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Global Data Network Still Too Clumsy and Slow

December 13, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ In a few years people may routinely log onto the Internet to pay bills, buy concert tickets, diagnose a disease or help with their children’s homework _ but only if it’s easier to use, experts agreed Wednesday.

``If your home telephone was as chaotic as the Internet, you really wouldn’t use it very much,″ said James Barksdale, chief executive of Internet software company Netscape Inc.

Barksdale was among the speakers at a conference sponsored by the computer research firm Jupiter Communications on how consumers will use the global public data network.

The Internet was originally created by academics and scientists to trade information among widely differing computers around the world. But millions of Americans are now logging on, mostly by using their personal computers and a telephone hookup to a commercial online service like CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online.

Fast growing interest in the net has prompted a scramble by thousands of businesses to set up ``sites″ where consumers can learn about their products or services or get news or other information. Other popular uses now include electronic mail and ``chat groups,″ computerized party lines where people talk, via keyboard, with others of similar interests.

However the panelists agreed that most Internet users are still the so-called ``early adopters″ _ technically savvy, intelligent and curious people who are always the first to buy into new technology.

The cost of equipment and the computer smarts needed to move around on the Internet are just too much for many average Americans, the panelists said.

``The early adopters, they like things to be hard...Difficulty doesn’t set them back that much. They’re the ones who actually know how to program their VCRs,″ said Barksdale.

In addition, obtaining information through the Internet via telephone lines can be a slow, balky process that leaves many people impatient and frustrated.

The portion of the Internet called the World Wide Web has proved the most popular so far because it combines photos, graphics, text and audio, but much of the Web is not that compelling, said Caroline Vanderlip, president of personal online services for AT&T Corp.

``A lot of companies have thrown up Web sites because they’re too concerned about being left in the dust. They don’t really know why they put these sites up and for most part the content is not very exciting.″

The panelists all expect the situation to change rapidly in the next few years as technology improves the speed and quality of data transmission, and manufacturers and software writers come up with simpler gear.

The first major technical improvement, which will be introduced in a few places next year, is Internet access through cable television. Instead of plugging your computer into the phone, you’ll plug it into the cable TV box, and data transmission will be many times faster.

Greg Moyer, president and chief operating officer of the cable TV and Internet services company Discovery Networks, said that before the year 2000, he envisions a typical home will have four or five simple Internet boxes that can be plugged in just like a telephone.

``Frankly for the information on the Internet to be really useful to people, it’s going to have to be conveniently located, much like you have a kitchen radio, or you have a clock radio in the bedroom.″

This way, Dad could look up a recipe in the kitchen, Sis could get help with her homework in her bedroom while Mom pays the bills in the study, according to such a scenario.

Asked to predict other popular services of the near future, panelists suggested, among other things, home shopping through electronic catalogs. Disease victims will be able to chat with health experts across the globe for advice. Parents will communicate with teachers. Science textbook publishers will freshen the information in their books with on-line updates.

How will consumers sort through the thousands of available services? Vanderlip said that’s another problem yet to be solved.

``Until we package all of those Web sites and all of that content and make some editorial judgments about what’s worth going to and what’s not worth spending your time with, the consumer for the most part will not spend a lot of time on line,″ she said.

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