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"Consumer electronics, telecommunications, the computing industry, the entertainment industry and the media industry are all entering the digital arena. All information will be digital; all information will be inside computers and computers will be everywhere. While technological innovation contributes to human progress, some people experience the world as a technopolis that causes feelings of alienation and aversion with regard to technological products.

People are still people and many of them are having a hard time trying to make sense of all the information around them. They are feeling bad about it. Yet, our ability to function and survive in the future depends on our ability to relate to information. Can we interact with this cybersoup in a meaningful way? Is there an alternative for the technocratic approach?"

from [RIJK94]

The Internet, Internet2, intranets, extranets, Information Super Highway, Cyberspace... - it is hard, very hard not to have heard of or read about one or more of these terms in the media. Where a few years ago it was characterised as probably nothing more but a hype, today everyone seems to agree on the fact that the Internet and similar networks are here to stay. In fact, many are already stating that the processes and developments they have triggered or helped trigger, will only become more and more prominent and will have a growing impact on our daily lives.
In the subtitle of this paper, the term "Online Market Place" was used instead of the expected term "Internet". This has been done on purpose, as the former term covers a much broader concept than the latter. The concept of online market place goes beyond the Internet, intranets and extranets; the term is used to denote an all-encompassing market place or network (available to all like some sort of utility) which will be the vehicle for sending, receiving and using any possible kind of digital data, information and services. The term used to denote more or less the same concept, is that of the "Information Super Highway". The Information Super Highway of the future is said to be the final stage in the current line of developments; the Internet and intranets could be visualised as lanes on it. However, as the metaphor of an Information Super Highway can be inappropriate at times, in this paper the metaphor of "online electronic market place" will be used instead.1

As said, the media are full with news about today's closest approximation of the electronic market place: the Internet2. One of the most prominent topics in news reports, is the issue of (how to deal with) the massive amounts of information that are available on it.
The availability of these seemingly endless amounts of information creates many kinds of exciting opportunities. However, many people find that the amounts are more and more becoming overwhelming and do not feel that excited at all.
A few years ago, finding information on the Internet used to be possible by casually "surfing" the Net. If only you did begin at the right starting point, finding the information you needed usually was not that hard. But as the amount of information available began to grow at exponential rates, and the number of starting points began to strongly increase as well, new ways of finding information were needed.
Using search engines such as Excite and Altavista (or directory services such as Yahoo), soon became the most popular way of getting (to) the information you needed. At this moment, search engines are still a very popular means of finding information;

"The vast majority of Web users find, or attempt to find, information using search engines; 71% of frequent Web users use search engines to find Web sites."
figures taken from the Spring 1997 study of Internet Demographics and Electronic Commerce,
as conducted by CommerceNet/Nielsen Media Research

Yet, the effectiveness of search engines is slowly and steadily decreasing. When the result of querying a search engine is a list of thousands of links ('hits'), it seems like we are back on square one. New means of both offering as well as retrieving information (and services) are needed.


1= Using this concept seemed the most practical choice, as it avoids having to update this paper (i.e. extending the list of "**net" terms) whenever a new term or buzz word for some kind of 'Net'-concept is introduced in the media. Also note that the online market place is not 'limited' to information; it is about online services as well. And the stress in "market place" is on the aspect of a place where people meet for all kinds of activities; it is not necessary a commercial or financial market place.
2= In this paper the term "Internet" is used to also cover such concepts as "intranets", "extranets", and so on. Unless explicitly stated to be otherwise, whatever is said about the Internet, is valid for all those other concepts as well.
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by Björn Hermans