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Is the structure of the web .... ?
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- Subject: Is the structure of the web .... ?
- From: Heiko Recktenwald <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 09:17:12 +0200 (CEST)
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Da das Teil so oft forwarded wurde, solls auch auf debate laufen ;-)
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Date: Mon, 06 Sep 1999 23:11:02 -0300
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-> Is the Structure of the Web Undergoing a Fundamental Change?
by Curt Priest <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 6 Sep 1999 11:50:33 -0300
From: Curt Priest <email@example.com>
Subject: Is the Structure of the Web Undergoing a Fundamental Change?
Please note that this transmission conforms to The Digital Millenium
Copyright Act of 1998 (see below)
W. Curtiss Priest, Ph.D.
Center for Information, Technology & Society
466 Pleasant Street Melrose, MA 02176
E-mail: BMSLIB@MIT.EDU, Voice: 781-662-4044, FAX: 781-662-6882
This document may be distributed freely
September 1, 1999
An Open Discussion
with Government, Foundations, Non-profits
and Grassroots Efforts
Public Issue #39:
CITS IT WATCH
"Is the Structure of the Web Undergoing a Fundamental Change?"
Commentary by Dr. W. Curtiss Priest, Director:
When you see three items talking about the same subject all
in one day, it causes some notice and reflection.
A few weeks ago I came across a Cahners' study on Information
Technology that said that we were entering a new phase. They
said the "content push" currently employed by various Internet
services was changing:
"Although widely touted, push content services such as
news, weather, financial and sports score information
will not be as popular as consumers gain the ability to
pull content off the Web on an as-needed basis."
[Source: Cahners In-Stat Group Survey of 500 senior
executives, Press Release of 8/3/99]
Today, I came across two articles in the Boston Globe talking
about the future of the "Net" and a Gartner Group figure
distributed at the MultiMediaCom'99 Fall currently being
held in Boston, MA (through today) at the Coply Marriott.
The first article by Charles Piller has studied the Nielsen/
NetRatings data to find that "despite its breadth, Web surfers
[are] spending more time at fewer sites."
The second article by Rose Kerber covering, a panel discussion
as part of the Association for Computing Machinery conference
at Harvard, cites Dave Clark's remarks that "[w]e techies
tend to be presumptious [about exactly what Internet users want."
The conference's "near-consensus that one of the biggest
problems isn't technical as much as social: the large number
of people who presently lack the skills to make full use of
the Internet. (below)"
Yet, the Gartner Group
place this address in a browser --
... shows enthusiasm for Portals peaking with "inflated
expectations" -- giving way to "streaming video media" and
other forms of information distribution.
So what are the implications for those of us interested in
"Cyberspace and Society," the use of IT for improving
Community Life, and K-12 Education ?
The bottom line is that, despite the web browser's high popularity,
there is yet to be the "killer app" that does what the Cahner
study suggests is needed -- "the ability to pull information
off the web on an as-needed basis."
Is this the same thing as "megasites [that] will dictate trends"
that Piller describes?
Whose need? The need of Portals to increase ad revenues? Or,
the community needs shaped around other values such as family
and community life.
And is using a search portal and fussing around with 1000s
of hits going to deliver information "on an as-needed basis" for
the majority of Americans? Probably not.
The fact that web surfers are spending more time at fewer
sites is an indication that they desire a "shaped experience."
Many are looking to the Internet as an alternative to sitting
in front of the TV, and they don't want to think too hard.
As Piller comments, "[p]ortals solve the overload problem by
offering manageable - that is, limited - choices."
So, we have the Piller article saying Portals are it, a Gartner
Group figure saying Portals are over the hill, and a Harvard-held
conference saying the tools thus far were built by techies and
to listen to "war stories" of the Net.
Part of the "killer app" that may solve all this is, in a
rudimentary form, buried in products like Microsoft's Outlook.
Using a little known feature called "Categories" -- the user
can have information pre-classified by the user's categories
of interest automatically appear in "folders." So, instead
of wandering the Net, one reveals one's "categories of interests"
and the information is shipped from various sources to the end
user. What this becomes is a start at having a "private secretary"
or "personal agent" working for you. Of course you don't reveal
these categories indiscriminantly for privacy reasons, and you
maintain the right to shut off any flow from any source that no
longer meets your standards for quality information (a kind of
Soon, the purveyor of information - whether educational or
sales oriented - will need to compete in the quality and substance
of their deliveries. And, because the Net is always changing,
and the price of local storage keeps plummeting, you archive
the best of the best in relation to some hierachical category
array -- like having a "personal web page." And, the deliverer
might update sales information as quickly as new information
became available (knowing that your last delivery had grown
stale) -- and you might let yourself be alerted to this update,
or, just let it happen and come across it when you re-asked
the same question -- such as "is there a golf club for left
handed people who have problems with balls that hook to the right?"
