The WEB is so different . . .
Abstract: One of the conclusions of this article is that the WEB will change not only the media, but that it will shake and reshape the entire society and the way we live, work, shop, learn, etc. Eventually, this will make the Government irrelevant.
This article was issued when Optionality first appeared on the WEB, reflecting on differences compared with issuing a printed magazine. Instead of completing an entire issue once a month, with all the articles, letters to the Editors, pictures, ads and other content that had met the deadline, it was suddenly possible to put information on the WEB as soon as such information came in, complete with hyperlinks to the people who sent it, or not to duplicate such information at all, but to instead simply refer to the source by hyperlink.
The article The WEB is so different . . . discusses such differences in greater detail. The conclusions of the article are that the WEB will change not only the media, but that it will shake and reshape society. Eventually, such changes will cause the Government to fade away into irrelevance.
There are many differences between the WEB and the conventional media. In short, the WEB allows for cheap and speedy ways to present and find information with the flexibility to combine most qualities of existing media and then add some more.
Today, with little effort, millions of people can suddenly publish their thoughts on the Net. What does it cost? Virtually nothing! A second-hand computer can be bought for under $100, the most expensive item may well be the modem, but even a high-speed modem can now be bought for under $100 new. A small monthly fee to an Information Service Provider (ISP) will put you online. Software can cost a bundle, but there is plenty of freeware and shareware for the bare necessities. Most people will want all this anyway, because they want email. So, the ability to publish on the WEB virtually comes as a free bonus.
To learn how to make your own pages, one can look at WEB pages that one likes, in order to learn how to put together text, pictures, etc, and start experimenting. The WEB just invites anyone to grab a page and try to do it even better. HTML is pretty easy, but there are also programs that help people make pages, without ever having to look at source code.
Compare this to the cost of printing your own books or magazines, including distributing copies to a potential public of millions of people, businesses and organizations. Of course, people can still print out your pages from the WEB, if they insist on reading only printed text.
Existing text can be copied or scanned in, complete with pictures, in seconds, rather than minutes. Change words, add new text, it can all be typed in and put on the WEB in a matter of minutes, ready to be seen by people all over the world. Don't worry too much about proof-reading, spell checkers can correct many errors. If there are errors, readers often notify you by email, sometimes minutes after the text first appeared on the Net. Such errors can then be corrected and the whole text can be updated in a matter of minutes.
The power of the WEB is that, say, a lecturer can now give a live presentation, not just before a live audience at a single venue, but before a worldwide audience. The WEB allows for relatively cheap, instantaneous, interactive, worldwide, multimedia communication.
Of course, downloading pages from the WEB still takes too long for many. Downloading sound and video is even more problematic. But it all depends on what kind of information one wants. Switch off the graphics and things will speed up. Note that even a newspaper takes many hours before it reaches you. TV rarely contains live reports and if it does, it may not be what you were looking for. As technology progresses and network capacity becomes cheaper, the WEB will become faster and overcome such teething problems and further redefine what is now regarded within the media as speedy delivery.
On a computer, even a simple program allows for all kinds of text searches and manipulations, such as to find certain words, count the number of words, copy and paste parts of the text, etc. The WEB gives access to millions of documents, out of which specialized search engines help one to find the handful of pages one may be looking for. This means that millions of people may be publishing their texts, yet such texts can be easily found by people interested in specific texts. Once people have discovered something they like, they can store the address for future visits.
The WEB isn't just text, it isn't just text and graphics and it isn't just text, graphics and photos. WEB-pages can contain animation, sounds, even video. But any comparisons with existing media do not enough justice to the flexibility of the WEB. The WEB is more than a slide-show, more than a library full of books, more than a cinema, a CD, a radio or TV program. The WEB can be all that and also a whole lot more.
Many traditional media have linear characteristics. Books, films and stories told on the radio all have plots that evolve as time progresses. One passively listens or watches. A VCR allows one to stop the program to take a break, even to rewind a scene, but the whole program still follows this single path from start to finish. On the WEB, one does not passively listen and watch, one surfs from page to page, from one spot on a page to another spot. The WEB has more similarities with newspapers and magazines, where one can browse through pages and pick out what seems interesting. The WEB puts the user in the driver's seat, not the publisher! Newspapers and magazines may contain more information than the average WEB-site, but hyperlinks on a WEB-page can point to a huge library of references and background material. On top of that, the WEB is interactive, allowing for all kinds of comments, responses, feedback, transactions and other user input that may, through live updates of files, impact on the information presented to many other users. WEB-sites can incorporate forums with live chat, conference and conversation facilities.
Hyperlinks mean that, to be popular, a site does not need to contain much popular content, software or facilities if they are available elsewhere. Such a site can put some original work on the WEB, while hyperlinks make such work part of something much bigger. This also solves part of the copyright dilemma. Why republish work that isn't yours (and be blamed for that), if it is so easy to put a hyperlink in your own work pointing at someone else's original work.
