The Internet consists of an expanding base of about 65,000 computers around the world. The owners of these machines ensure they run a common communications language (like fax machines) which allows them to “talk” to each other.
In total, Internet computers host about 2 million documents. Westerners can access these for the cost of a PC, a modem, a local phone call and a monthly subscription of about 20 to an internet access company, such as Pipex (www.pipex.net/) in the UK.
Seven million computers are connected to the Internet, providing access to about 40 million users. Sixty-eight per cent of the users are in the US and 23 per cent in Europe. About 50 per cent are students, 40 per cent business users and ten per cent connect from home. In the UK, about 1.5 million users connect through 400,000 computers. More than 30,000 new connections are being added in the UK each month.
Historically a repository of academic research texts, the Internet was relaunched as a commercial medium in 1992 with the invention of the World Wide Web (WWW). Since then 150,000 web “sites” have been created and about 1,000 are being added each week.
Companies’ use of the Internet has risen dramatically this year – more than 50 per cent of the Fortune 1000 companies have their own sites and 90 per cent of these companies are connected to the Internet. There are four main types of Internet site created by companies: corporate sites, product and services ads, online sales and online services.
The first group communicates with staff, suppliers, distributors, journalists and analysts. These sites carry press releases, corporate histories, annual reports and descriptions of products and services. Many computer and telecoms companies, such as BT (www.bt.net/), are in this category.
The second group are electronic ads. Many of these sites, particularly those for fmcg products, such as Grolsch (www.bt.net:80/intervid/ esp/), include competitions, quizzes and games. Other advertisers in this group, such as the AA (www. theaa.co.uk/theaa/) provide detailed data about products and services.
The third group of sites sells products and services directly through the internet. Examples in the UK include Sainsbury’s Wine Direct (www.j-sainsbury.co./uk/wine-direct/shop/) and Tesco Wine Select (www.tesco.co.uk/wines.hmtl).
The final group provide Internet-specific online services, often on subscription. This group includes a vast number of electronic publications. UK examples include the Financial Times (www.ft.com/) and 11 Reed Regional Newspapers Lancashire titles (www.reednews.co.uk/). Other sites, such as Mediatel (www.mediatel.co.uk) provide online news and data for subscribers.
The Internet is in a virtuous cycle comprising rapid expansion of users, rising access speeds, improving software capability and improving content.