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Big Dummy's Guide To The Internet Part 39

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13.1 SETTING UP SHOP

Back in olden days, oh, before 1990 or so, there were no markets in the virtual community -- if you wanted to buy a book, you still had to jump in your car and drive to the nearest bookstore.

This was because in those days, the Net consisted mainly of a series of government-funded networks on which explicit commercial activity was forbidden. Today, much of the Net is run by private companies, which generally have no such restrictions, and a number of companies have begun experimenting with online "shops" or other services. Many of these shops are run by booksellers, while the services range from delivery of indexed copies of federal doc.u.ments to an online newsstand that hopes to entice you to subscribe to any of several publications (of the printed on paper variety). A number of companies also use Usenet newsgroups (in the biz hierarchy) to distribute press releases and product information.

Still, commercial activity on the remains far below that found on other networks, such as CompuServe, with its Electronic Mall, or Prodigy, with its advertis.e.m.e.nts on almost every screen. In part that's because of the newness and complexity of the Internet as a commercial medium. In part, however, that is because of security concerns. Companies worry about such issues as crackers getting into their system over the network, and many people do not like the idea of sending a credit-card number via the Internet (an e-mail message could be routed through several sites to get to its destination). These concerns could disappear as Net users turn to such means as message encryption and "digital signatures." In the meantime, however, businesses on the Net can still consider themselves something of Internet pioneers.

A couple of public-access sites and a regional network have set up "marketplaces" for online businesses.

The World in Brookline, Ma.s.s., currently rents "s.p.a.ce" to several bookstores and computer-programming firms, as well as an "adult toy shop." To browse their offerings, use gopher to connect to

world.std.com

At the main menu, select "Shops on the World."

Msen in Ann Arbor provides its "Msen Marketplace," where you'll find a travel agency and an "Online Career Center" offering help-wanted ads from across the country. Msen also provides an "Internet Business Pages," an online directory of companies seeking to reach the Internet community. You can reach Msen through gopher at

gopher.msen.com

At the main menu, select "Msen Marketplace."

The Nova Scotia Technology Network runs a "Cybermarket" on its gopher service at

nstn.ns.ca

There, you'll find an online bookstore that lets you order books through e-mail (to which you'll have to trust your credit-card number) and a similar "virtual record store." Both let you search their wares by keyword or by browsing through catalogs.

Other online businesses include:

AnyWare a.s.sociates This Boston company runs an Internet-to-fax gateway that lets you send fax message anywhere in the world via the Internet (for a fee, of course). For more information, write

[email protected]

Bookstacks Unlimited This Cleveland bookstore offers a keyword- searchable database of thousands of books for sale. Telnet:

books.com

Counterpoint Publishing Based in Cambridge, Ma.s.s., this company's main Internet product is indexed versions of federal journals, including the Federal Register (a daily compendium of government contracts, proposed regulations and the like). Internet users can browse through recent copies, but complete access will run several thousand dollars a year. Use gopher to connect to

enews.com

and select "Counterpoint Publishing"

Dialog The national database company can be reached through telnet at

dialog.com

To log on, however, you will have first had to set up a Dialog account.

Dow Jones News A wire service run by the information company Retrieval that owns the Wall Street Journal. Available via telnet at

djnr.dowjones.com

As with Dialog, you need an account to log on.

Infinity Link Browse book, music, software, video-ca.s.sette and laser-disk catalogs through this system based in Malvern, Penn. Use gopher to connect to

columbia.ilc.com

Log on as: cas

The Internet Company Sort of a service bureau, this company, based in Cambridge, Ma.s.s., is working with several publishers on Internet-related products. Its Electronic Newsstand offers snippets and special subscription rates to a number of national magazines, from the New Republic to the New Yorker. Use gopher to connect to

enews.com

MarketBase You can try the cla.s.sified-ads system developed by this company in Santa Barbara, Calif., by gopher to connect to

mb.com

O'Reilly and a.s.sociates Best known for its "Nutsh.e.l.l" books on Unix, O'Reilly runs three Internet services. The gopher server, at

ora.com

provides information about the company and its books. It posts similar information in the biz.oreilly.announce Usenet newsgroup. Its Global Network Navigator, accessible through the World-Wide Web, is a sort of online magazine that lets users browse through interesting services and catalogs.

13.2 FYI

The com-priv mailing list is the place to discuss issues surrounding the commercialization and the privatization of the Internet. To subscribe (or un-subscribe), send an e-mail request to com-priv- [email protected]

Mary Cronin's book, "Doing Business on the Internet" (1994, Van Nostrand Reinhold), takes a more in-depth look at the subject.

Kent State University in Ohio maintains a repository of "Business Sources on the Net." Use gopher to connect to refmac.kent.edu.

Chapter 14: CONCLUSION -- THE END?

The revolution is just beginning. New communications systems and digital technologies have already meant dramatic changes in the way we live. Think of what is already routine that would have been considered impossible just ten years ago. You can browse through the holdings of your local library -- or of libraries halfway around the world -- do your banking and see if your neighbor has gone bankrupt, all through a computer and modem.

Imploding costs coupled with exploding power are bringing ever more powerful computer and digital systems to ever growing numbers of people. The Net, with its rapidly expanding collection of databases and other information sources, is no longer limited to the industrialized nations of the West; today the web extends from Siberia to Zimbabwe. The cost of computers and modems used to plug into the Net, meanwhile, continue to plummet, making them ever more affordable.

Cybers.p.a.ce has become a vital part of millions of people's daily lives. People form relationships online, they fall in love, they get married, all because of initial contacts in cybers.p.a.ce, that ephemeral "place" that transcends national and state boundaries. Business deals are transacted entirely in ASCII. Political and social movements begin online, coordinated by people who could be thousands of miles apart.

Yet this is only the beginning.

We live in an age of communication, yet the various media we use to talk to one another remain largely separate systems. One day, however, your telephone, TV, fax machine and personal computer will be replaced by a single "information processor" linked to the worldwide Net by strands of optical fiber.

Beyond databases and file libraries, power will be at your fingertips. Linked to thousands, even millions of like-minded people, you'll be able to partic.i.p.ate in social and political movements across the country and around the world.

How does this happen? In part, it will come about through new technologies. High-definition television will require the development of inexpensive computers that can process as much information as today's workstations. Telephone and cable companies will cooperate, or in some cases compete, to bring those fiber-optic cables into your home.

The Clinton administration, arguably the first led by people who know how to use not only computer networks but computers, is pushing for creation of a series of "information superhighways" comparable in scope to the Interstate highway system of the 1950s (one of whose champions in the Senate has a son elected vice president in 1992).

Right now, we are in the network equivalent of the early 1950s, just before the creation of that ma.s.sive highway network. Sure, there are plenty of interesting things out there, but you have to meander along two-lane roads, and have a good map, to get to them.

Creation of this new Net will require more than just high-speed channels and routing equipment; it will require a new communications paradigm: the Net as information utility. The Net remains a somewhat complicated and mysterious place. To get something out of the Net today, you have to spend a fair amount of time with a Net veteran or a manual like this. You have to learn such arcana as the vagaries of the Unix cd command.

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