CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/INTERNET PRODUCTS - Net gizmos in danger of pushing users beyond endurance. Website users are prey to hype when it comes to Net add-ons. Simon Waldman unpicks myth from reality

It is a well-known but rarely acknowledged fact that there is not just one Internet in existence, but two.

It is a well-known but rarely acknowledged fact that there is not

just one Internet in existence, but two.

The first of these is the hype Internet. It gets presented at

conferences and shouted about on press releases. You read about it in

magazines and see it on TV. It is wonderful, exciting and ever changing

- always for the better.

The other is the real Internet, the one that sits on your computer,

which is often slow and clunky and disappointing. It’s the Internet that

crashes your computer, and sends you messages about busy connections and

the need for upgrades and plug-ins that are always too much bother to


It is wonderful in its own way, but seldom as dazzling as its distant

and much more impressive cousin.

The split between the two stems from one simple fact. As soon as you

move away from plain text on the Net, you are alienating someone

somewhere whose computer or software can’t support it. So every new

development that might make the Net that little bit more impressive for

a presentation or a press release also makes it that little bit less

accessible for the people who have to use it.

And while this might be ignored when talking and writing about the

latest gizmo from Silicon Valley, it is all too important when it comes

to building and commissioning Websites.

Of course, if you spend hours on-line, you will already know this. But

the chances are you’re far too busy for that. So to save you time, here

is a ready reckoner to what some key technologies in the hype Internet

translate into on the real Internet and what might eventually happen to



The hype A programming language that can run on all computers and will

allow you to do almost anything on a Website.

The reality A ticker tape that takes five minutes to load and crashes

your browser, all so you can see some headlines float in front of your


The potential There have been some impressive uses of Java including

crosswords and chat rooms, but it is rarely reliable. Not only that but

there is a major ruck going on between Sun, which invented Java and is

best mates with Netscape, and Netscape’s sworn rival, Microsoft, which

has its own set of programming protocols, Active X, which Microsoft

believes will ultimately do the same thing. The result is that you might

never be able to see the whole of the Web using just one piece of



The hype Multimedia animation on your Website.

The reality A plug-in that is fiddly to load and not practical to use

unless you have a ton of memory in your machine.

The potential Shockwave was designed to make life easy for multimedia

designers who use a bit of software called Director. It basically took

Director work and processed it so that designers could show their lovely

animations over the Net. Unfortunately, it wasn’t designed to make life

easy for normal users, who have to spend ages setting it up only to find

they need a memory upgrade to make it work. As a result, Shockwave is a

very effective way of making sure that 90 per cent of Net users never

see your work - which can be an advantage with some designers.

The future is in Flash, a neater, smarter animation package, also from

Macromedia, that requires a much smaller plug-in. Even Flash, however,

tends to get gratuitous. Basic rule: don’t be bullied into using

plug-ins by designers.


The hype Video broadcast over the Net with no download time.

The reality A picture the size of a small Post-It note with crackly

sound and stuttering pictures.

The potential To be fair, the Real Player (the software used to watch

real video) is one of the most exciting bits of Net techno-logy


Yes, you have to download and install it, but the process is relatively

easy, it doesn’t hog memory and, above all, it really works. Still, the

download process alone will put off a lot of people. The latest version

is hugely impressive, given that such things were deemed impossible only

two years ago. Some companies are even showing their television ads on

it, which is a neat idea, but rather like making people view your

48-sheets from half a mile away, in the fog, while they are wearing

sunglasses. You can find the software at http: //


The hype Precisely the information you want, delivered direct to your


The reality Weather reports from Massachusetts hogging your screen when

you least want them.

The potential Push media makes sense, sort of. Why bother heading to

that newspaper Website when it can be delivered right to you? Indeed, it

is enormously impressive when you first see it. The pioneer was

Pointcast, and when it first launched, techies for miles around could be

heard cooing: ’Look, last night’s Canadian ice-hockey scores - direct to

my desktop, built into a screen saver.’ Two weeks later, however, the

novelty wore off and they went back to having fish swim across their

screen. The problem is that push media turns into pushy media all too

quickly. The debate about which technology can deliver push most

effectively neatly avoids the much more important topic of whether

people really want that much information thrown at them in the first



The hype Microsoft’s TV-like stations. Interactive, multimedia content

only a click away.

The reality Large delays all round for what is mostly lamentable


The potential Like push, a nice idea for media owners, but not so hot

for users. The biggest problem is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.0, the

browser software that makes channels work. Installing a new browser

should be the equivalent of taking your PC in for a haircut. With IE4.0

it’s like giving the poor machine a heart transplant and half a dozen

tattoos at the same time. Nothing is ever the same again. As to the

content on these channels? Technically, some of it is quite impressive,

but most of it has the look, feel and imagination of a second-rate


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