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: //www.real.com
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