PS Consultants - ideas & solutions


There have been a number of remarks in the press and elsewhere to the effect that the Internet is like the biggest library in the world, but with the books stored in random order. To which I am tempted to respond that if the illiterate enter the best indexed and classified library in the world, they will still be unable to find enlightenment.

The whole point about the Internet is that it is what you want to make of it. And if you just want to be a sofa-surfer, then you probably haven't actually worked out what you are looking for in this library anyway. Those who bumble around seeking enlightenment and entertainment may occasionally bump into something of fascination, but most of the time they won't. There is a large section of the cruising public who are perfectly happy to potter about and just trip over interesting stuff, but this is incidental to the Internet.

The real benefits of the Internet are in the more structured uses, of which email steadfastly remains number one. In their various efforts to develop this theme, companies like Novell and Lotus are adding bells and whistles to email schemes that add voice mail, paging, redirection and all manner of extensions, but there are still too few tools for

managing the information effectively and creating means of classification and indexing. There is evidence that companies like Oracle are starting to get a handle on information management and retrieval on an Internet scale, but these solutions are a long way outside he scope of the average surfer who has to rely on the search sites and indexes.

Systems like the Yahoo index site on the web have made a start on making the contents accessible, and miraculously, seem to be operating fast enough to satisfy demand; but instead of presenting the Internet as one huge haystack, such things reduce the task of locating information to a series of more manageable smaller haystacks. There is a long way to go in terms of indexing the "whole world", and this is any case irrelevant since I still maintain that local networks hold the clues to the real utility of ideas like the Internet within a "real" community.

But the reality is that we are very long way from any degree of universal connectivity. Despite continuing rapid growth, there are still under 100,000 Internet users in the UK from a population of 58 million. And I never cease to be amazed at low levels of email illiteracy of businesses notionally attached to the IT trade. PR companies, whose business is "communication" are a particular paradox. Some of them have rudimentary connectivity in the shape of email, precious few have any idea of the web or anything beyond the basics.

Even companies deep into the ISDN market don't seem to have a policy of corporate email.... yet. Future Publishing is the beacon of net-savvy in the UK publishing industry, having easily the most thorough and thought through approach, with just about everyone on world-wide email.

So if it was fashionable to be "into the Internet last year", it's only to be expected that there are now those for whom the latest pose is to declare the Internet to be a waste of time. Always remember that the Internet, like everything about computing, is the result of what we put into it. And those who have no ability or intention to bring constructive thoughts and creative purpose to its development are likely to find the Internet experience less than engrossing.

It's hardly surprising that there is something of a reaction setting in amongst those members of the media consuming public who are now suffering from Superhighway fatigue. I've seen various gripey articles written about the Internet's lack of structure and generally nebulous nature by pundits looking to be the first to pull the plug on Internet mania, which is ironic because it's only very recently that the hard evidence has started to mount that the Internet really is being taken seriously in all walks of commercial and political life.

Oh no. They've noticed us...
The Internet machine was indeed entirely fuelled by hype for most of last year, but now the hype has been crowned with the news that the leaders of the G7 group of nations have discovered this Superhighway thing. They have decided that they need to do something about it; and having discovered it exists, the first thing that any self respecting politician starts thinking about is ways and means of regulating it: which is a precursor to taxing it, of course.

I'd have been a lot more impressed if the G7 summit had been held on line or by video conference. Think of the money saved in travel, accommodation and the general hoopla that trails in the wake of such a political circus.

The response of the politicians thus far has been uninspiring, and already drawn up in the UK along party lines, with Socialists bleating about wiring up libraries, schools and hospitals, and Tories bleating about free markets and a "climate for business". Yet when both sets of protagonists faced each other on the Money Program back in February, they actually found themselves in broader agreement than I can recall seeing sets of opposing politicians for some time. So perhaps the enlightenment brought by awareness of the Internet can even help politicians to see the light and stop fighting like cats in a bag.

It still seems that most of the senior political figures probably still have no real grip on the broader implications of the Internet, but I suspect that it might yet turn out to be a great election gimmick for a party that decides to wire the UK and offer free basic telecoms to the entire population; after all, this probably does not cost more than a fraction of the cost of running the NHS for a year. And there is one political party at the moment that can only be described as desperate for some sort of gimmick to distract attention from their lack of conspicuous popular achievement in other respects.

It seems simple enough to argue that easy access to mass telecommunications is a matter of national advantage. Just imagine the commercial and strategic advantage for a nation with a near 100% computer literate population, plus free general networked telecommunication.

It's such a good idea that the rest of Europe would be bound to follow (after a lot of bitching about level playing fields and social chapters). No one could afford to get left out of such a thing for long; and if the UK lead the way, then I imagine our specialists would be in much demand since they would have the experience. We have consistently lead the world in areas of telecoms expertise despite not really having much of an electronics industry to speak of these days, and we've even managed to parlay this technology into cash (unusually for GB Ltd.) through operations like BT and C&W. Doubtless we've also squandered lots of opportunities, but on the whole, the UK telecoms scene is one of the less depressed areas of the economy.

Plus, of course, if we get our act together first and establish the information services and systems relevant to a wired Europe, we might have found a way to get an advantage that even the petty bureaucracy of Brussels would be hard pressed to screw up...

Dream on. We'll probably be lucky to have 30 PCs in every school by the year 2000.

The many control paranoids that exist in government (and in business) doubtless find the prospect of total communication for the masses to be alarming. Already the tales of naughty goings on are being proposed as the reasons necessary to justify control, although it does seem that the net community has got the message across to the media that this thing is really not controllable; even if the politicians don't believe it.

Just let them try...