At this moment, most users of the agent technique are researchers and a small part of the WWW user population [1]. But who will be the users of the future, and what will their needs and demands be? This is an important question, as user-acceptance of agents (leading to user-demand) is one of the key factors for agent success.

SRI International has conducted a psychographic research into the users of the World Wide Web [2]. The effort of this research was to augment standard demographics (such as age, income and gender) with a psychographic analysis of the WWW users [3]. They have used their own psychographic system (VALS 2) to explore the psychology of people's choices and behaviour on the WWW.
What makes the results of their research interesting, apart from the unusual (psychological) approach, is their finding that the Web has two very different audiences:

"The first is the group that drives most of the media coverage and stereotypes of Web users, the "upstream" audience. Comprising 50% of the current Web population, this well-documented group are the upscale, technically oriented academics and professionals that ride on a variety of institutional subsidies. Yet because this group comprises only 10% of the US population [...], their behaviours and characteristics are of limited usefulness in understanding the future Web.
The second Web audience comprises a diverse set of groups that SRI calls the Web's "other half." Accounting for the other 90% of US society, these groups are where Internet growth will increasingly need to take place if the medium is to go mainstream.

Although this research comprises US users only, it still indicates that it would be a bad policy to talk and predict about the needs, preferences and motivations of the WWW/Internet user, as there is a broad variety of (types of) users. It is therefore important to find out which of these groups will be the most dominant and most important ones. This could even mean that groups of users have to be accounted for in the future, that are not using the WWW and the Internet right now:

"Many information-intensive consumers in the US population are in the other-half population rather than the upstream population. These particular other-half consumers report the highest degree of frustration with the Web of any population segment. Although they drive much of the consumer-information industry in other media, they as a group have yet to find the Web particularly valuable."

The "information have-nots" (a term coined by SRI) are not able to use the Internet and its services as result of a low income, but because of limited education. Tackling this problem requires an approach that is completely different from the one that is used at this moment to ensure that everybody can use the "information highway".

Agent technology can be brought into action here. Not that agents can solve the entire problem as described, but they can do their bit by making usage of the Internet (and computers as well) more user-friendly and easier. At this moment a lot of research is done in the area of so-called interface agents. These are agents whose main purpose is to provide an easy-to-use interface to complex systems such as the Internet, but also to computers in general. By means of such things as animated characters, computers and all kinds of other systems are given a more human appearance. This will make it easier for both novices and experts to operate them.

[1] This group is comprised of mostly experienced, academic users, who like to experiment with and try out early (test)versions of agents or agent-based applications.
[2] See [SRI95].
[3] but the findings and conclusions of their research can very well be extended to all Internet users.

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"Intelligent Software Agents on the Internet" - by Björn Hermans