Ignore talk of net doom and gloom

The internet is everywhere and touches everything. The problem is that once something becomes ubiquitous, we have a tendency to take it for granted. And that would be a dreadful mistake given the unrealised potential of the internet.

The internet is everywhere and touches everything. The problem is that once something becomes ubiquitous, we have a tendency to take it for granted. And that would be a dreadful mistake given the unrealised potential of the internet.

When you look back at the past several years, much of the good of the internet has been a happy accident. People discovered the net and created thousands of applications to run on it overnight. But those days are over. The coming era of internet applications will be shaped by more forethought -- particularly in the vendor community where companies now recognise that the fundamental platform for enterprise computing applications is the internet. This has led to much more aggressive participation in the standards process because each vendor wants to influence emerging standards for a new class of system services for the net.

If you think of the internet as a global operating system, it's clear that there are all kinds of system services missing from that OS. There has been some progress in the development of these systems services, such as the creation of UDDI (universal description, discovery and integration). But for the most part, this is a laborious standards process that has to be augmented by traditional software development procedures that are being applied to things that have never existed before. The result of all of this work should be a richer internet environment. But the rate of innovation on the internet is likely to slow as we collectively move through the hard work necessary to create that environment.

Among the top items on that list of projects is the ability to easily integrate multiple websites within one application. Another one is the creation of a global set of authentication and security services. The ability to create multiple internet profiles that know about each other and can interact on your behalf is not too far away either. To one degree or another, we can probably make any one of these things happen today. But building something once is relatively easy. What's hard is building something that is easy to use and will stand the test of time when millions of people use it every day. What this means is that there will be very few overnight success stories in the new age of the internet. In fact, one could argue that there have been very few overnight successes in the current age. After all, most of the internet success stories we know today are derivatives of ideas that had been kicking around the industry for years.

The coming age of the internet will be marked by truly revolutionary applications that will take a long time to deliver. The days are over when three bright people can come together to form a company, build a product and cash out in less than two years. The next wave of internet success will require four-to five-year commitments before anybody gets rich. This is not a bad thing. The easy days of low-hanging fruit on the internet are over. This time may come again, but that won't happen until we build a more sophisticated internet foundation to enable a new class of applications. The investment to make the internet more sophisticated is happening now, but it will take another two years before those investments have a major impact. In the meantime, Wall Street is sure to become disenchanted because people who trade stocks like quick turnarounds. Patience and perseverance are not their forte.

So in the short term, you're likely to hear a lot of talk of doom and gloom associated with the technology sector. Ignore it. The truth is that the whole sector is shifting from one phase of development to another. The people and companies that are committed to the sector for the long haul have the potential to make extraordinary gains. But unlike the earlier phase, those who are ultimately successful will have earned their way through hard work rather than through good luck and serendipity. And that is a very good thing indeed.

Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld. Send email to Michael Vizard.

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