In that each person's individual educational needs and needs
for goods and services are extremely complex and varied, let
those who would offer "distance education" or "a better mousetrap"
tune their abilities to meet your needs, at your door.
And, since you "own" this stock of knowledge, you are not "cut out"
of the knowledge industry. If you gathered a unique set of
"learnings" -- they are yours, and you can then offer your
abilities, built on this owned asset, to others in employment.
Out of this call emerge new forms of peer mentoring, for example,
where a "master" in one area is helping build up your stock
of knowledge on a subject, and you, in your own areas of
expertise and ability, are building up the stock of knowledge
Ah, there's some community for you.
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INNOVATION Expanding and contracting
Despite its breadth, Web surfers spending more time at fewer sites
By Charles Piller, 09/01/99
eady for a shock? The World Wide Web - widely considered the ultimate
exponent of diversity and choice - is contracting.
True, the number of Web sites continues to expand more rapidly than
the universe at the moment after the Big Bang.
But where are users actually traveling? More and more often to the
same places, according to research conducted for The Los Angeles Times
by Web-tracking companies. We are seeing a rapid narrowing of
attention on the Web.
Of the several hundred million hours collectively spent surfing the
Web in June, 35 percent of the time was passed on the 50 most popular
sites - up sharply from about 27 percent a year earlier, according to
Media Metrix, a New York research group. The top 10 sites claimed more
than 19 percent of all time spent Web surfing. The data show a similar
concentration when considering ''page views,'' a common tally of
Web-site popularity, the group said.
''This seeming diversity and democracy is a little bit deceiving,''
said Bernardo Huberman, a scientist at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
who studies Internet traffic patterns. ''It takes a lot to set up a
site that is successful,'' meaning one that attracts more than a
handful of people.
New York-based Nielsen/NetRatings said the 10 megasites garnered 21
percent of all attention. Reston, Va.-based PC Data does not track
America Online's 18 million members, but it found that the top 10
sites attract the remaining Internet users with even more powerful
magnetism - grabbing 32 percent of all time spent on the Web, with
more than five minutes of every hour spent on industry leader Yahoo
Moreover, this trend should continue and even accelerate, analysts
To be sure, the situation may not presage the kind of control enjoyed
by Ma Bell before its dismemberment, the big three TV networks before
cable, or today's Microsoft Corp. But it suggests that the idea of the
Web as a guarantor of infinite choice and endless serendipity is
hardly a divine right.
Does this rapid consolidation of ''eyeballs,'' as the industry calls
users, actually threaten the vibrant democratizing force the Web
symbolizes and often embodies?
Market imperatives are rapidly rationalizing the way people use the
Web, but that's not necessarily bad.
Portals - megasites such as Yahoo and Excite that offer one-stop malls
for various combinations of search, news, business tools, shopping,
entertainment, and other services - emerged largely because people
desperately need help navigating the chaos of the Web, said Doug
McFarland, general manager of Media Metrix.
The progressive concentration of attention around a small number of
portals may be an inevitable result of the Web's rapid growth. As
users become more experienced, they treat the Web less as a curiosity
to explore and more as a tool, returning time and again to locations
that offer the widest range of resources in the most accessible
fashion. Portals solve the overload problem by offering manageable -
that is, limited - choices.
After all, none of today's search engines even attempts to check each
of the Web's 800 million-plus pages, though some have recently
announced plans to do so eventually. Perhaps not surprisingly, the
most popular search methods rely on human-constructed directories -
effectively an extended word-of-mouth process.
Intrinsic social patterns reinforce that approach, according to
Huberman. Xerox PARC research has shown that the tendency to cluster
around a few sites is replicated within topical areas. For example,
because of the pervasive influence of recommendations from friends or
colleagues, the large majority of visits to education Web sites are
made to 5 percent of such sites.
''What we really engaged in is a form of social search,'' he said.
''This process will tend to concentrate people's visits and time to a
few sites that become very popular.''
Despite such concentration, of course, the Web remains diverse. Nearly
any search request, no matter how obscure, returns hundreds or
thousands of hits. That won't change dramatically in the near term
because the Web differs fundamentally from any other medium.
The cost of producing a small Web site is already near zero. And
although the expense of a megasite is vast, those sites differ from
traditional media conglomerates in key ways. Yahoo calls itself a
''global branded network,'' but unlike a TV network Yahoo generates
and controls little of its own content and ships you off to other
destinations as a routine part of doing business.
