"Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?"
"Oh no, " said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle."
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle -- it is just a web."
"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian.
(from Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White)
Ole Jacobsen, editor/publisher of ConneXions newsletter and long-time Internaut, asked me to pen something about web developments from my perspective as well as some of the things I'd like to see happen with the web over the next few years. If you like the following excerpt, here is the full WebTrends article.
(Note: This is reprinted with permission from ConneXions, Volume 10, No. 2, Feb 1996. Single copies are $15, a 12 month subscription is $195 -- call 800-575 5717 or 610 892 1959.)
1. Caffeine and anti-caffeine. For purposes of discussion, let's call all efforts to combine the web with multimedia, animation, agents and complex images under the heading of caffeine, and other efforts to combine the web with proper search engines, directories of links, and mostly text-based methods under the heading of anti-caffeine. Both "sides" if you will are important for the web to grow and thrive. Most of the trade press has focused their attention on the caffeinated side of things, which is a Bad Thing: I believe the more interesting developments will be on the anti-caffeine side. But perhaps I am biased: I also prefer decaffeinated beverages.
2. Netscape and anti-Netscape. The general public loves a two-sided battle, and one of the problems was that until recently the web had so many sides that it was difficult to keep track. Now, thanks to Netscape, it is much easier: we have Netscape vs. Everyone Else, or Netscape vs. Microsoft. (You can fill in your favorite vendor if you'd rather.)
3. Five million channels and nothing on. First everyone on the Internet had their own (potential) home page. Then came along Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy and now those several million customers now have their home pages too. Soon everyone will have their own web server. Then what? Actually, this is a Good Thing: I believe the best role for the web is to have a web server into each desktop operating system, and by proliferating home pages (whatever they really are these days is hard to tell, but that's for another article) only helps to get this notion going.
4. NT vs. Unix. The web has been a great example demonstrating the best and worst of Unix: if you know Unix, setting up a web server is no great stretch. The web and NT make beautiful music together: you can have your graphical user interface cake (something that all Windows users have taken for granted but that Unix users only recently discovered) and eat reliable, rock-solid operations too (something that all Unix users have taken for granted but all Windows users have only recently discovered).
5. New class of useless software: HTML editors and HTML add-ons to existing word processors. The web has brought about the fast demise of proprietary desktop word processing formats in favor of tagged text. Is this progress? Most of these HTML editors and HTML add-ons (Microsoft Word Internet Assistant, Lotus Word Pro, and WordPerfect's Internet Publisher) don't really add much on to the process of creating, checking, and publishing HTML documents. My recommendation: find yourself a good text editor and return to the glory days of the past.
6. Latest buzz word: the "Intranet." We now have Attachmate saying they are "the Intranet company," a trade magazine with an entire "Intranet" section and I'm sure trade shows with Intranet in their titles aren't far behind. So what have I done? Jumped on the bandwagon myself with a page of Intranet Information links.
7. WEBng: database connectivity. Intranets will become serious business as corporations figure out client/server applications really mean access to data. The Internet technologies were nicely designed for this purpose. The ability to tie your mainframe and network databases and web servers together will make this a viable business in years to come. We are just beginning to see products that make this possible, and again this is another Good Thing.
8. HTML as the new application interface. We now have a variety of "faceless" applications -- software that has no interface of its own, but rather uses a web browser instead to do user input and display information. Want to manage your network laser printers, check your calendar or manage your router? Use a browser. I believe this is a Good Thing, but not because I want to run my web browser for all my applications. Rather, this is desirable because it makes it easier for me as a mobile office worker to move around the world and do my work over the Internet.
9. Two words: Internet commerce. Depending on whom you talk to, either the Internet will never be safe for conducting commerce or is already is far and away safer than handing your happy waiter your credit card. I got real insight into some of this process when I tried to buy some stuff via the Internet for an article I wrote last December for Web Review magazine: shopping malls were confusing (not to mention relatively empty of patrons), incompatible forms with my browser, difficult to find stuff, overpriced shipping charges, etc. But this will get better, or else we will have to find some other use for the web fast.
10. Pipes vs. content: the latest tectonic shift for ISPs. Something I've predicted a long time is that the traditional on-line access vendors (Compuserve et al.) are moving to becoming providers of pipes rather than content. I don't mean to minimize the value of content on the on-line vendors at all, it is just that the Internet will receive more innovation and more interest. Already, AT&T and Apple have learned this lesson with Interchange and eWorld, respectively. This trend will continue, and we might even see phone companies figure out the former (but doubtful of the latter).
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