventions, some will be
busts and a few will turn into winners.
Web sites that work
While an officer at Oracle, Marc Benioff wondered why he couldn't take the
user-friendliness of a site such as Amazon.com and put it on top of the
massive, expensive, hard-to-use software that runs customer relationship
management (CRM) at big corporations. If he could do that and put it on the
Web, even small companies could tap in and use it for a relatively nominal
Benioff left Oracle and turned his idea into Salesforce.com, one of the
hotter dot-coms during this period of dot-com disasters. Oracle, in fact,
has since realized the potential and launched an effort to compete with
Sales and marketing people in a company can use Salesforce's site to keep
track of customer calls, complaints, questions, sales, prospects and so on,
and share that information with other employees in, say, finance or service
departments. What used to require big software installations from Oracle or
Siebel Systems now can be done through a browser on the Web. "It's the death
of software," Benioff says with his characteristic bombast.
Though software will probably not die, this is at least the birth of a new
stage for the Web. Sites built on increasingly complex software will offer
services that go far beyond shopping, electronic calendars or travel
arrangements. Such sites will help run companies, home offices and personal
One key to getting sites to do more work is the emergence of XML, a
programming language that makes it possible for Web sites to talk to other
Web sites and to talk to software on your PC. In the Salesforce example, XML
is important. If Joe's Auto Parts has a Web site, a prospective buyer can go
to Joe's site to request information. XML lets Joe's site automatically send
that information to Salesforce's database, which can then sort the
information and send it to the appropriate salespeople back at Joe's.
Microsoft's dot-Net push is based on XML. So if you make travel plans on
Expedia, the site can talk to airline sites to get your latest
frequent-flier miles, then let you know if you can use your miles for trips
you're planning. It can also check with the calendar on your PC or handheld
and let you know of scheduling conflicts.
XML lets "Web sites build things around other Web sites," Microsoft CEO
Steve Ballmer said in a recent presentation. "Web sites will be expected to
have all the best attributes of software. Software will be expected to have
the best attributes of the Web." In the end, sites should be more useful and
compelling, which would be good for users and the industry.
In Chantilly, Va., outside Washington, D.C., a little company called Roku is
getting attention from the big players in technology. Roku has created
software that turns your PC into a mini-server, mostly so you can get to
information on your PC from anywhere by using any device.
You could, for instance, get to your e-mail using a Web-enabled cellphone.
You'd actually be manipulating the e-mail through your PC, as if using a
remote control. That way you could tell your PC to attach files stored on
your hard drive or download something. You can also use Roku to get to data
in your PC from anywhere. You could be on the road, sitting at a PC in a
guest office, and tap into the MP3 files on your home PC so you could listen
to your own music.
"It's like a Web site of my PC," says Rich Kilmer, Roku's chief technology
officer. "Servers don't go away. It's just more of a balance. It's not
balanced now. Everything comes from servers." Hewlett-Packard is bundling
Roku technology in some of its offerings for corporate systems. Novell and
3Com also are interested.
Roku might or might not turn into a major winner in this space, but it shows
one of many ways the Net will stretch and spread, linking everything to
everything else. It's much more than Web sites reconfiguring content, so it
can be accessed on different kinds of devices. It's a new depth of
connectivity, giving users greater mobility and wrapping the Internet around
Lots of companies will jump on the trend. Computer-game maker Electronic
Arts is starting to test the limits of this connectivity. Its new game,
Majestic, is tagged "the game that plays you."
Instead of being something you play on a PC, the mystery game leaves clues
and sucks you into situations by contacting you every which way — e-mail,
instant message, phone calls, faxes. Every communications device you own
becomes part of the game. "It invades your life," says Electronic Arts' Joe
Keene. Much as the Internet will.
Less free, hopefully better
"Subscription services on the Net are closer to becoming a reality," says
Justin Kitch, CEO of Homestead.com, a popular site for creating home pages.
"We're all headed in that direction — those who actually have technology, a
loyal member base and enough cash to survive" the current downturn.
As the Net gets better, Internet companies will look at television as a
business model. TV started out free — the broadcast networks. Once cable and
then satellite TV came around, the model evolved into layers.
Free TV still exists, but now you can pay to get a bigger package of
channels, or you can pay more and get premium services, such as HBO and
pay-per-view wrestling events.
Electronic Arts will do that through AOL, offering a level of free games but
charging a $4.99 monthly fee for a level that includes more sophisticated
games, including Majestic.
As MP3 music services evolve, many believe they will carve out layers —
maybe a free layer where you can get music from little-known artists, up to
premium layers for immediate releases from superstars.
On a service level, you might pay an extra fee for Roku-style connectivity,
and you'll certainly pay to use deep Salesforce kinds of services.
That might get messy for a while as companies test how much people are
willing to pay. But nearly everyone in the industry agrees it will create a
healthier Internet business and experience.
The first wave of the Net was giddy discovery. That's pretty much gone. But
if current trends play out, the next couple of years should bring along an
Internet experience that's deeper and more satisfying.
My head is about to explode from all of the friggin' acronyms. There are hundreds of XML specifications from the W3C and other bodies and they are mostly referred to using acronyms. Acronyms are okay, especially when they are mnemonic devices used to easily recognize a longer form, but using acronyms to represent long, ambiguous names, and just for the sake of using acronyms pisses me off to no end. Enough with the acronyms already! I'm sick of it. -- http://www.xmlbastard.com/simon
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