2.1 Scope of the Internet

So pervasive is the Internet today {21} that it's difficult to appreciate what's been achieved in twenty short years. Over a trillion web pages are thought to exist, {1} a meaningless figure until we realize that someone spending just one second on each page would need 32,000 years to surf existing web space. Beyond the accessible web lies the deep web, perhaps even larger — no one really knows what's locked away in government, institutional and business intranets and databases. {2}

Ubiquitous

The web is everywhere. Web pages serve youngsters following their music bands, students gathering material for their essays, families following their member's activities through social media sites, journalists researching their articles, academics putting up course notes for students, the elderly looking up details of the drugs prescribed them . . . the list is endless. {20} More used than search engines for websites are emails (over 3 billion accounts {3}) and social media sites. Beyond social media, emails, and web pages, the Internet has a host of other uses, including:

Business intelligence systems
Blogs
Cloud computing
Content management systems
Distance learning
Expert systems
Internet TV
Music & video
Search engines
Video conferencing
Wikis

Transnational

No country is without Internet access, and the information it conveys has the potential to make the world a better informed, friendlier and more democratic place. {4} Most languages are supported: their current Internet usage is: {5}

Language

Rank

Millions of Users

English

1

536.6

Chinese

2

444.9

Spanish

3

153.3

Japanese

4

99.1

Portuguese

5

82.5

German

6

75.2

Arabic

7

65.4

French

8

59.8

Russian

9

59.7

Korean

10

39.4

Others

-

350.6

Transpersonal

eCommerce is no longer aimed at the cost-conscious shopper or computer geek, but caters for all ages, social groupings and incomes. Examples:

1. Children: Millsberry, Candystand and KidSites.
2. Games: Online Games, Zapak and AlbinoNinja.
3. Thrift Stores: ThriftShopper, Goodwill and Salvation Army.
4. Fashion: Tiffany, Dior and Vogue.
5. Luxury: Christie's Real Estate, Sotheby's and Cruise Critic.

Standardized

Throughout its vast extent, the Internet runs on standard network protocols. A web page created in Russia is seen in a broadly similar fashion in China and the USA, depending a little on operating system, browser and VDU settings. Mobile phones displays are more variable, reflecting differences in the HTML markup language supported. Mobile phone access is important, expanding rapidly in countries of limited PC ownership: {6}

Media Rich

Web pages carry text, graphics, sound and/or video files. To them can also be attached PDF, Excel and Powerpoint pages. Practically any sort of computer file can be sent FTP across the Internet, or attached to an email.

Interactive

Increasingly, the web is becoming interactive, with sites being created by a two-way flow of information between site owner and viewer. With social media sites like Facebook and MySpace, that information flow is multidimensional as friends add their own information and links. The Internet has not only changed the way we do business but is slowly reorganizing the nature of societies: how they interact and view themselves. Superficially, the world is largely as it was a decade ago. Online purchases account for only 4% of retail trade in America, {7} and though most organizations of any size have an Internet presence, often with blogs and newsletter services, much is still window-dressing, with the same attitudes prevailing in boardroom, office and factory floor. Subtly, all that is changing. Companies can no longer afford to remain faceless entities, nor ignore the customer when the competition is only a click away. A relentless public relations war is being waged, with web visitors expecting real people behind the words.

Information Laden

For the first time in history, information has escaped the control of government, guilds and professions, becoming plentiful, cheap and usefully accurate.

Businesses can put detailed brochures online for negligible cost. Stores give their locations online, with opening times, management staff, terms of business and returns policies. Government departments place important regulations online, including forms and frequently asked questions (faqs). Patients can access their test results online. In many countries, companies and individuals can file their income tax reports and monthly VAT figures online, and no doubt the departments have their own expert systems for flagging suspicious entries.

Even the stigma of the Internet article is beginning to disappear. Wikipedia has none of the Encyclopedia Britannica's style, accuracy and authority, but its range is wider, material is more easily accessed, and it's free. Academics often publish on open access, {8} the more so as subscriptions {9} to scholarly journals increasingly burden library budgets. {10} In fast-moving areas of research, the biological science and medicine in particular, work can be outdated before even the reviewers finish their assessments. Researchers also write blogs, which bridge the gap between the further reaches of study and the interested layman. {11} A more democratic world.

