"So much poison in power. The principles get left out. So much mind on the matter, the spirit gets
-- Neil Pert, percussionist for Rush
Where is this road of Internet nirvana leading the high-tech hacker and casual surfer? After all, technological breakthroughs keep accelerating at a phenomenal pace and the standards keep shaping the new communication in ways unimagined just six months ago.
As both hardware and software continue to evolve, an important thing not to forget is to maintain the ability to communicate. Internet pioneers may find it difficult to focus on this critical aspect as commercialism proliferates on the binary pathways. The unintended side effect? The 'net could turn into a digital wasteland before it even reaches maturity.
We need some commercial intrusion on the 'net to assure its expansion. However, an overdose of that commercialism could suffocate any meaningful reason to use the Internet. The 'net could become just reading sales brochures in real time -- one huge online shopping center, devoid of meaning and person-to-person interaction.
So how can human communication be lifted above the sea of billboards? In November, some fascinating new ideas showed up on the convention floors of COMDEX, the largest computer industry trade show, where the future of digital information is often defined. Most developers there agreed that the 'net is becoming the primary inexpensive way to communicate globally. Customers are demanding connectivity, so soon links to the 'net will be a common application in most commercial software packages.
Experts predict that in 10 years, equipment allowing Internet access will be as common and as required as telephones are today. Users can now help determine the expansion of the Internet, thanks to the commercially available TCP/IP-enabled operating systems, such as Apple System 7.5, Microsoft Windows 95 and IBM's OS/2 Warp.
Even now, I could add Web links into the Help files that I author, including them in word-processing or even spreadsheet files, if I wanted to do it. By doing this, I can bypass and filter ads and extract only the data that I want to see with my homespun programming, getting rid of an ad or unwanted text.
By sifting past this content, I can define what I myself, and not the Webmaster or the site's advertisers, want to see. Until Web server software can be designed intelligently enough to deter hackers like me from raking it to bits, advertisers are going to have a hard time getting in front of my online eyes.
Java applets, small programs that can be downloaded from a Web server and run directly from within a browser, are still in the fetal stage. Yet Java applets offer the potential for non-programmers to create a personalized Web browser to capture only the areas in which a user has an interest. These tools exist today; it's possible, with a few days of undisturbed programming effort, to bring them to life. It's just that not everyone has the time, interest and knowledge to do it.
As these applets and extensions mature, they will provide a component approach to operating systems. No matter what the user's platform is, the Internet should accept them all, provided they follow standard protocols. The platforms are created to fit the rest of the 'net structure already being cobbled together. Today, the current hacks and programming acrobatic feats are cool, but they still border on the equivalent of pet tricks on the Internet. Without standards to create a framework, energetic Internet developers will be needlessly reinventing the wheel. Each one hopes to make millions like the young Netscape vice president who succeeded with only a few thousand lines of code. But without a standard, their chances of being embraced by the Internet community the way Mosaic was ushered in, remains pretty slim. Some of the ideas springing forth from these sharp minds are nifty, but if no one uses their innovations, they've done nothing more than waste time and effort.
While a need exists to solidify the standards, it's important to remember what makes the Web so unique, namely the ability to tailor what you want when you want it. Now what's left are the tools to create custom applications so you get that information "how you want it" as well. Until this dichotomy is resolved, the Internet has a long way to go before it matures into the dream the hype is praying it will become.