The Web's interactivity also offers a powerful hedge against
monopolization. People can vote with their mouse clicks, organize
their interests on line, or even build alternative information
resources, unlike passive TV viewers.
''There's always going to be a dissenting point of view,'' McFarland
says. Just as metropolitan newspapers never wiped out neighborhood
weeklies, ''other,'' the generic label for sites that defy clear
categorization, form the largest category on the Web. About 80 percent
of Web users visit at least one of them in any given month.
Yet big media and tech firms have already snapped up or made sizable
investments in many of the favored Web properties, particularly
portals. Therefore, those entities increasingly mediate the on-line
experience through the lowest common denominator.
The popular sites mimic one another in the range, presentation, and
style of content offerings as news and entertainment outlets cut deals
with America Online, Excite, Yahoo, and MSN.com, while
BarnesandNoble.com copies or adapts Amazon.com's techniques.
The narrowing focus means that megasites will dictate trends that
emphasize convention while ''dissenters'' - like small newspapers and
public-access cable - will ultimately wield little influence.
So despite its myriad differences, the dominant Web experience is
assuming some of the stupefying blandness of other mass media. And
like everything that operates on Internet time, the process is moving
at a breathtaking pace. There's a scary thought.
Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
This story ran on page D4 of the Boston Globe on 09/01/99. c
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
Hurdle to Net growth seen
Harvard panel: Lack of skill of many users a big problem
By Ross Kerber, Globe Staff, 09/01/99
oll some of the Internet's top technical gurus and each might name a
different issue as the chief impediment to the growth of the on-line
But when just such a group was assembled at Harvard University
yesterday, there did seem to be a near-consensus that one of the
biggest problems isn't technical so much as social: the large number
of people who presently lack the skills to make full use of the
''That'll be a big bottleneck, more than any technology,'' said
Leonard Kleinrock, a professor at the University of California at Los
Just how to solve the problem was a matter of some dispute - and the
point of the panel discussion held in Sanders Theatre, part of a
conference sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery.
The technical organization, based in New York, held a special meeting
to review the technical history and outlook of the Internet and drew
some of the chief academic and industry figures whose work in the
1960s through the 1980s laid the foundations of the international
Forecasting the outlook for the new medium would seem a formidable
task, in an era when many advances are made by obscure Internet
start-ups rather than in famous university labs.
But conference organizer Lyman Chapin, chief technology officer of GTE
Internetworking in Cambridge, said young entrepreneurs might gain some
insight into the process through which the Internet has evolved - a
goal that seemed to be borne out by the several hundred twenty and
thirtysomethings who turned out to hear the public discussion last
''It's easy to think of the people who invented the Internet as a
bunch of graybeards,'' Chapin said. ''But I think there's a lot of
room to combine their energy and ideas with what's happening today.''
The panel's discussion touched on many technical issues, such as how
to improve current Internet codes to express Asian language
characters, or the most economic ways to connect masses of individual
homes to high-speed data networks.
Some fundamental themes came up as well, chiefly just how much
knowledge designers of new networks and Web sites should assume among
the general population.
Not much, implied Kleinrock, the UCLA professor, best known for
developing ways to move data quickly over high-speed digital networks.
He argued the increasing complexity of software has already begun to
discourage many potential new users. They suffer from what he called
''feature shock,'' or a disinclination to relearn fancy new software
programs every year.
''It's a question of just how much ability humans have to learn a new
technology,'' he said.
But Robert Kahn, who began a key networking program as a Pentagon
official in 1973, suggested the opposite: that more people might be
trained with programming skills of their own. Such steps, said former
IBM researcher Paul Green, would help bring populations on line in
poorer areas and in the developing countries. The issue is not more to
distribute more expensive hardware, he said, but rather how much it
costs general users to ''get friendly'' with software and technology
Perhaps the ultimate academic answer came from Dave Clark, a senior
researcher at MIT, who called for more research into exactly what
Internet users want. ''We
techies tend to be presumptuous,'' he said.
Other parts of yesterday's conference featured war stories from the
senior scientists, told in what the conference program described as
''a collective oral history format.''
One popular speaker was David Walden, a retired engineer who once
helped Cambridge-based BBN Corp. build computers used to send the
first digital messages over a West Coast data network 30 years ago
The devices were built to the specifications of the University of
California researchers who conducted tests of the system, Walden
recalled. But at the same time, the machines were configured to
specifications set by the US military agencies who paid for the early
research - and who were wary of curious academics who might make
changes without permission, what would later be known as ''hacking.''
''We worked very hard at trying to have this thing run in what they
consdered the hostile university environment,'' Walden said.
This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 09/01/99. c
Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
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