A common complaint about the WEB is that it is difficult to make money as everything is so freely available. But technology makes it ever easier to encrypt those parts of your WEB-pages that you do not want everyone to see. Then you can give the key to decrypt such parts to those that you do want to see it. Encryption becomes more and more popular, not just to ensure that the user makes a payment, but also to give users the confidence that they are getting the real thing, rather than a virus-infected copy.
Another argument that is often used by defenders of books is that it is easier to carry a book along than a computer. But how many people really do carry books with them on a daily basis? Today, notebook computers are as small and light as books and there are more and more people who do carry notebook computers with them on a daily basis. Notebook computers can have a built-in mobile phone. Readability increases with advances in screen quality. And again, notebook computers can do a lot more than handle text.
The WEB's wider Impact
People who like to read books often argue that it stimulates creativity and that by reading text only, they are forced to use their imagination to visualize the worlds that authors describe. But of course, one can also read text only on a WEB page, or even print it out first. The WEB, however, invites people to make their own pages. Making one's own pages surely stimulates one's imagination. Many people have put together spectacular pages with very little resources. The WEB calls out for interaction and experimentation. On the WEB, people can give feedback the moment they see something that moves them. On the WEB, people can hold live discussions or even be present as 3D avatars at sites. This is something else than passively reading a book!
The WEB is often discussed in terms of technology. In many respects, the WEB makes conventional media look like dinosaurs. But the WEB also makes conventional views of wealth and property obsolete. The WEB is showing the world new ways to prosper without the requirement of huge financial investments. Many sites on the WEB have become famous, without spending much money on staff, hardware, etc. What they started with may have been a rather vague idea, but as they worked it out, often with very limited means and resources, it grew into a gigantic success.
What made all the difference was not the amount of work it took to set up such sites, not the skills of the people who did the programming, not the data, media content or other information that the sites offered. Instead, more often it was the approach they took, the way they presented existing information, that suddenly showed the world how it could be done. What made all the difference was that the huge potential of the Net, its flexibility, virtuality and versatility that stimulates people to improvise, to be creative, to use their imagination and to envisage things and work them out even beyond their own wildest dreams.
Such interesting sites didn't need a huge advertising budget to make their site famous. Other sites simply mentioned them, as an electronic version of getting famous by word of mouth. Hyperlinks help the site they point to become known, but they also allow the referring site to share in the glory. It works both ways. The site that is mentioned gets more visitors. But a page that includes pointers to other pages that are interesting, will itself also become more attractive, as visitors will appreciate being shown in that direction. Satisfied visitors will remember this and return for more. It is mostly a win-win situation. This differs fundamentally from the traditional adversarial trade system. Traders hand over things only reluctantly, they only do so because they have negotiated to get something in return. It is exceptional in trade that both parties hand over things that they want to get rid of. By contrast, hyperlinks generally benefit both parties.
Such developments will shake and reshape the entire society and the way we live, work, shop, learn, etc. Huge changes are taking place right now, changes that will end the dictatorship of those who restrict optionality. The most important impact of the WEB is that it shows that the Government, as an institution that controls a nation in all kinds of ways, is obsolete. Inevitably, the Government will fade away as time goes on and as the effects of such changes become manifest.
But let's not glorify the Internet or the WEB too much for bringing down the Government. We don't want to crown a new king. As the Government crumbles all around us, it may well take the Internet along in the slipstream of its collapse. After all, the Internet is a protocol that is in many respects enforced upon society by the Government. It is a system to tag users and pages with a uniform system of universal addresses. HTML is a standard computer language that is part of this. All such singularity is bound to be shaken up as the Government fades away.
Some may fear that as the Government collapses, the glue that keeps all this together may disappear. They will argue that standardization has been the driving force behind the success of the Internet. Do not believe them! As deregulation of telecommunications progresses, more and more ways to communicate will become available at low prices. If the Internet will still be around in future, it will be as one of many different networks, each offering a wealth of services or specializing in specific services. There is nothing magic about the Internet or the WEB. The Internet has been around for decades, just like packet switching, Videotex, email and personal computers. The telephone network dates back even longer. What probably did put more spice into the Internet than anything else was the easy availability of Netscape Navigator that brought HTML to the home user. But HTML was not that new either. The first MacIntosh computers distributed by Apple came with a free version of hypercard.
This does not decrease the importance of the WEB in changing society as it already has. The point is that we should not get stuck in one specific standard. There are many different ways to transfer, process and present information and future methods will be even more mind-boggling than what can currently be seen on the Net. Many utilities will appear that will convert one protocol into another. Many services will assist in finding people, pages, sounds, etc. Many services will appear offering seemingly seamless interconnection from one network to the other. Above all, let's welcome the future. Let's change in focus, away from technology, services and protocols that make it possible, to the creative and improvisation talents that will bring us there.