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Sooner or later, the Internet will be too vast for statistics to matter. How can anyone get their mind around the notion that there is 80MByte of fresh data added each day? A million new users each month?
The art of making the most of the incredible treasure troves and resources of the Internet is just that: an art. The application of science in the form of "agents" that can attempt to profile the usersí requirements is a partial solution, but in the end, all Internet users will have to rely on the editorial skills and judgement of a few people who have acquired the mystic skills necessary to appreciate, collate and understand just enough to achieve the guru status necessary to be able to steer and form opinion of all others.
Much the same already applies in many walks of life: no-one had time to sample all the delights of the West End or Broadway, and so a breed of professional browsers grew up known as the "theatre critics". When the theatre-going public accepted that some of these people expressed views in line with their own, they granted them the most astonishing powers of life and death over the theatrical producers and performers.
This critical process evolved to encompass the new industries of radio and TV-although in the case of radio and TV, this was a lot more accessible to casual browsing by the public, who for a long time had relatively little choice anyway.
In the case of the Internet, it is easy to gain the impression that everyone is a critic. It is in the nature of the system that such people will be attracted to become the early adopters, and share their views with anyone who will read them. But there is also a growing element of "dark subscribers" who eagerly graze the information, but keep themselves to themselves as the more flamboyant Internet users establish a hierarchy of guru-ness.
These people are happy to use email as a valuable tool, and treat the rest much as you might a CDRom encyclopedia. The importance of steering and guiding this mass of endeavour cannot be underestimated if the Net is to fulfil its purpose.
Ambition is a fine thing. Itís the part of human nature that fights against the status quo, and is responsible for quite a bit of what we call progress. Ambition is a fine propellent for the rocket scientist minds of the computer industry.
But sometimes ambition gets in the way of clear thinking. It can make you stoopid. I suspect that some reflexive Microsoft-besting compulsion was responsible for the brain fog behind the recent announcement by Novell and AT&T that they were going to create a "new internet" for business users called NetWare Connect Services (NCS).
Actually, the announcement was really a re-announcement. The idea of a NetWare Registry (remarkably like IP numbers) and internetwork was mooted when NetWare 4.0 was launched over a year ago. NetWare 4.0 has thus far failed to take off so the "NetWare Internet" idea was recently shoved back into centre stage on its own as a great way to sell more software. The AT&T bit is new, though.
While Microsoft Windows NT still hasnít made a measurable dent in Novellís LAN network domination, Novell is apparently trying to make sure that Gates and Co. donít get a look in anywhere near the information highway. I guess NCS is the next tranche of one-upsmanship.
NCS promises to provide secured, transparent access to networked resources including distributed applications. The first service will likely be AT&T Network Notes, based on Lotus Notes groupware.
On the plus side, the rapidly growing commercial electronic marketplace could get a big boost from NCS. Not that it needs one-PIPEX says that well over 50% of their connections are of a commercial nature these days.
There are big questions about the viability of the Novell/AT&T venture. Just what services users will want and how much will they pay? And just when is this great idea set to cross the Atlantic? The rest of the globe? NCS has a long way to go to get anywhere near the Internetís depth and breadth.
I have always said "If itís not broken, donít try to fix it" and I seem to recall Novellís Executive VP Kanwal Rekhi telling me the same in a conversation last autumn. Judging from the staggering growth in commercial Internet services, Iíd say that not much is broken in the minds of millions of business Internet users. There is no need to build a second, parallel commercial Internet.
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