Given only a few minutes on the web, the net citizen can trawl a wide range of public opinion, and find exactly what their MP or congressman said on a particular issue. News the mainstream press will not cover, sometimes of fundamental importance to business and everyday citizens, can be read in depth. Conservative, {12} liberal, {13} socialist, {14} economic {15} religious, local, international newspapers — all are available, many of them free. Hundreds of newspapers around the world offer online English editions, and there are many free applications {16} that will machine-code translate from most languages: not perfect, but sufficient to give a sharper picture than the US or European press may provide.

The quid pro quo is the controversial degree of access that the Internet has given the intelligence services into the private lives of citizens, companies and governments. Everything digital is now being stored and sometimes read, not only Facebook entries but bank accounts, commercially sensitive information and government plans of friendly countries. Software companies have for years installed backdoor access to their programs, and provided the intelligence services with keys to encryption services, rendering them less than effective. Industrial espionage has morphed into cyberwar, and the fair competition tenets of business placed under threat. The more forward-looking companies are reconsidering their use of cloud computing, and moving into open-source software where they alone modify security aspects. {22}

Customizable

Content and its presentation are increasingly being shaped to individual needs, particularly in business-to-business ecommerce, which is over ten times the size in revenues of the more familiar business-to-customer variety. {17} Department stores, factories and assembly plants interact with their suppliers, ensuring that parts are manufactured on time, inventories are kept to a minimum, and any unexpected change in market expectations or supply holdups are immediately transmitted through the network, and plans updated accordingly.

Self Generated

Media sites enable individuals to create and share their content on a many to many basis. Such are examples of Web 2.0 sites, which: {18} 1. Rely on the self- and user-generated content of ordinary citizens. 2. Are easily searched and referenced. 3. Encourage social interaction. 4. Require broadband connectivity. 5. Attract enormous audiences (offering companies unusual opportunities for targeted selling). 6. Provide platforms for applications that may be free or fee-based. 7. Have uncertain profitabilities.

Change in Kind

Large fortunes are still made with novel ideas, and companies can change hands for sums unrelated to their present value, but, by and large, ebusiness is conducted on the same lines as traditional business, and similar business models apply. Indeed, it is business which is the overriding factor. As the case studies will show, many products with obvious benefits were not snapped up immediately but had to be promoted by sustained and expensive marketing, well beyond the means of the average company. Venture capital companies were necessary, small companies were acquired by larger, or companies had to be floated on the stock exchange, an expensive process, fraught with uncertainties and subject to the whims of business sentiment over which even the underwriters had little control.

Some {19} believe these features constitute a change in kind, indeed a revolution. Customers can now make informed choices, and compare notes, in a way not possible when prices and full specifications could be withheld and choice was often restricted by geography and advertising channel. The growth of online communities also makes possible sites unimaginable two decades ago. Sites like:

Facebook

A very popular social media site to which users can post text, photographs and videos of themselves and friends. The site was receiving over 203 million visitors/day in June 2011.

Second Life

A virtual 3-D world where users create avatars that populate a world with properties, vehicles, furniture and a host of other virtual items. In the fourth quarter of 2010, over 750,000 unique users from around the globe spent more than 105 million hours experiencing Second Life while exchanging Linden dollars, Second Life's currency, worth more than $165 million in its economy.

Wikipedia

A free encyclopedia, far surpassing in content commercial encyclopedia like Encarta and Britannica. Contributions must be factual and non-promotional, are produced and edited by volunteers, and no money is made by advertising. In June 2011, the English Wikipedia alone had over 3,655,964 articles: the combined total was over 1.74 billion words in 9.25 million articles and approximately 250 languages.

Digg

Digg is a social bookmarking system that allows users to 'tag' web pages and share the tags with others. Visitors can vote on pages, and winners are promoted to the front page of Digg, where millions can view the page and comment. The site was receiving over 3.8 million visitors/day in June 2011. {19} {20} {21}

Questions

1. Describe the eight features that characterize the Internet today.
2. What are the main uses of the Internet?
3. Why are smart phones so vital to the increased use of the Internet? Give some figures for likely use in 2015.
4. How is content being self-generated? Give some examples.
5. Why do some believe that the latest developments argue for a revolutionary change in the Internet? Do you agree?

Sources and Further Reading

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