Column: Internet goes interactive and commercial

It's been a fast and fun year in the New Zealand Internet community.

1996 kept the Internet junkies hopping. Not only did Jolt Cola (http://www.joltcola.com) make its debut here in New Zealand, but Net users can now create and download maps (thanks to the Landcare's Guild Site: http://www.massey.landcare.cri.nz/cgi-bin/guild_main.pl), download real business data (from NBR's Business Centre Online site: http://www.nbr.co.nz), and search New Zealand Web pages using fuzzy logic (kudos to http://www.searchnz.co.nz). Other big events were Stelarc being hooked up to a shocking display of Internet power at Artspace (http://mat.sapp.auckland.ac.nz/artspace/EBS/stelarc/live.html), Ruapehu blowing its top yet again online and crazed employees of one major telco-based ISP making personal threats against their chief rival. The Internet is so much more lively than the more prosaic world of IT.

Over the past year we have seen the Web move from static pages to interactivity. No longer can you just announce an event or product, you have to add online ordering or registration, feedback, or a chat line. Check out the Art Deco site (http://www.hb.co.nz/artdeco/weekend97/programdetails.html) for a good example. And this type of online registration provides a ready-made basis for mailing lists and customer loyalty programmes.

Another major story in the Internet arena is the cumulative advance in expertise in all facets of the industry. Last year at this time there were just a few legitimate Internet consultants out there. This year everyone has had a year's worth of additional experience and it shows. Groups like Webmasters, Clearfield Communications, Helios and Creative cGi have dramatically improved the standards by which all other sites will be judged.

What to look for in 1997? More commercial sites, especially in respect to online databases. The Net is poised to become the medium of choice for information dissemination. Watch for more land information, as well. Already the Valuation New Zealand database is available via the NBR site, but it is not very easy to access. Look for this extremely valuable data to be offered in conjunction with other spatial data sets in the new year. I hope to see Statistics New Zealand offer meshblock and area unit demographic data online with a front-end that will allow you to do your own catchment area analysis and trade area definition with Microsoft Excel's Datamap. And there might even be a facility for online geo-coding if the right vendors can come to an agreement of platforms and royalties.

In any event, 1997 will be as much fun, if not more so, as 1996. See you next year.

(Phil Parent is an Auckland Internet consultant. Email him at pjp@iprolink.co.nz.)

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