The Future of the Internet According to John R. Patrick
by By Anna Collens December 2003
The December DACS general meeting welcomed back keynote speaker John Patrick, retired V.P. of Internet Technology at IBM. John once again cast his visionary eye on the future of the Internet, his insightful presentations never failing to inspire and entertain the DACS members.
John’s main points were “fast, always on, everywhere, natural, easy, intelligent and trusted.”
The “Next Generation” of the Internet does not happen overnight, but is a continuously evolving process. According to John, the entire Internet is still in its infancy, having grown from 2% of its theoretic potential last year, to 5% this year. Statistics show that 60% of households now have Internet access, and 20 – 30% of those have broadband. (“Fast and always on”). Users’ expectations are rising by the day. Ever increasing computer and Internet savvy customers are demanding web sites that cater to their needs, and make their interactive experience smoother. There is still tremendous potential, but political and old-world thinking continues to stand in the way. As John put it, “It is about users looking for an end-to-end – or as some say, a beginning-to-end – solution.” The technology is there, but for many companies their web sites are still inadequate, and do not fulfill the needs of their customers. Cyber interaction hits a road block when the “contact-us” leads to a phone number – and limited hours!
Viewers are now web-savvy enough to want more than just a one-way experience. John emphasized the question, “What can the viewer actually DO on a site?” Web sites need to be interactive, not just informational. It should be an “easy and intelligent” experience. He demonstrated attractively designed sites that still fell far short of their potential, from the simple “contact us” and no e-mail or phone number in sight, to the runaround of following links only to be told to print and fax! He also showed several examples that demonstrated, only too well, how customers hit barriers in the interactive experience.
John also spoke of Internet Telephony. Why do the traditional phone companies still charge so much? And why are they not scrambling to explore the new SIP technology? Long distance service can be very inexpensive with Internet Telephony. Companies such as Vonage and Packet8 are courting customers with much less cost, especially for long distance service, where, as John put it: “…the true cost of a voice conversation over the Internet isn’t much different whether you are calling Boston or Beijing!” Ever increasing availability of broadband will prompt major changes in telephone systems. However, John illustrated how, due to regulatory issues, the broadband in this country is still limited. In the US, 250,000 bits-per-second is considered broadband, costing around $30/month. In Japan, Yahoo is offering 8 million bits-per-second at less than $9/month.
On the positive side, John mentioned eBay. As an “on demand” Internet service success story, they show the way it can be done. Having streamlined the process of transactions, insurance, shipping costs and other options, their follow-through plan for business dealings provides a positive and user-friendly experience. Another example of a true “on-demand” e-business is myups.com, where effective integration between the “cyber” and “real-world” results in a speedy pick-up following an on-line request.
Another area for great potential is e-government. Many countries are trying to make it work, but as John states: “The problem is that most e-government sites don’t have compelling content or useful transactions.” 92% of countries in the United Nations now have sites, but only 20% of users take advantage of services that are offered.
The popularity of Instant Messaging is a “natural” -and not just for kids. This method of communication allows people to stay in continuous real time contact. E-meetings are an ever increasing and successful form of business interaction facilitated by the Internet. E-learning is not quite there yet, as it is still difficult to duplicate the class room experience.
WiFi – remote connectivity is increasing all the time. People can enjoy Internet access “everywhere” through their laptops, cell phones, PDA’s, etc. This can allow the convenience of interconnecting the home, the office, on-the-road etc. (“Call home to turn the oven on!”). To make web pages accessible to different media, developers and designers now use page elements and Cascading Style Sheets – allowing different end systems to receive a design specifically suited to that device.
A favorite subject for John is blogging, an excellent on-line vehicle for anyone to publish their thoughts and opinions to the world. Providing an alternative to real-world print, this consciousness streaming gives “author/journalist wanna-be’s” a powerful outlet. He mentioned how an organization promoting GPS hiking and treasure hunting can benefit from blogging entries by members to promote their hobby (geocaching.com). Taken to the next level, this method of communication has unlimited potential for political discussion, giving the Internet the closeness of a small town meeting. Opinions can be heard and possibly affect political decisions.
John also brought up the huge potential to improve medical information integration on the web. He mentioned the frustration of trying to obtain medical test results, requiring an endless runaround of phone calls, left messages, missed connections, and ultimately no results, as the data is time-limited! Korea has an innovative approach; there everyone has a “Smart Card” containing critical details such as prescription, medical and billing data—all instantly accessible to any medical caregiver across the country, regardless of location. It even contains an e-ticket for mass transit – to speed your way to the hospital in an emergency!
Security and privacy policies (“trusted”) are getting better but still need improvement. John stressed the importance of reading a company’s policy. Some amount to nothing more than “We capture data about you and sell it, or give it away to anyone we choose.” Others have a “We will never give it away or sell it.” But how can we trust that these policies are enforced? Even though they are well-intentioned, how do companies guarantee compliance from their subsidiaries? On-line updating of personal privacy preferences is possible but take days or weeks to update. John questions: “Why should it take so long?”
John’s eloquent discussion and examples of the Internet as it exists now showed us how much potential there is for growth. A company whose website promises to provide a service, yet cannot connect its separate departments to complete this process, will ultimately lose customers. He highlighted the key opportunities that are just beginning to surface, and the potential limitations that may stand in the way.
John’s charismatic presentation was followed by a Q & A session from the DACS members. His visionary glimpse into the future gave us plenty to consider.
Anna Collens is a freelance graphics and web designer living in New Fairfield. She leads the DACS web design SIG and can be reached at [email][email protected][/email]