Long live the internet

Computerworld's been going 15 years, eh? I remember 1986 -- my last year at high school, comfortably spent in the common room because University Entrance the year before had been 'accredited'.

Computerworld's been going 15 years, eh? I remember 1986 -- my last year at high school, comfortably spent in the common room because University Entrance the year before had been "accredited".

Ah, those were the days. Dave Dobbyn and Herbs sang Slice of Heaven over and over on the valve-ridden radio and not one of us had heard about the internet at all. The biggest technological problem we had was getting the hot-water Zip to work on a regular and timely basis.

And now here we are in the future and the entire dot-com bubble has burst. Gone. Deceased. Fini. Well thank god for that. Now we can get on and actually get some work done.

Whose idea was it, anyway, that the internet would become this millionaires’ bazaar where businesses could set up a site and people would throw money at them? Not mine, that’s for sure.

Let’s face it, the internet is good for some things but not so much for others. Take buying books (y’know, just off the top of my head, apropos of nothing much at all). For a while there I was buying them based on their smell. Ripple the pages of a new novel and inhale that glorious aroma and see if you understand what I mean. I bought The Pope’s Rhinoceros based on smell, which is ironic because, boy, that book really stunk.

In Hamilton there’s a second-hand shop called The Crowsnest that was just fantastic. I could stand in there for hours and simply breathe it all in (try that with your online shop and see how quickly they call for security). A few years ago they moved to new premises and it just wasn’t the same, although it’s almost back to the way it was now. Don't forget that the original browser was someone in a bookshop, after all.

No, I’m afraid the internet shopping experience has always been somewhat lacking. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, for the appropriate goods -- like bulk purchases of items you don’t need to touch and smell and feel. I have bought books online in the past, but they are speciality books I couldn’t get in New Zealand shops (not that sort), or books I would have bought as soon as they were released in New Zealand anyway but had to have right there and then. I would happily shop for most groceries online -- tins of peaches or toilet paper can be easily chosen from a picture on a website as they can in person.

No, I think the online shopping thing has to be carefully thought out and the seller must know their market and make sure they stick to it. Vertical markets are good. Parts for power stations (www.partsfinder.com) is one example that seems to be rocking along. Or niche markets that can't be sustained shop by shop, city by city, but which can easily be reached and serviced online.

So what else do we do with the internet? Data exchange, of course. Information transfer. That's what it was built for, that's what it's good at, why not use it that way.

Hands up who owns a TV? Wouldn't it be good if you could go to the company website and find the manual on how to programme the damned thing? Or the video, or microwave, car stereo or that blender you bought six months ago with the funny icons that make no sense. Guess how many companies actually do that?

That's just the tip of the iceberg, of course. The information flow is far more interesting than simply adding product information to a website. Fandom is a huge part of the online world. Amateur hour is something that can be tapped into in a big way, yet not many companies realise the value of it. Heavy-handed corporate lawyers have been known to send out cease-and-desist orders to fan sites at the drop of a hat, taking on the very people that are an organisation's greatest asset: their customers. George Lucas is said to be thrilled at the amount of online interest in Star Wars, which is the right attitude for him to take, if you think about it. He's rumoured to have immensely enjoyed the Cops/Star Wars short film as well as the "Phantom Edit" version of the latest movie.

The DVD for The Phantom Menace apparently has a hidden file of outtakes from the film -- viewable only if you know the codes, which are available online. Lucas has also cut together a new trailer for the second movie that is apparently hidden on the official movie site and is only accessible if the viewer has a copy of the DVD in the machine's drive. Great idea, added value (how's that for a phrase!) that makes the consumer happy, doesn't cost the company a whole lot and will no doubt add about a trillion dollars to Lucas's bottom line.

Apple has realised as well that it's on to a winner with QuickTime. To play the large format trailer for Star Wars or for Lord of the Rings you have to buy QuickTime Pro -- perhaps the best reason yet to pay money for a download.

Dot-com is dead. Long live the internet.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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