Web Informant #311, 7 January 2003: Taking the web for granted




Well, it was bound to happen. The web has become outright boring for 2003. So I guess I can just pack up my pundit's cap (or whatever it is that I use as motivation to write these missives) and be gone.




Okay, I've thought it about it, and you won't get rid of me that easily -- especially since I spent a goodly part of my vacation migrating this list over to a new mail server. But it does seem as if more and more of us are taking the web for granted these days. What got me thinking about this was yesterday's lunch with a long-time friend of mine, a friend who has been in our industry for as long as I have. He was bemoaning the fact that There Is Nothing New Out There Anymore. We were both longing for the Good Ole Days (say 1989) when the computer industry was exciting and we were all going to change the world. Oh well.


Yes, we are beginning to take the web for granted. Here are some of the signs:


If we look inside the industry, the web has spawned this incredible series of products that wasn't around (or wasn't widely used) three or four years ago. We have load balancing tools, web content filtering appliances, reverse caching proxy servers, application-layer gateways, content management suites, ad server management products, managed web security services, and more. No one thinks about the web as a special class of products, and indeed looking over this casual list it strikes me that these types of products aren't all that exceptional or news-worthy any more. 


Added to this is that more and more software is now available with web-based user interfaces, or running on top of Java, or both. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that this is now the norm more than the exception. Back in the day (say the mid 1990s), it was exciting when a new product came out that exploited a web interface (Printers! Routers! Email!) Pardon me while I stifle a yawn. I used to maintain a list of such products here at strom.com -- I just checked the page and the last time I touched it was over >four< years ago. It is now more of a historic artifact than a cutting-edge directory of innovative applications.


But the web has become so pervasive, outside of our industry and into the common lexicon of daily living. Here are just a few examples.


The web has become the time-sensitive family information delivery mechanism of choice. Movies, transit timetables, airline flight status, traffic reports, weather reports, various government updates and interactions, the list goes on and on. My daughter's Yahoo page has the local movie schedules and she thinks nothing of bringing it up to see when the next movie is playing: a process that used to involve scrounging for the Friday paper and reading tiny six point type is now another historical artifact (and a good thing, given the state of organization of my household and the state of my eyesight). The interesting thing is, these and other activities aren't a big deal anymore.


And authoring web pages isn't that big a deal anymore, either. I showed a friend of mine yesterday how to create her first web page: using the copy of Microsoft Word that she had on her PC. Sure, there are better and more capable tools out there, but the fact that you can get by with Word shows you how far we have come. HTML is just another file format. 


The web has become the "normal" way we pay our bills, shop for groceries, buy books and airline tickets, and conduct our household business. Articles in the papers this holiday season point to more and more people sending web-based gift certificates now. A friend of mine became so enamored with Peapod recently, but here at CMP we can actually get groceries delivered to our cars when we leave work -- you can't beat that convenience, but that doesn't even raise any eyebrows anymore. When I bought a car online three years ago, it was a Big Event among my friends and neighbors. Now most people that I know use the web for some aspect of their car purchases, and indeed my car now has its own web page to keep track of servicing and other dealer communications.     


Soon you'll have web-based interfaces in cars, I bet. Indeed, an article I wrote for this week's issue of VARBusiness on automotive technology starts out with this scenario:


Picture this. You are driving down the freeway when you hear a strange sound and your dashboard's dreaded "check engine" light comes on. You pull over to the side of the road. But before you stop, your car has already notified your mechanic that something is wrong, an order for a replacement part is sent to your dealer and the nearest towing service has been told to pick you up.


This scenario isn't all that far from reality, and pretty exciting too. Sure, buying a car on the web is so last year. But there are still plenty of interesting things to write about with the web, and I hope to keep finding them week after week. Here's to a great 2003.


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David Strom

Port Washington, NY

+1 (516) 562-7151